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True Lives of the Borderlands

Peter Laufer

Publication Year: 2011

These days everyone has something to say (or declaim!) about the U.S.–Mexico border. Whether it’s immigration, resource management, educational policy, or drugs, the borderlands are either the epicenter or the emblem of a current crisis facing the nation. At a time when the region has been co-opted for every possible rhetorical use, what endures is a resilient and vibrant local culture that resists easy characterization. For an honest picture of life on the border, what remains is to listen to voices that are too often drowned out: the people who actually live and work there, who make their homes and livings amid a confluence of cultures and loyalties. For many of these people, the border is less a hyphenated place than a meeting place, a merging. This aspect of the border is epitomized in the names of two cities that straddle the line: Calexico and Mexicali.

A “sleepy crossroads that exists at a global flashpoint,” Calexico serves as the reference point for veteran journalist Peter Laufer’s chronicle of day-to-day life on the border. This wide-ranging, interview-driven book finds Laufer and travel companion/photographer on a weeklong road trip through the Imperial Valley and other border locales, engaging in earnest and revealing conversations with the people they meet along the way. Laufer talks to secretaries and politicians, restaurateurs and salsa dancers, poets and real estate agents about the issues that matter to them the most.

What draws them to border towns? How do they feel about border security and the fences that may someday run through their backyards? Is “English-only” a realistic policy? Why have some towns flourished and others declined? What does it mean to be Mexican or American in such a place? Waitress Bonnie Peterson banters with customers in Spanish and English. Mayor Lewis Pacheco laments the role that globalization has played in his city’s labor market. Some of their anecdotes are humorous, others grim. Moreover, not everyone agrees. But this very diversity is part of the fabric of the borderlands, and these stories demand to be heard.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xii

We can all learn from Calexico. You may know where Calexico is on the map, located on the border with Mexico about a two-hour drive east of San Diego. But Calexico is more than a dot on the map; it is a city that draws into sharp focus the often blurred images of what immigration means to our country. It does this by giving concrete images of lives lived and ideas born...

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Preface: Why Calexico?

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pp. xiii-xv

As a journalist and a Californian, I can’t help but be drawn to the United States–Mexico Borderlands, the consequential border problems, and the migration crises affecting both sides of our southern national frontier. How can I not be? The border is an ongoing spectacular news story in the best...

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pp. xvii-xviii

As the text for Calexico was—to use the old newspaper jargon—being put to bed, I asked my border road trips partner Markos Kounalakis to help make sure I missed nobody here on the acknowledgments page. From his home away from home in Budapest he dispatched an e-mail to me that covers—to use an all-American metaphor—all the bases. Ever the diplomat,...

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Introduction: Interviews and Borders

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pp. xix-xxvii

Interviews and borders fascinate me. All types of borders: personal and political, local and distant. I enjoy crossing most borders, experiencing what’s on the other side, meeting other people and cultures I would otherwise never know....

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Monday: “Where California and Mexico Meet!”

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pp. 1-29

Growing up in and around San Francisco, as I did, is both a delight and a burden. The burden comes from the inbred chauvinism that comes with being a San Franciscan. We’re a pretentious crowd—elitist and self-centered—convinced we’re hipper than thou. We eat better food, our weather is nicer,...

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Tuesday: Whither Calexico? Wither All of Us When It’s 100 inthe Shade!

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pp. 30-70

Dawn at the Barbara Worth Resort. The empty parking lot reinforces the sense of a bygone heyday. But it is a precious and gorgeous dawn. The huge, bushy trees around the motel are alive with an orchestra of songbirds. The temperature is a perfect San Diego–like seventy degrees or so, without a hint of the scorcher...

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Wednesday: Crossing the Border(s)

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pp. 71-129

I punched “scan” on the Mazda’s radio, and it skipped right over to KXO, “1230 on your AM dial.” I cranked up the volume. It’s an oldies station, and one after another, they were some of my favorite pop tunes. What a great mix of musical memories. Markos and I felt as if we were in our own buddy road-trip movie, speeding across the Imperial Valley in Uncle Hertz’s...

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Thursday: Efficiency Is Security

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pp. 130-168

Virginia Munger’s father was from Germany, her mother was born in Española, New Mexico, and that’s where they married. He was a mechanic and was infected with the California dream. He set up shop as an Imperial Valley pioneer and fetched his wife and daughter. They came across the Old Plank...

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Friday: You Can Make It Here

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pp. 169-194

The mélange of cultures in Calexico and throughout the borderlands presents the opportunity for—and maybe the necessity to recruit— trained guides. Gustavo Arellano certainly fits the job description. He writes the syndicated column Ask a Mexican and is the author of an anthology of those columns, with the same title....

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Saturday: Going Home

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pp. 195-197

Markos and I headed out of the Valley, north out of Holtville on 115; we turned east onto 78 and cruised the black Mazda through lush croplands in the direction of another desert anomaly made possible with Colorado River water: we would fly home from Las Vegas. A few miles east of Alamorio on 78 we gained...

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Epilogue: My Prescription: Swallow Hard and Say, “¡Bienvenidos!”

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pp. 198-205

America must stop making the same mistakes on our southern border. Overdue is a simple and logical policy change: it is time to welcome our Mexican brothers and sisters to cross the border....

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Afterword: Calexico at the Intersection of Life and Death

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pp. 206-211

Calexico, like every other place, is unique. But it is also strikingly similar to other U.S. border towns because the boundary with Mexico— simultaneously a divide and a bridge—significantly defines it. Calexico is thus caught between forces that necessitate the boundary serve as a gateway, and those that demand that it be a barrier. As such, Calexico is a bundle of contradictions....

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780816505289
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816529513

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2011