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The Informal and Underground Economy of the South Texas Border

The Informal and Underground Economy of the South Texas Border

By Chad Richardson and Michael J. Pisani

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

The people of South Texas are amazing. Like population groups everywhere, they have their mix of saints and scoundrels. We have found, however, a far heavier mix of individuals at the saints’ end of the continuum than one might find in many other locations. We admit to a bias in this conclusion, though it is a bias borne of extensive research and...

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pp. xiii-xv

We wish to thank the many thousands of people of the South Texas borderlands who have shared their life stories with us since the initiation of the Borderlife Project at the UTPA in 1982. This book would not have been possible without our students at UTPA and Texas A&M International University. Embedded in the local environment, our students...

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pp. 1-17

As visitors pause to reel in the sights, sounds, and smells of South Texas, many of the daily activities they sense may originate in the informal and underground economy. The hustle and bustle of a flea market or the serenity under a shade tree often finds vendors and workers operating informally— outside the range of government regulations—selling their...

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1. Culture, Structure, and the South Texas–Northern Mexico Border Economy

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pp. 18-47

Antonio is a man who has engaged in unregulated and illegal economic activities on both sides of the border. He skirts regulations not only to make money, but also to be free from governmental controls. He is not alone. Many people in the South Texas– Northern Mexico region take part in the informal and/or underground economy. For many, the reasons...

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2. Underground Economic Activities

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pp. 48-78

Like most entrepreneurs, Sergio engages in his own version of cost-benefit analysis. When he finds himself losing, he looks for ways to cut his losses and increase his prospects of winning. He used information from a small circle of friends to begin an enterprise that involves not only betting on cockfights, but influencing the outcome by raising...

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3. Informal Economic Activities

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pp. 79-109

Several years after her mother died, Amelia Salinas started a small business making tacos around Laredo. She and her husband of ten years had been having severe economic problems. They both had regular jobs in a cafeteria, but the pay was low and their family was growing. Since neither of them had finished high school, they didn’t see many options. ...

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4. Informality and Undocumented Workers

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pp. 110-138

Abel is one of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., of whom two-thirds are thought to be from Mexico.1 But unlike most of the undocumented Mexican workers who enter the U.S., Abel and his family are part of only 7– 8% of this population who seek to remain in the border area.2 Abel is also unlike many of the migrants who settle in...

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5. Informal Cross-Border Trade

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pp. 139-167

Juanita, like many binational traders in the South Texas/Northern Mexico borderlands, has discovered how to leverage the border with informal activities that give her an advantage over those competitors who are limited to operating on only one side of the border. For informals like her who have the documentation to cross the boundary line freely, the...

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6. Border Colonias: Informality in Housing

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pp. 168-196

The informality of colonia housing permits some of the poorest of the poor, like Irene, to find housing—even if it’s only a small trailer—and to engage in economic activities from their homes. Without colonias, Irene most likely would have ended up either homeless or evicted for overcrowding. By living out in the country, she was able to operate a...

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7. The Informal Health Care Economy (With Dejun Su)

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pp. 197-227

Marcos Segovia is a proud Mexican immigrant. He refuses to accept any welfare assistance. As a result of that choice and his low income, he and Dora, his wife, have no health insurance for themselves or for their children. This is one of Dora’s major concerns. Speaking of how she worries whenever one of her children gets sick, Dora said...

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8. Family and Welfare Informality (With Amelia Flores)

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pp. 228-252

Mario Marquez is an immigrant from Mexico with only a sixth-grade education. After Mario married Alma, a U.S. citizen, he became a legal U.S. resident. They lived in Houston until 1987 when Mario got laid off. They decided to move to the Valley, where Alma’s family lived. Mario, who was just 29 at the time, found it difficult to find a job that...

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pp. 253-271

Melissa is involved with the informal sale of liquor. She is not employed, and the only formal income she and her husband receive is the $975 disability check that he receives every month. Melissa previously had a job but quit because the department of human services found out that she was working. “They denied food stamps and Medicaid for me and my...

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Appendix A. Borderlife Survey Research Projects Utilized in This Volume

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pp. 273-274

As reported in the Introduction, the bulk of the data focused on the informal and underground economy in South Texas comes from our informal and underground surveys conducted 2006– 2009. Some of the data reported herein comes from previously reported Borderlife projects (see Table A.1). One is our Cultural Practices Survey (described in the 2006 volume...

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Appendix B. Names of Students Who Contributed Ethnographic Accounts

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pp. 275-276

Note: Each of the following student researchers authorized and contributed to the anecdotal accounts cited in this volume. If a student contributed more than one account, a number in parentheses follows his or her name and indicates how many anecdotal accounts that student contributed. We do not cite students’ names alongside their respective anecdotal accounts in order to preserve...


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pp. 277-305


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pp. 307-323


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pp. 325-335

E-ISBN-13: 9780292739291
E-ISBN-10: 029273929X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292739277
Print-ISBN-10: 0292739273

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Informal sector (Economics) -- Texas.
  • Informal sector (Economics) -- Mexican-American Border Region.
  • Labor -- Texas.
  • Labor -- Mexican-American Border Region.
  • Crime -- Texas.
  • Crime -- Mexican-American Border Region.
  • Texas -- Economic conditions.
  • Mexican-American Border Region -- Economic conditions.
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