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  • Border Rhetorics: Citizenship and Identity on the US-Mexico Frontier Edited by D. Robert DeChaine
  • Stacey K. Sowards
Border Rhetorics: Citizenship and Identity on the US-Mexico Frontier. Edited by D. Robert DeChaine. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012; pp. 273. $34.95 paper.

Since the immigration protests in 2006 (and well before that), immigration reform has become a pressing concern for many in the United States. Conservative groups have pushed for greater law enforcement and militarization of the United States-Mexico border, whereas more liberal [End Page 363] groups have advocated for protecting immigrants’ rights. Border Rhetorics explores these issues as well as how the border is rhetorically constructed throughout the United States with implications not only for undocumented immigrants but also for U.S. citizens and people around the world for how they think and understand the border. In Robert DeChaine’s introduction, he astutely observes that the border “operates as a bounding, ordering apparatus, whose primary function is to designate, produce, and regulate the space of difference,” which is “always invested in power” (1).

This book is an excellent contribution to immigration and border studies in the communication field, with chapters that unpack complicated subjects and identities in five parts: “Orientations”; “Historical Consequences”; “Legal Acts”; “Performative Affects”; and “Media Circuits.” These five parts of the book are not distinct entities; rather, there is much overlap among the chapters, providing the reader with cohesive and nuanced understandings of border rhetorics through a variety of methodological approaches. The authors in this book analyze key themes such as citizenship, identity, bodies, social justice, globalization, and media representations. In particular, the chapters that address identities (Ono, Johnson, Holling, Flores and Villarreal, Calafell, Goltz and Pérez) offer insights into historical and contemporary ways in which the United States-Mexico border shapes understandings of self and Other. Other chapters (Chávez, Hasian and McHendry, and Justus) explore how the border figurally Otherizes people based on race, ethnicity, language, class, and gender, especially in relationship to the Minuteman Project and other such conservative rhetoric that can have the effect of moderating and mainstreaming politicians’ rhetoric on immigration (think George W. Bush). In effect, Border Rhetorics examines a number of different contexts that influence how we understand the border, identity, nationality, and citizenship in ways we do not often consider.

The first part of the book, “Orientations,” includes three chapters that delve into the nature of borders and their effects. Kent Ono, in chapter 1, discusses how borders travel through his examination of the figural border. In particular, he notes how borders are assigned to bodies: “From the wink of an eye to the tilt of one’s head to the lilt in one’s voice, bodies may unknowingly reveal bordered identities. The body itself is a readable text, is discursive, and therefore may be understood to have meanings that need to be controlled, disciplined, deported, imprisoned, or discarded” (30). In the second chapter, Julia Johnson further theorizes the nature of the border by [End Page 364] examining intersectional aspects and contending, “The only chance we have for social justice is through making the oppressions of others our own” (45). Karma Chávez’s chapter 3 asks scholars and readers to consider how the ideograph of border security is an enabling function of conservative ideology as militarization and security terminologies frame the way in which we understand the border and immigration issues. She analyzes the publication, Secure Border Initiative Monthly, to unpack how the security ideograph and masculinized rhetoric reinforce our understandings of the border. These three chapters that constitute the first part of the book facilitate understanding of how border rhetorics work beyond the physical border itself.

The second part, “Historical Consequences,” builds on the first part of the book by examining how border identity functioned historically for Texas activists. Michelle Holling’s chapter 4 analyzes the rhetoric of activist Emma Tenayuca, who was a leader for the Pecan Shellers Strike in the San Antonio area in the 1930s. Holling argues that Tenayuca used a dispensational rhetoric in the document “The Mexican Question in the Southwest,” one that focused on a rearticulation of identity, but also demanded key rights related to...


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