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Reviewed by:
  • Border Women: Writing from La Frontera
  • Monika Kaup
Debra A. Castillo, and María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba. Border Women: Writing from La Frontera. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2002. 280 pp.

Border Women joins an intensifying critique of postmodern and postnational border theory that has been gathering since the mid-1990s. Explicitly building on studies such as John Welchman's collection Rethinking Borders (1996), Scott Michaelsen and David E. Johnson's collection Border Theory: The Limits of Cultural Politics (1997), and Claire Fox's The Fence and the River: Culture and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border (1999), Castillo and Tabuenca Córdoba advance the charge that contemporary critical theory allegorizes borders and border crossings as floating signifiers for its own critical myths of transgressions of limits. To oversimplify, postmodern theory hails borders and edges as utopic points of escape from totality and master narratives. Postnational and globalization theories celebrate [End Page 757] borders as the vanishing points of the nation-state. According to Castillo and Tabuenca Córdoba, that generalizing border theory habitually cites site-specific border writers like Gloria Anzaldúa in passing only serves to obscure the fact that these theories only use the border as projecting screens for referents located elsewhere, bearing little or no relation to any site-specific geographical border.

To their critique that prestigious metaphorical border theory is disconnected from the social life and literature of actual borders, the coauthors Castillo and Tabuenca Córdoba (situated at Cornell University and the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Juárez, Mexico, respectively) offer as a positive alternative a "bifocal, binational study" of short fiction by Chicanas and Mexican fronterizas from the US-Mexico border (9). Chapter 1, "Reading the Border, North and South" offers vignette critiques of Mexican and US "theories about the U.S. border" (Néstor Garcia Canclini, Héctor Calderón and José David Saldívar, Homi Bhabha, Emily Hicks, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, to name a few) (10), and sets out its de-hierarchizing rationale for privileging women's "literature from the Mexican border" (18), by which they mean local border writers rather than those with a national (Mexican or US) reputation. The remaining seven chapters alternate between North and South while following a broad westward trajectory from El Paso/Juárez to the two Californias, offering readings of the following writers and their fictional border geographies: Alicia Gaspar de Alba from El Paso (chapter 1); Rosario Sanmiguel from Juárez (chapter 2); Norma Cantú from Texas/Tamaulipas/Nuevo León, Sheila Ortiz Taylor and Sandra Ortiz Taylor from Southern California (chapter 3); Rosina Conde from Tijuana (chapter 4); Helena María Viramontes from LA (chapter 5); Demetria Martínez from New Mexico (chapter 6); and Regina Swain and María Navaro from Tijuana (chapter 7).

Especially valuable is the equal emphasis given to Mexican border writers (such as Rosina Conde and Rosario Sanmiguel) in relation to Chicana writers, who intervened into the US literary conversation during the initial "boom" of border theory in the mid-1980s by mobilizing the notion of borderlands and claiming a transnational location. Chicana writers and scholars, Castillo and Tabuenca Córdoba remind us, are "in a position of clear and distinct advantage when compared to the extraordinary difficulties attending Mexican border writers both within the Mexican dominant establishment and with respect to international border theoretical discussion" (6). Processes of dissemination of US minority literature are not exempt from border asymmetry and inequalities, characteristic of every social and economic aspect on the US-Mexico border. If "U.S. Chicano/a scholars use the border metaphor to create a multicultural space in the United States" and "to construct an alternative Chicano/a discourse" [End Page 758] (6), they are also guilty of allegorizing the border for an abstract national debate that is discontinuous from the physical border region. Thus, one of the authors' major findings is that fiction by Mexican border writers in particular "sit[s] oddly against the body of border theories common to the U.S. cultural context. . . . [W]hat we understand as border theory tends to be written from north to south—that is, from the United States to...


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