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Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders

PABLO VILA
Copyright Date: 2000
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/787391
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    Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders
    Book Description:

    Along the U.S.-Mexico frontier, where border crossings are a daily occurrence for many people, reinforcing borders is also a common activity. Not only does the U.S. Border Patrol strive to "hold the line" against illegal immigrants, but many residents on both sides of the border seek to define and bound themselves apart from groups they perceive as "others."

    This pathfinding ethnography charts the social categories, metaphors, and narratives that inhabitants of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez use to define their group identity and distinguish themselves from "others." Pablo Vila draws on over 200 group interviews with more than 900 area residents to describe how Mexican nationals, Mexican immigrants, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Anglos make sense of themselves and perceive their differences from others.

    This research uncovers the regionalism by which many northern Mexicans construct their sense of identity, the nationalism that often divides Mexican Americans from Mexican nationals, and the role of ethnicity in setting boundaries among Anglos, Mexicans, and African Americans. Vila also looks at how gender, age, religion, and class intertwine with these factors. He concludes with fascinating excerpts from re-interviews with several informants, who modified their views of other groups when confronted by the author with the narrative character of their identities.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79632-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-20)

    On the eve of the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—which was supposed to improve relations between the United States and Mexico—the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso implemented a new strategy to deter the influx of undocumented immigrants. The tactic, called “Operation Blockade,”¹ strung agents at close intervals, in highly visible positions directly along the international boundary. Conceived of by Silvestre Reyes, a Mexican American who grew up in Canutillo, twenty miles from El Paso, the operation won nearly unanimous support from both Anglo and Mexican American El Pasoans. Various polls indicated an impressive...

  6. Chapter 1 THE MEXICAN SIDE: DISCOURSES OF REGION
    (pp. 21-50)

    As I mentioned in the Introduction (and develop at length in the Appendix), I think that people on the border use extensively social categories and interpellations to understand who they are and who the “others” are.

    Regarding the use of social categories, we have to remember that Mexicans and Americans belong to national societies that share some aspects of each other’s classification systems—both in terms of positions and their attributes. However, they differ greatly in other aspects that also impinge on the everyday attitudes and behaviors of their inhabitants. On the border, these similarities and differences meet, and the...

  7. Chapter 2 THE MEXICAN SIDE: DISCOURSES OF NATION
    (pp. 51-80)

    Many people living in Juárez distinguish themselves not only from other Mexican nationals, but also from those living on the other side of the border. It is here where national references start playing an important role in the construction of Mexican border narrative identities. In this sense, the Chihuahuenses’ joke about the best part of Juárez being El Paso hurts a great deal, because an important part of the Fronterizo identity is built upon that relationship. Of course, although the Fronterizo identity is built upon the relationship with the United States, this is not accomplished without contradictions. If many Fronterizos...

  8. Chapter 3 THE EMPLOTMENT OF THE MEXICAN ON THE U.S. SIDE OF THE BORDER
    (pp. 81-128)

    A peculiar characteristic of the U.S.–Mexico border is that people changing countries are not only crossing from one country to another, but are also moving from one national system of classification to another—both systems in which they have a place. In changing their country of residence, immigrants expose themselves to a new set of expectations about their attitudes and behaviors, expectations to which they must respond by constructing a social identity that has meaning in this new social context (Vila 1997b).

    Imagine, for instance, a resident of Ciudad Juárez from Mexico City who moves to El Paso. In...

  9. Chapter 4 MEXICAN IMMIGRANTS AND THE ″ALL POVERTY IS MEXICAN″ NARRATIVE PLOT
    (pp. 129-166)

    In the last chapter I mentioned that, due to the pervasive presence of the “all poverty is Mexican” discourse in El Paso, the constitution of a valued social identity is relatively straightforward for some middle-class Anglos and relatively difficult for many people of Mexican descent. We have seen how using anethnic classification system, many Anglos (and those from other ethnicities—including Mexican Americans—who share with them this particular way of understanding identity) tend to conflate Mexicans and Mexican Americans because both belong to the same “ethnic” category. On the other hand, we had the opportunity to see how...

  10. Chapter 5 OPERATION BLOCKADE, OR WHEN PRIVATE NARRATIVES WENT PUBLIC
    (pp. 167-190)

    Thus far I have been interested in showing the mechanisms of identity construction in a very special setting like the border, where different countries, economies, cultures, religions, and ethnicities come together. Because my interest has been inmechanisms, I relied on an ethnographic technique; that is, I traded extension in my knowledge of reality for profundity in its analysis. In other words, I know a lot about the wayssomepeople narrate their identities to make sense of themselves and others on the border, but I do not knowhow manypeople use the mechanisms I have described so far....

  11. Chapter 6 DIALOGICAL SOCIAL SCIENCE AND THE POSSIBILITY OF NARRATING BETTER STORIES
    (pp. 191-226)

    When I decided to use the discussion of photographs as a methodology instead of surveys, I also decided I would engage my interviewees in a dialogue instead of relying on a researcher’s monologue. For two different but related reasons, I designed my research in such a way that returning to the people I interviewed was a must. First, I wanted to challenge the prevailing monological way of doing social science. Until the late 1970s, in many ethnographic accounts only the researcher’s voice attempted to make sense of people’s lived experiences. The people who lived those experiences were denied their own...

  12. Appendix CATEGORIES, INTERPELLATIONS, METAPHORS, AND NARRATIVES: A BRIEF THEORETICAL DISCUSSION
    (pp. 227-250)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 251-268)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 269-276)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 277-290)