- Postcards from the Sonora Border: Visualizing Place through a Popular Lens, 1900s–1950s by Daniel D. Arreola
In Postcards from the Sonora Border, Daniel Arreola demonstrates how postcards "shaped the identity of Sonora border towns" (10). As part of a planned trilogy, this book focuses on five towns along the border between Arizona and Sonora from 1900 until 1950. Throughout the work, Arreola explores some of the unique characteristics that informed the identity of Agua Prieta, Naco, Nogales, Sonoyta, and San Luis Río Colorado. Despite varying depictions of commercial cities and farming towns, the border and how it has changed emerges as a common theme linking these images.
Because postcard images have helped shape how people view border communities, this work treats them as more than just knick-knacks. Arreola [End Page 333] uses dozens of postcards depicting the same place at different times to build a visual progression of change. This methodology produces some dazzling visuals and compelling analysis, but Arreola could have enhanced his argument by providing more context from other primary sources as well as relevant scholarly literature.
The postcards from Arreola's collection allow for some gripping visual analysis of how borderlands cities developed over the course of the twentieth century. Chapter 5, which focuses on Nogales, contains an extensive gallery about the border and its fence. In this series of eight photo postcards, the international line remains a focal point, even as the images begin to depict a more contemporary streetscape and skyline. According to Arreola, this common depiction is intended to convey the "openness between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora" (126). Such postcards, it seems, were intended to entice American travelers to border towns because of their proximity to the United States and because they made liquor available during Prohibition. The promise of adventures both licit and illicit emerges as one of the most durable images of Sonora borderlands towns.
Arreola gives us a broad impression of how postcard photos reflect changing perceptions of border towns, but leaves it up to the reader to ponder the significance of these images as they change over time. For example, photos of battles during the Mexican Revolution are followed by photos of crossing points and curio shops in the 1950s. While Arreola demonstrates this shift through his analysis, the broader explanation for this transformation remains unclear. Scholarship on the history of tourism may have strengthened Arreola's argument and provided a larger theoretical explanation for the changing depictions. The argument also could have been sharpened a bit by including other primary sources related to tourism such as city directories and newspapers; the various promotional materials produced by chambers of commerce in cities such as Nogales might have corroborated some of the author's larger points about borderlands towns being recreation sites during Prohibition or shopping sites in the postwar era.
Arreola's methodology also raises questions about the production, use, and distribution of postcards. Chapter 2 covers a broad history of the postcard as a manufactured commodity as well as a coveted souvenir. But the question remains as to how photographers intended their viewers to interpret these images. Did American photographers such as W. M. Cline and Mexican photo agencies such as México Fotografíco have similar views and perspectives on these border towns? It is also unclear if Mexican tourists as well as American travelers purchased these postcards. Did these photos also play an important role in how these borderlands towns were perceived in the interior of Mexico?
These, however, are minor questions for an interesting book with scores [End Page 334] of lovely and compelling images. Border historians and postcard aficionados will want to linger over this volume for both its images and its analysis.