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  • Forging the Tortilla Curtain: Cultural Drift and Change along the United States–Mexico Border from the Spanish Era to the Present
  • Norman Caulfield
Forging the Tortilla Curtain: Cultural Drift and Change along the United States–Mexico Border from the Spanish Era to the Present. By Thomas Torrans . Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2000. Photographs. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xi, 424 pp. Cloth, $29.95.

Few have attempted to construct such a broad and sweeping treatment of this immense historical subject. Yet Thomas Torrans, in this ambitious project, gives the reader a panorama of borderlands history that, while general enough to keep the reader's focus, is also rich enough in detail to provide an in-depth understanding of the region's complex social, cultural, political, and economic dimensions. In the process, Torrans provides keen insight into the ongoing centuries-old struggle to establish a boundary between the Latino and Anglo worlds. Through his description of Spanish colonization, with priests and presidios, to the present era of globalization, drugs, and maquiladoras, Torrans weaves his discussion with analyses of the impact an array of groups and individuals have had on the endless efforts to define the region culturally and politically. The adventures of filibusters like William Walker, Henry Alexander Crabb, and Confederates John B. Magruder and Alexander Watkins Terrell are told alongside those of industrial empire builder William Cornell Greene and utopian Albert Kimsey Owen.

But besides giving the reader the essential background about key events that shaped the border as we know it today geographically, such as Texas independence, the Mexican-American War, and the Gadsden Purchase, Torrans develops discussion of other salient themes important in the annals of the borderland region. Particularly revealing is the author's discussion of Indians in the region, which shows that the current 2 ,000 -mile boundary was not always just a Latino-Anglo boundary.

Noting that while the majority of the Indian peoples in the region were either rapidly subdued or "absorbed" into the ever-expanding colonization movement, others (such as the Apaches and Comanches) were far less tractable to "civilization." Torrans writes that it was not until after Geronimo's capture in 1886 that the Americans achieve any semblance of an Anglo-dominated border. He notes further that this event marked the boundary once and for all between the two Americas—Anglo and Latino. In so doing, a sphere emerged, one in which Indians had no place at all, reflected in Porfirio Díaz's subsequent brutal treatment of the Yaqui Indians in Sonora.

In his ensuing narrative, Torrans reveals that understanding the nature of Porfirio Díaz's regime (1876 -1911 ) is key to deciphering the contemporary state of the international boundary. Agreeing with other historians, the author posits that the Díaz era witnessed an American triumph throughout northern Mexico. And while no part of Mexico was "off limits" to American interests, the northern tier of states were more easily accessible to American businessmen and landed interests as the robust holdings of newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Harrison Gray Otis reflected. [End Page 568]

Torrans also posits that before this overwhelming influx of American capital and the colonists who followed, which brought about an intensive commercialization of the area, the immense north of Mexico remained a region that was little understood and unfamiliar to the majority of Mexicans. But when economic contradictions mounted and welded with nationalist sentiment, the norteños emerged as a force for the first time in Mexico, when they became the principle actors in the 1910 revolution and dominated the national political scene for years to come. In the process, the men from Sonora—Alvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles and their successors—negotiated a new border with the United States, one which resulted in a checked American hegemony but also increased its commercial importance.

Perhaps the strongest contribution Torrans makes to border historiography and the contemporary debates concerning the region is the connection he forges between entrepreneurs, past and present. Either in contraband or legitimate commerce, huge fortunes have been amassed, then and now. Today the international boundary witnesses the movement of millions of people and many commodities, from...


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pp. 568-569
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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