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On the Edge of the Law

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    On the Edge of the Law
    Book Description:

    The Valley of South Texas is a region of puzzling contradictions. Despite a booming economy fueled by free trade and rapid population growth, the Valley typically experiences high unemployment and low per capita income. The region has the highest rate of drug seizures in the United States, yet its violent crime rate is well below national and state averages. The Valley'scoloniasare home to the poorest residents in the nation, but their rates of home ownership and intact two-parent families are among the highest in the country for low-income residential areas. What explains these apparently irreconcilable facts?

    Since 1982, faculty and students associated with the Borderlife Research Project at the University of Texas-Pan American have interviewed thousands of Valley residents to investigate and describe the cultural and social life along the South Texas-Northern Mexico border. In this book, Borderlife researchers clarify why Valley culture presents so many apparent contradictions as they delve into issues that are "on the edge of the law"-traditional health care and other cultural beliefs and practices, displaced and undocumented workers, immigration enforcement, drug smuggling, property crime, criminal justice, and school dropout rates. The researchers' findings make it plain that while these issues present major challenges for the governments of the United States and Mexico, their effects and contradictions are especially acute on the border, where residents must daily negotiate between two very different economies; health care, school, and criminal justice systems; and worldviews.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79544-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  5. Map of South Texas and Northeastern Mexico
    (pp. xx-xx)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Earthquakes and Volcanoes along the South Texas Border
    (pp. 1-16)

    When Alicia was a young girl living in Mexico, her parents moved to the United States. Because she loved Mexico and wanted to finish her education there, she stayed behind with family members in Mexico City. After graduating from the National University of Mexico, her parents convinced her to come to the Rio Grande Valley to find work and live with them. They had become U.S. citizens and were able to help her become a legal resident. After obtaining her residency, she went back to Mexico City for six months, where she married a young man she had known for...

  7. 1 Traditional Health Care Practices
    (pp. 17-50)

    As this story illustrates, South Texas people of Mexican origin who use traditional folk healing practices do so not just for economic reasons but for cultural considerations as well. In South Texas communities, folk medicine often coexists with Western biomedicine because standard health care is beyond the reach of many residents.² More than one-quarter of the Texas border population currently lives below the poverty line. Roughly one in three Texas border residents has no health insurance. In South Texas colonias (where Don Antonio and his daughter live), 64 percent of residents are not covered by health insurance.³ Hispanic women, like...

  8. 2 Other Cultural Beliefs and Practices
    (pp. 51-83)

    The Mexican people here don′t have the same customs that we did in Mexico. I stopped celebrating the holidays we used to honor in Veracruz because it′s hard to celebrate by yourself. After you′ve lived here for awhile, you tend to forget to celebrate those days. If you do celebrate, people give you funny looks. I remember celebrating one of our Mexican holidays and everybody was looking at me as if I was insane, even those who are from Mexico. Since then, I haven′t celebrated that day anymore.

    Ignacio, the Mexican immigrant making this statement, clearly feels he is losing...

  9. 3 Displaced Workers
    (pp. 84-113)

    Gloria is a forty-eight-year-old woman who worked eighteen years at a recently closed clothing manufacturing plant in Hidalgo County. Her husband died a short time before the plant closed.

    ″When I was laid off,″ she says, ″I tried to get a job as an orderly in a hospital. I had many sewing and cooking skills and had previous experience of working in the fields. But they told me I didn′t have enough experience and that I needed to speak English and have a GED. They wouldn′t hire me because they could hire younger workers who know English.

    ″In order to...

  10. 4 Undocumented Workers
    (pp. 114-137)

    Miguel is from the interior of Mexico. Many years ago, he came to the border searching for work.

    ″I came with just the clothes on my back,″ he says. ″I′ve worked in restaurants on both sides of the border. People think that because we are poor and hungry, we will take any kind of abuse. In Reynosa, they tried to tell me that I should be grateful I had a place to eat and to sleep.

    ″So I decided to cross into the United States. I nearly drowned crossing the river. I went to the restaurants here and got a...

  11. 5 Immigration Enforcement Issues
    (pp. 138-163)

    The first time I came to the United States, somebandidos[bandits] robbed me just after I crossed the river. They threatened to kill me if I didn′t give them everything. I even had to give them my shoes.

    Later, I started looking for work, but no one would hire me. They said they could be fined $10,000 if they did.

    Frustrated, without work and without money, I stopped a Border Patrolman and asked him to deport me back to Mexico. He laughed and asked me why. I told him my story.

    I was very unfortunate that time. Now I′m...

  12. 6 Drug Smuggling
    (pp. 164-189)

    Every weekend, Mom and Dad always picked up my sister and me after school. Whenever we would see them both in the car, we knew that we were going out of town on a trip. My parents packed clothes for us and when Dad stopped to gas up, we would run in the store and pick up some munchies and magazines. Before my sister and I knew it, we were at the checkpoint by Falfurrias. The Border Patrol agent would wave us on and my sister would wave back. Who would suspect that the trunk was full of contraband? Being...

  13. 7 Property Crime (Shoplifting and Auto Theft) along the Border
    (pp. 190-214)

    I really dislike the ″river rats″ that come over here from Mexico to steal from stores and houses. I′ve apprehended some of these guys ten to fifteen times only to have them sent back to Mexico because they are juveniles. I hate what they do. Most aliens that come here want to work and do not cause any problems, so I treat them with respect. Still, I have to do my job, so I send them back to Mexico.

    The Border Patrol officer making this statement expresses the frustration of many law enforcement agents along the border. Juveniles on both...

  14. 8 American Lives, Mexican Justice
    (pp. 215-241)

    Rocío, a young Mexican student, became involved in the Borderlife Project through a sociology class she took at the University of Texas–Pan American. She decided to conduct research on U.S. students in Mexican prisons. She chose to interview four Texas students who were in prison in Reynosa. At the conclusion of her research, she stated:

    Although there is corruption in the Mexican judicial and political systems, Americans who go into Mexico with the intention of committing a crime there deserve punishment for it. Though it is unfortunate that they have to go through so much for a petty offense,...

  15. 9 Dropping Out
    (pp. 242-272)

    There were nine of us living in a small, two-bedroom house. My dad worked as a plumber, painter, or anything he could find work in. My two older brothers dropped out in the tenth grade to help our dad out. We didn′t have enough money to buy new clothes, so we usually wore the same clothes two to three times a week. My oldest sister got pregnant, married, and then dropped out. I ended up dropping out in the eleventh grade to work in order to bring money to help the family out. Times got a little better so that...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 273-290)

    Chrystell Flota, a business administration graduate student from Mexico enrolled in a sociology seminar on U.S.-Mexico border issues, commented in her seminar paper,

    Most of us Mexican nationals feel enormous loyalty to the Republic of Mexico. Our institutions and our national heroes gave us ″patria, tierra, y libertad″ (homeland, land, and liberty). When abroad, we cry at the sound of mariachi music—never mind that the marimba, a type of xylophone, is the more typical musical instrument of my home state. Since a very early age, we were made to memorize key historical dates, stories of our national heroes, and...

  17. APPENDIX A. Borderlife Research Projects Utilized in This Volume
    (pp. 291-292)
  18. APPENDIX B. Student Interviewers Whose Ethnographic Accounts Are Included in This Book
    (pp. 293-296)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 297-322)
  20. Glossary
    (pp. 323-324)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-342)
  22. Index
    (pp. 343-348)