- Purchase/rental options available:
Hispanic American Historical Review 83.4 (2003) 757-758
[Access article in PDF]
The Making of the Mexican Border: The State, Capitalism, and Society in Nuevo León, 1848-1910. By Juan Mora-Torres. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xi, 346 pp. Cloth, $50.00. Paper, $23.95.
The process of how the frontier became a border serves as the unifying concept for Juan Mora-Torres's analysis of nineteenth-century Nuevo León. Mora-Torres expands upon historical understandings of 1848 by illustrating its long-term implications for Nuevo León. The border's formation brought about a process of political centralization that led to Nuevo León's successful but uneven integration into global capitalism by the end of the Porfiriato. The book illustrates how political and economic forces on the international and national level converged to transform local contexts, both urban and rural, in the formation of modern Nuevo León.
The author's placement of the border within a national narrative contextualized through the lens of Mexican regional history is a significant contribution to the growing literature on Porfirian nation-state formation and modernization. While others have explored similar topics, Mora-Torres adds an aggressive application of divergent historical approaches. Political, business, urban, agrarian, working-class, and "new" histories are all successfully employed to show how the making of the border gave shape to Nuevo León.
Mora-Torres provides ample evidence to support his arguments, drawn from the Archivo General del Estado de Nuevo León, the municipal archive in Monterrey, and rich material from the Archivo General de la Nación, including the unclassified portion of theCaja de Préstamos, which enables him to chronicle the formation and operation of the Monterrey elite. One shortcoming comes from neglect of [End Page 757] the Colección Porfirio Díaz, an archive that could have provided information about two of Mora-Torres's central themes: how Díaz replaced local caciques with his own clients and how the president wrestled with the problem of contraband.
Mora-Torres explains the political and economic factors that led to Monterrey's emergence as Mexico's first industrial center and contributes a deeper understanding of the relationship between capital and labor there as it was influenced by the border. He also illustrates how this case of Porfirian urbanization resulted in the decline of the rural sector. The author convincingly demonstrates that Nuevo León's agrarian sector fell outside of the Porfirian pattern of hacienda expansion because industrial Monterrey absorbed capital and labor. More significant is the author's analysis of a land tenure system unique to the region: the comunidad de accionistas. Rooted in the history of frontier colonization, vecinos acquired private property rights within their villages that were nevertheless communal because they were not specified as private lots. The resulting egalitarian communal identity was disrupted by the regional agrarian crisis of the late Porfiriato. Mora-Torres shows that the number of generations of accionistas was limited by the ratio of population to available land, which peaked in the 1890s. This peak combined with a decline in regional subsistence production to cause the dissolution of the comunidades. These important conclusions show how exceptions to Porfirian agrarian trends were rooted in a rural-urban border dynamic. This line of analysis invites us to consider similar processes in other regions of Mexico.
The Making of the Mexican Border is not free of problems. As the book proceeds, Mora-Torres strays further and further from the border and deeper into a regional analysis focused on Monterrey. By the final chapters, the border vanishes from analysis, suggesting that the significance of 1848 was more in the "making" of modern Nuevo León than in the making of the border. A short epilogue exploring today's border almost serves as apology for this change of course. Mora-Torres also falls short in connecting the formation of Porfirian Nuevo León to our understanding of the Mexican Revolution. Brief consideration of the revolution would...