The border between the United States and Mexico is a hot topic these days. Although to many this imaginary line tracing the course of a not-very-impressive river through inhospitable desert real estate seems like something of quite minor interest, to those who live on it and must deal with with its complexities on a daily basis, it is a force to be reckoned with - not the border but The Border, the central fact of life.
The rest of the country is catching on fast, too - although true borderites view their frenzy of enthusiasm with a bit of disbelieving sarcasm, when they pay any attention at all. Since recent population statistics revealed that Hispanics had zoomed past all other groups to become the largest minority in the country - and since the majority of Hispanics in the country are Mexican or of Mexican descent - the media has practically tripped over itself in its frantic efforts to study and court this powerful group. Time, CNN, and ABC are among those who have sent correspondents to cover border stories, and corporations from K-Mart to Coca-Cola have launched massive advertising campaigns and new product lines to cash in on the Hispanic boom.
If this glut of recent interest has actually changed anything in the day-to-day life of The Border, it certainly hasn’t been very noticeable. In fact, most of the changes that have happened, say, in the past twenty or thirty years have not necessarily been positive. This book covers them in detail - social ills, labor woes, increased militarization, Mexico’s sad economic plight and the strange feeling of being (to paraphrase the title of a popular Mexican movie) “ni de aqui, ni de alla,” not from here, nor from there. They are discussed in all their stark glory, in those odd words that seem to be rapidly taking over the American vocabulary. Maquiladoras. Narcotraficantes. La Migra. Border problems, described in border language.
“On the border, we talk about language all the time because our words cross back and forth the line as if there are no fences and armed guards and military helicopters and no drug laws and no such thing as ‘illegal immigration.’ No Washington, D.C. No Mexico, D.F. No rules,” writes Bobby Byrd in Puro Border's introduction, near the footnote that announces the Cinco Puntos Press policy of not italicizing Spanish words in an English text. “Because we live en la frontera, we want to assign equal value to the Spanish and English languages, an extension to our view that along the border these languages are partners in the way that all fraternizes, whether they live to the south or north of the line, should be.”
So, throughout the text, that musical, magical rhythm - Spanglish, espangles or whatever you want to call it - dominates. The language is the unifying feature. In other respects, the essays included are as different as the writers who provided them. There are tender family portraits - the mother who worries that since her three month old daughter hasn’t gotten her visa yet, so she “can’t enter the United States like any other normal person.” There are introspective self-examinations, poignant essays explaining the lure of the desert and the excitement of a place constantly in flux. There are hard-hitting political commentaries, chock full of facts and numbers, that reveal shocking injustices like the Border Patrol’s favorite reason to pull people over, “DWM” - driving while Mexican.
The authors also include photos and several sections of helpful reference - a glossary of pollero slang, a list of the hundreds of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez, and a chart showing the hours a maquiladora worker has to work to buy such staples as a kilo of beans (4 hours) and diapers (box of 30, 11 hours and 30 minutes). There is a huge amount of information packed into this slim volume, lots of thinking to be done after reading it, and lots of questions that aren’t - and maybe can’t be - answered.
However, as good as Puro Border is, it is a snapshot in time that will soon be outdated - was outdated as soon as it was written, in fact. Paradoxically, it is also eternally true. For on the border, what has been called “the laboratory of the future,” the more things change, the more they stay the same. Puro Border, quite simply, should be required reading in every social studies class.