People on the Mexican-American Border

On the Border is a New Yorker-ish report on a 2,000-mile long, 20-mile wide strip of territory stretching between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast, that has its own laws, its own culture and its own people. It is the people, especially, that come alive in Tom Miller's wry, sensitive profiles.

The frontier between the United States and Mexico has a contrived quality to it, as if it were erected in response more to xenophobia than to genuine political or economic problems. The society on one side is much like that on the other. Indeed, the wall, barbed-wire and chain-link fences slice not only through empty countryside and crowded metropolitan neighborhoods, but also through families, dividing breadwinners from their dependents, parents from their children. For the people on its banks, the Rio Grande is a river of tears.

Miller, who made the trek from east of Brownsville to the shore of Baja, knows how to tell a story. In one revealing (and often amusing) tale after another, he brings alive the campesinos, politicians, political activists, border police, businessmen, parrot smugglers, Klansmen and whores who make the region as lively and fascinating as any place on the planet. He not only captures the border as it is, but delves into its past, a history not only of wars and treaties, but of cultural landmarks such as Rosa's Cantina, the locale of Marty Robbins' classic country and western hit "El Paso."

"On The Border" humanizes an issue that for decades has been marked more by ignorance and prejudice than compassion and understanding. It is rare for a book to be as informative on an important issue as this one is -- the unending political arguments about immigration that mar every election cycle demonstrate how important -- and still be wonderfully entertaining.

On the Border: Portraits of America's Southwestern Frontier by Tom Miller

Also of interest:
Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War On "Illegals" and the Remaking of the U.S. - Mexico Boundary by Joseph Nevins
Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity by David G. GutiƩrrez

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