Gisselle Perez-Leon

Border Business: Race, Gender, and the Right to the City in Nogales, Sonora, 1918-1965

Nogales’ rise as a major port of entry in the early twentieth century opened commercial opportunities not only to U.S. and European investors, but also to Mexican women, Chinese merchants, and other immigrant local-business owners who benefited from cross-border traffic. This project aims to understand what the creation of a commercial hub on a newly established border meant for the people who lived there. How did large-scale trade opportunities change city space and infrastructure? Who held claims to public space and municipal services? How does an urban studies approach change our understanding of the multi-racial U.S.-Mexico borderlands? I look to Nogales, Sonora, the city the Chambers of Commerce referred to as “La Ciudad Llave,” the key city to Mexico’s west coast, as a case study of urban civitas between 1918, when the city erected the first physical international boundary, and 1965, when investments from the Mexican National Border Program (PRONAF) rebuilt the Nogales gateway. Once the border physically divided “Ambos Nogales,” city officials gradually restricted access to space, services, and commerce for individuals excluded from post-revolutionary ideas of urban modernity. Using petitions in municipal archives, I explore how working women, Chinese business owners, and Indigenous Tohono O’odham asserted rights in a changing border city.