- Violence and Hope in a U.S.-Mexico Border Town
The small Arizona town of “Esperanza,” just forty-five miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, is scarred by violence and inequality. 10-year-old Oscar was an accidental victim of a gang-related drive-by shooting. As author Jody Glittenberg writes, “They’ve killed me, momma,” were Oscar’s last words as he lay dying” (5). Mark, a Vietnam vet, heroin addict, and citizen of Esperanza was found dead in his apartment a month after being interviewed for this ethnography. In Esperanza, sex work is “conspicuous,” drug dealing (and using) are “part of the cultural norms of the townspeople,” (104), and many citizens live in fear.
In this thin but thorough monograph, Glittenberg seeks to uncover “the roots of violence in this community” (1), while simultaneously highlighting the diverse reactions and responses to violence by the residents of this mostly Mexican-American town. Given the town’s great challenges, why does the author choose the pseudonym Esperanza (hope in Spanish) for the town where she and her colleagues undertook four years of fieldwork? Because in explaining the patterns of violence in Esperanza, potential cures are also revealed. [End Page 737]
The book begins with introductory chapters (1 and 2) that profile Esperanza and place it firmly within the charged historical and sociopolitical context of the U.S.-Mexico border. These chapters detail field methods and the multidimensional particulars of the researchers’ profile of the town; that is, they describe the individuals, families, and social institutions that compose the town (and the ethnography) and lend it its diversity and depth. Particularly interesting here is the discussion of the town’s historical roots— once home to the indigenous Hohokam, Esperanza has long been contested territory and only became part of the U.S. in the latter half of the 19th century. Glittenberg skillfully details the continuing contestation surrounding the border and the cultural confusion and discrimination that accompanies it as Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans struggle to retain positive cultural values while resisting marginalization and violence.
The central chapters focus upon populations (addicts, sex workers, gang members, drug dealers, activists, politicians, and ordinary people) and activities (alcohol and drug use, prostitution, crime, domestic violence, community organizing, support groups, police initiatives) that contribute to or seek to prevent violence. Rich narratives explain emic views on social norms in Esperanza. For instance, Glittenberg uses the insights of everyone from teenagers to senior citizens to discern patterns of belief and practice surrounding alcohol and drug use and abuse in the town. A sixty-one-year-old female says, “Alcohol damages more than drugs—always drinking beer. I see my sister and her husband always drinking and there’s even an AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] next door” (60), while another informant says, “Everybody drinks beer, but it’s not really a liquor. A hard liquor is distilled like tequila or whiskey and used just for holidays—beer is for every day— it’s not bad—it’s normal” (58).
Finally, the author describes the ways in which the violence found in Esperanza can be overcome through “community understanding, sustaining positive cultural connections, valuing positives, and empowering the community” (150). Glittenberg reminds us in the final chapter that not only is social and cultural change possible (though difficult), but that, like violence, positive social change is also patterned, as individuals and social institutions respond to challenges in their communities.
Violence and Hope succeeds on many fronts. First, the book, which includes questionnaires used in interviews and focus groups as well as a detailed and transparent discussion of methods and fieldsite issues, makes an excellent introduction to fieldwork for students. It is as much a “how to” [End Page 738] guide for beginners as it is an ethnography, defining and explaining basic terms such as inductive research, emic, and participant observation. Given the collaborative and activist nature of the work (Glittenberg worked with four other researchers and incorporated townspeople into the project by forming the Community Empowerment Partnership Project), the book also provides a...