University of Texas Press

Inter-America Series

Howard Campbell, Duncan Earle, and John Peterson, series editors

Published by: University of Texas Press

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Inter-America Series

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Blockading the Border and Human Rights

The El Paso Operation That Remade Immigration Enforcement

By Timothy J. Dunn

To understand border enforcement and the shape it has taken, it is imperative to examine a groundbreaking Border Patrol operation begun in 1993 in El Paso, Texas, “Operation Blockade.” The El Paso Border Patrol designed and implemented this radical new strategy, posting 400 agents directly on the banks of the Rio Grande in highly visible positions to deter unauthorized border crossings into the urban areas of El Paso from neighboring Ciudad Juárez—a marked departure from the traditional strategy of apprehending unauthorized crossers after entry. This approach, of “prevention through deterrence,” became the foundation of the 1994 and 2004 National Border Patrol Strategies for the Southern Border. Politically popular overall, it has rendered unauthorized border crossing far less visible in many key urban areas. However, the real effectiveness of the strategy is debatable, at best. Its implementation has also led to a sharp rise in the number of deaths of unauthorized border crossers. Here, Dunn examines the paradigm-changing Operation Blockade and related border enforcement efforts in the El Paso region in great detail, as well as the local social and political situation that spawned the approach and has shaped it since. Dunn particularly spotlights the human rights abuses and enforcement excesses inflicted on local Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants as well as the challenges to those abuses. Throughout the book, Dunn filters his research and fieldwork through two competing lenses, human rights versus the rights of national sovereignty and citizenship.

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Border Identifications

Narratives of Religion, Gender, and Class on the U.S.-Mexico Border

By Pablo Vila

From poets to sociologists, many people who write about life on the U.S.-Mexico border use terms such as “border crossing” and “hybridity” which suggest that a unified culture—neither Mexican nor American, but an amalgamation of both—has arisen in the borderlands. But talking to people who actually live on either side of the border reveals no single commonly shared sense of identity, as Pablo Vila demonstrated in his book Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders: Social Categories, Metaphors, and Narrative Identities on the U.S.-Mexico Frontier. Instead, people living near the border, like people everywhere, base their sense of identity on a constellation of interacting factors that includes regional identity, but also nationality, ethnicity, and race. In this book, Vila continues the exploration of identities he began in Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders by looking at how religion, gender, and class also affect people’s identifications of self and “others” among Mexican nationals, Mexican immigrants, Mexican Americans, Anglos, and African Americans in the Cuidad Juárez–El Paso area. Among the many fascinating issues he raises are how the perception that “all Mexicans are Catholic” affects Mexican Protestants and Pentecostals; how the discourse about proper gender roles may feed the violence against women that has made Juárez the “women’s murder capital of the world”; and why class consciousness is paradoxically absent in a region with great disparities of wealth. His research underscores the complexity of the process of social identification and confirms that the idealized notion of “hybridity” is only partially adequate to define people’s identity on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Border Junkies

Addiction and Survival on the Streets of Juárez and El Paso

By Scott Comar

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Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders

Social Categories, Metaphors, and Narrative Identities on the U.S.-Mexico Frontier

By Pablo Vila

Along the U.S.–Mexico frontier, where border crossings are a daily occurrence for many people, reinforcing borders is also a common activity. Not only does the U.S. Border Patrol strive to "hold the line" against illegal immigrants, but many residents on both sides of the border seek to define and bound themselves apart from groups they perceive as "others." This pathfinding ethnography charts the social categories, metaphors, and narratives that inhabitants of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez use to define their group identity and distinguish themselves from "others." Pablo Vila draws on over 200 group interviews with more than 900 area residents to describe how Mexican nationals, Mexican immigrants, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Anglos make sense of themselves and perceive their differences from others. This research uncovers the regionalism by which many northern Mexicans construct their sense of identity, the nationalism that often divides Mexican Americans from Mexican nationals, and the role of ethnicity in setting boundaries among Anglos, Mexicans, and African Americans. Vila also looks at how gender, age, religion, and class intertwine with these factors. He concludes with fascinating excerpts from re-interviews with several informants, who modified their views of other groups when confronted by the author with the narrative character of their identities.

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El Narcotraficante

Narcocorridos and the Construction of a Cultural Persona on the U.S.-Mexico Border

By Mark Cameron Edberg

Since the late 1970s, a new folk hero has risen to prominence in the U.S.–Mexico border region and beyond—the narcotrafficker. Celebrated in the narcocorrido, a current form of the traditional border song known as the corrido, narcotraffickers are often portrayed as larger-than-life “social bandits” who rise from poor or marginalized backgrounds to positions of power and wealth by operating outside the law and by living a life of excess, challenging authority (whether U.S. or Mexican), and flouting all risks, including death. This image, rooted in Mexican history, has been transformed and commodified by the music industry and by the drug trafficking industry itself into a potent and highly marketable product that has a broad appeal, particularly among those experiencing poverty and power disparities. At the same time, the transformation from folk hero to marketable product raises serious questions about characterizations of narcocorridos as “narratives of resistance.” This multilayered ethnography takes a wide-ranging look at the persona of the narcotrafficker and how it has been shaped by Mexican border culture, socioeconomic and power disparities, and the transnational music industry. Mark Edberg begins by analyzing how the narcocorrido emerged from and relates to the traditional corrido and its folk hero. Then, drawing upon interviews and participant-observation with corrido listening audiences in the border zone, as well as musicians and industry producers of narcocorridos, he elucidates how the persona of the narcotrafficker has been created, commodified, and enacted, and why this character resonates so strongly with people who are excluded from traditional power structures. Finally, he takes a look at the concept of the cultural persona itself and its role as both cultural representation and model for practice.

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Sex Work and the City

The Social Geography of Health and Safety in Tijuana, Mexico

By Yasmina Katsulis

A gateway at the U.S.–Mexico border, Tijuana is a complex urban center with a sizeable population of sex workers. An in-depth case study of the trade, Sex Work and the City is the first major ethnographic publication on contemporary prostitution in this locale, providing a detailed analysis of how sex workers’ experiences and practices are shaped by policing and regulation. Contextualizing her research within the realm of occupational risk, Yasmina Katsulis examines the experiences of a diverse range of sex workers in the region and explores the implications of prostitution, particularly regarding the spheres of class hierarchies, public health, and other broad social effects. Based on eighteen months of intensive fieldwork and nearly 400 interviews with sex workers, customers, city officials, police, local health providers, and advocates, Sex Work and the City describes the arenas of power and the potential for disenfranchisement created by municipal laws designed to regulate the trade. Providing a detailed analysis of this subculture’s significance within Tijuana and its implications for debates over legalization of “vice” elsewhere in the world, Katsulis draws on powerful narratives as workers describe the risks of their world, ranging from HIV/AIDS and rape (by police or customers) to depression, work-related stress, drug and alcohol addiction, and social stigma. Insightful and compelling, Sex Work and the City captures the lives (and deaths) of a population whose industry has broad implications for contemporary society at large.

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Violence and Activism at the Border

Gender, Fear, and Everyday LIfe in Ciudad Juárez

By Kathleen Staudt

Between 1993 and 2003, more than 370 girls and women were murdered and their often-mutilated bodies dumped outside Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua, Mexico. The murders have continued at a rate of approximately thirty per year, yet law enforcement officials have made no breakthroughs in finding the perpetrator(s). Drawing on in-depth surveys, workshops, and interviews of Juárez women and border activists, Violence and Activism at the Border provides crucial links between these disturbing crimes and a broader history of violence against women in Mexico. In addition, the ways in which local feminist activists used the Juárez murders to create international publicity and expose police impunity provides a unique case study of social movements in the borderlands, especially as statistics reveal that the rates of femicide in Juárez are actually similar to other regions of Mexico. Also examining how non-governmental organizations have responded in the face of Mexican law enforcement's “normalization” of domestic violence, Staudt's study is a landmark development in the realm of global human rights.

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