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  • Imperial Metropolis: Los Angeles, Mexico, and the Borderlands of American Empire, 1865–1941 by Jessica M. Kim
  • Joseph L. Scarpaci
Jessica M. Kim
Imperial Metropolis: Los Angeles, Mexico, and the Borderlands of American Empire, 1865–1941.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. photographs, map, tables, appends., notes, bibl., index, (paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6624-2), $27.95.

The publishing parentage of historian Jessica M. Kim’s book is as varied as the topic examined. A consortium forged by the David J. Weber Series in New Borderland History at Southern Methodist University, and the University of North Carolina’s already well established Latin American focus, birthed this interdisciplinary book. Already acclaimed with the Kenneth Jackson Award awarded by the Urban History Association, the work should interest students of economic, cultural, urban and regional geography. It dives headfirst into the much-used notion of core-periphery by anchoring the discussion on how Los Angeles’ growth in the post-Civil War Era, extending through the Porfiriato Era (1876–1911), and up to the onset of World War II, was intricately tied to southern California’s capital tentacles that reached deep into Mexico. This growth in empire comes to [End Page 208] life in vivid detail to convince readers (who might not otherwise accept the notion) that geopolitical borders are mere lines in the sand. Savvy strategies used by Los Angeles investors cajoled U.S. and Mexican governments to manipulate race, class and labor to extract value in agriculture, the petroleum industry, and real-estate. Think Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-system’s theory or Saskia Sassen’s world city.

At its core, this book shows the frenetic pull of investment that became a “marriage of capitalism and the nineteenth century city” (p. 9). It was driven by such “lumi-nary” Los Angeles iconic empire builders such as Griffith J. Griffith, Lewis Bradbury, Edward L. Doheny, Thomas Bard, Henry Workman Keller, Henry A. Crabb, Senator John A. Miller (CA), General William Starke Rosecrans (ret.), the Merchants and Manufacturers Association, the Colorado River Land Company, and Harrison Gray Otis, among others. The prevailing winds at their backs were the Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, victories in Havana and Manila, and the expectation that the role of U.S. and Mexican governments –the latter encouraged to facilitate liberal development through the support of these projects— would create favorable tax credits, build infrastructure (e.g., The Pan American Highway, or IPH: International Pacific Highway), military conquest, ideas of racial superiority, and American settler colonialism, among other forces. Mexican, Japanese, Native American, and Chinese laborers who toiled in anti-union and open-shop settings in Mexico and the United States helped alleviate the “white man’s burden.” Southern California investors hustled across the border to invest in agricultural and petroleum projects, keeping race, class, and labor lines in order. White managers and foremen stayed on top of brown-skin workers. And middle-class investors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stock market cared little whether their investments were in sugar fields in Cuba or the Philippines, or agricultural projects in Mexico.

Six chapters and an epilogue develop these and related themes. Historian Kim weaves personal letters, newspaper reports, archival materials, and copious materials to show how this cross-border web of elite alliances thrust Los Angeles into the pilot’s seat of empire building. Even after the Mexican Revolution, the legal framework allowed Los Angeles’ investors to hold considerable control over core-periphery trade. Chapter Two’s review of the Quimichis Colony of large-scale farming along the Pacific coast offers a granular look at how local settlements had little choice but to acquiesce to truck farming and U.S. consumer tastes. Chapter four’s discussion of lessons learned in Cuba and the Philippines in 1898 and afterwards portrays an ethos that revived and legitimated American expansion. While the late nineteenth century bravado and risk-taking grew out of a post-Civil War Manifest Destiny ethos, the 1898 war rekindled the ideology that empire was good for the world. The Mexican Revolution (possibly kindling revolutions in Russia, China and elsewhere), created an anti-Americanism and strong sense of nationalism that forced...


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pp. 208-210
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