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Mexican Border Essay, Research Paper

1. Introduction

The line in the middle of the U.S.-Mexico border region is defined in the east by the Rio Grande, known as the R o Bravo in Mexico and in the west by the notorious wire strung. Nothing much marks it as the most dramatic international border on earth from San Diego-Tijuana to Brownsville-Matamoros. (Illustrat.1)

Here, people live on each side, without feeling especially divided. Here the contrast between poor and rich is omnipresent but on the same time seen as normal. The desert is just as dry, the horizon just as long, the weather just as unreliable no matter where one stands. Here, daily life takes on a quality that is different from the life in either country the region is said to divide.

There are people on the U.S. side who speak no English, read no U.S. newspapers, watch no U.S. television. On the Mexican side, consumer tastes and social trends reflect those of the land to the north.

The U.S.-Mexico border is a region where the social dynamics of integration are clearly evident. The border provides a prime opportunity to examine the benefits and problems associated with the current project of social and economic restructuring.

For all of its specials and mysteries, the border region could become the biggest asset of both countries. Many believe that the last developments like NAFTA have already served for the creation of a region that goes its own way in joining culture, traditions and economy without sticking to old nationalist beliefs .

This paper gives a brief overview of the historical facts which created this unique area and deals with the remaining economic, social and cultural problems for the next millenium on the line between “developed” and “developing”.

2. The Border in History

Mexico and the U.S.A settled the border with the signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. But long before there was a border, Indian communities had settled in the areas between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. In the seventeenth century, Spanish settlers established the same area as the northern frontier of New Spain and then of Mexico after its War of Independence in 1810. In the Spanish colonial period, this area was a frontier that attracted the most adventuresome explorers and dedicated missionaries.

The eastern region of the border along the Rio Grande was more hospitable and became a focus of regional life as towns grew up along its banks and residents of these towns like Laredo felt a strong allegiance to a Mexican identity. El Paso was the first and largest town built on the river in the early 1600s in the mountain corridor that was called “El Paso del Norte,” the “Passage to the North.” Many small towns established before the creation of the border divided the Texas Valley.

The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, a “symbol of separation” in Texas, constitutes more than half the length of the border. In the decades following the Mexican War, U.S. cattle barons and agricultural opportunists from the East and Midwest with substantial capital and extensive mercantile connections came to dominate U.S.-Mexican trade across this Texas river border . Shortly after their rise, these merchants began to acquire extensive areas of land in Texas and to gain dominion over the earlier Spanish and Mexican settlers.

During the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, the border population increased significantly as many moved across the border seeking refuge. Migration patterns were established between particular states in Mexico and particular regions or towns on the border. For example, refugees from central Mexico who settled in the Texas valley were likely to be joined later by immigrants from their hometowns. Migrants from the northwestern states of Zacatecas, Durango, and Sinaloa regularly traveled to Ciudad Juarez/EI Paso.

When economic recessions hit the United States, efforts mounted to push immigrants back to Mexico. In 1914-15, the U.S. side of the Rio Grande Valley experienced a winter of violence when hundreds of Mexicans, or “Mexicanos” in border usage, were persecuted and killed by the Texas border patrols. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought a new wave of deportations in which immigrants who had lived undisturbed in the U.S. for decades were repatriated.

As people from different cultural regions of Mexico have settled on the border, they have evolved a complexly layered cultural and social environment that has been created by competition and adaptation for survival .

3. Immigration

The U.S. immigration policy

Immigration into the U.S. has always been a very controversial issue . Supporters of current immigration policy include corporate interests that profit from cheap foreign labor, ethnic lobbies seeking to increase their political base, and religious activists, humanitarians, and civil libertarians who focus on human rights and other ethical concerns. Opponents include nativists who view non-European immigrants as a threat to American culture and labor advocates who fear that immigration is taking jobs from U.S. citizens and depressing U.S. wages. On the right of the political spectrum, free marketers square off against cultural conservatives. On the left, civil rights and ethnic advocacy groups oppose environmentalists and job protectionists.

As mentioned above current policy is a reaction to the Immigration Act of 1924 , which reduced the number of immigration visas and allocated them on the basis of national origin. But later equal opportunity and family reunification became top priorities, opening the door to much larger flows from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

To reduce economic incentives for illegal immigration, in 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act to punish employers who hire undocumented immigrants. In addition to authorizing employer sanctions, IRCA also granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants who had been residing continuously in the U.S. for several years.

In 1996 the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service authorized 911,000 legal immigrants, including 595,000 for family reunification, 118,000 for their job skills, and 198,000 for humanitarian reasons and diversity. This represents a rise of almost 30% from the 1995 figure of 716,000. Until 1994 the debate over immigration focused on what the INS calls illegal aliens slipping across the Mexican border, even though a larger number of undocumented residents arrived legally and overstayed their visas. In response to rising political pressures, the INS launched high-profile campaigns such as Operation Blockade in El Paso and Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego. Blocking the most-frequented entry points, however, shifted immigration flows into isolated deserts and mountains where more border-crossers fall victim to robbers, rapists, and extreme weather conditions .

Immigration policy has to address a range of economic, humanitarian, and ethical issues. Central to the raging immigration debate are differing evaluations of the rights of immigrants to be with their families, to find haven from political persecution, to seek a better standard of living, etc. and the rights of native-born citizens to determine who lives, works, and benefits from public services in their country .

Economists in present tend to agree that immigration is a net benefit to the U.S. economy. Immigrants fill jobs that U.S. citizens often reject, help the U.S. economy maintain competitiveness in the global economy, and stimulate job creation in depressed neighborhoods . However, net benefits for the economy can conceal serious losses for vulnerable sectors of the U.S. population .

Immigration also has implications for U.S. population growth, environmental protection, and the demand for new infrastructure . In the 1970s, the U.S. population was approaching stability at less than 250 million around the year 2030. Currently, immigration (including new arrivals and their children) accounts for an increase of about 1.5 million more people a year, which represents more than half of total U.S. population growth. At current levels of immigration, the U.S. population will approach 400 million by the year 2050 (see Illustration 3).

If immigration were reduced to half the current level, the U.S. population would still approach 350 million by that year. Given the voracity with which U.S. residents consume a disproportionate share of the world s resources, the accelerated growth of his population is far more troubling than that of third world residents, who consume so much less.

The implications of the trends regarding Mexican immigrant rights are troubling. The lure of jobs, higher wages, and better living standards is drawing immigrants into situations where U.S. citizens increasingly perceive the protection of immigrant rights as undermining their own. This means that politicians can attract votes by promising to fortify the Mexican border, even if such measures only exact a higher price from border-crossers without significantly altering the flow .

Impacts on Mexico

Labor migration from Mexico to the U.S. had been vital to the Mexican economy. Between 1917 and 1929, Mexican immigrants in the U.S. sent an estimated average of $10 million a year back to families in Mexico, which roughly equals 5 percent of exports from Mexico to the U.S. at this time .

With the onset of World War II, demand for migrant labors strengthened, and the flow of Mexican labor across the border increased. Mexico declared war on the German nation on May 22, 1942. The following August, the U.S. and Mexican governments set forth conditions under which Mexican labor might be recruited for wartime employment, beginning the bracero program. The number of Mexican farm workers in the program soared from 4,203 in 1942 to 120,000 in 1945, with most workers returning to Mexico at the end of each season. While the initial “war-time” farm-labor importation program ended on December 3, 1947, the bracero program continued until 1964.

In 1965, the Mexican government established a Border Industrialization Program to provide jobs for Mexican workers displaced by the end of the bracero program and to stimulate the depressed economies of its northern states. This program, encouraging U.S. companies to build assembly operations, or maquilas, in northern Mexico to finish products for re-exportation, essentially tried to substitute a southern flow of investment capital from the U.S. into Mexico for the northern flow of labor from Mexico to the U.S.

After modest successes in the late 1960s, the number of maquila plants and workers took off in the 1970s. Total maquila employment rose from 67,214 in 1975 to 896,334 by the end of 1997–an annual growth rate of 11.9 percent. In Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, maquila employment rose from 19,775 in 1975 to 190,874 by 1997. Similar increases were posted in the Mexican Border cities of Nuevo Laredo, with 1,285 employed in 1975 increasing to 20,098 in 1997, Reynosa, increasing from 1,255 to 45,774 workers in the same period, and Matamoros, multiplying more than five-fold from 9,778 to 54,547.


From Tijuana to Matamoros the northern Mexico Border region is often viewed as an area of high income and expanding employment opportunities with even more economic prosperity and promise on the other side of the Rio Grande.

Some miles north, the border region is frequently seen as poor and fraught with such social problems as drug trafficking, pollution and social tensions with even worse social and economic problems just over the border.

Both views are right and both are wrong because residents in Mexico and the U.S. measure the economic potential of the Border region with different expectations of the Mexican and U.S. economies. The economic future of each side is inevitably seen as a success or a failure within the context of larger national economies. And while the two national economies reinforce each other along the border, the very same dividing line forces the economies apart into different economic areas, with all their underlying forces and origins, creating distinct economic challenges for each side.

By what seems clear is that the main economic challenge along the U.S. side of the border will be educational improvement.

On the Mexican side, a more pressing need is to continue the phenomenal job growth in the northern Border States to extend the benefits of growth to more workers. If job growth slows without a similar slowing in population, social pressures caused by migration to northern Mexico from poorer parts of the nation could build to critical levels. (Illustration 4)

As a result of the success of the maquiladora plants, northern Mexico has become a prime destination for migrants within Mexico. From 1987 to 1988, the population of Ciudad Juarez grew by 1.8 percent due to natural increase and by 7.5 percent due to immigration. During this same period, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo grew by 1.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively, due to natural increase. But both grew by 3.7 percent due to immigration .

The maquiladora-program was initiated by the Mexican government as part of the change to neo-liberal opening to foreign economies since the middle 80 s. It offers free import of raw materials and free export of finished products and the ability to assemble with relative low cost for manpower to foreign enterprises while assuring investments with fixed installations creating jobs in structural weak regions.

The U.S. Border region cannot, and probably should not, compete for these jobs. Instead, the region should promote the further development of maquila operations in northern Mexico, while identifying higher-skilled, more capital-intensive companies that could provide services to the maquila industry from plants on the Texas side of the border.

NAFTA crowned the continued internationalization of the Mexican economy and the Border region, in part by institutionalizing many of Mexico’s unilateral economic changes of the 1980s, such as the elimination of many import licensing agreements in 1986 or the 1987 reduction in trade-weighted tariffs, by placing them in the context of an international agreement.

The economic path for the Texas-Mexico Border region seems clear. Lasting gains in living conditions on the U.S. side will come from improvements in the quality of workers and jobs, driven by better education and training. However, progress will be stabilized only if job opportunities in northern Mexico continue to multiply.

5. Cultural and religious differences

The Tex-Mex-culture

Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States – a famous saying from a Mexican priest. It reflects the ambiguous image of the Gringo in Mexico:

The victory of the Mexican War confirmed and strengthened the force of unfortunate Yanqui attitudes that the Mexicans had found so very threatening: a fierce intolerance of Catholicism; a conviction that the Mexicans, like the Indians and Negroes, were an inferior race; a belief that people who did not speak English were ignorant; and an open scorn for different attitudes toward the uses to be made of time and the land.

After the war, these same attitudes were directed against Mexicans who had lived in the Southwest for generations. Homeless in their homeland, they went to Mexico or to states like Louisiana, where cultural diversity was accepted. Some Mexicans remained in the Southwest, however, becoming citizens of the United States or its territories; and they were joined by others who migrated northward in the wake of revolution, famine, or other catastrophes that beset Mexico in successive decades.

Today the Southwest stands in ironic reversal of its situation in 1845. Now it is part of the United States, and the people who stand at its boundaries, poised to enter either legally or illegally, are Mexicans, once the possessors of the land. As they increase in numbers, they are reasserting the language, the religion, and the customs that once defined the culture of the Southwest. This time it is they who challenge the Yanquis : for economic opportunity, for individual rights and liberties, and for tolerance of their cultural differences. They are challenging the people of the Southwest to share the destiny that was promised by the land.

Much has been discussed about the dangerous possibility of “entreguismo,” or “surrendering to foreign influence,” by the border population in Mexico . But on the contrary, along that very border we find very often resistance which articulates in symbols, images and music derived from history that assert a cultural identity formed in opposition to the United States .

In the intense interactions on the Mexico-United States border, one can see important processes of forming a new regional culture. These cultural processes are inevitable and should not automatically be understood as the loss of national identity. To the contrary, because these processes that occur in northern Mexico and the southern United States involve relationships between neighbors across a border, their significance assumes an international dimension – even when they might seem to be local in nature.

The border is a stage with two actors in the same play: advanced capitalism and dependency; the internationalization of production processes and the intensive utilization of cheap, vulnerable manpower; and a global labor market and a decreased recognition of workers’ rights and of indigenous and emerging identities. But in that scene in the border, there is also cultural fusion, recreation, and resistance. In this space suffused by inequality, society looses its nationality and the sources of cultural identity become transparent.

Beyond faddish styles fashioned on American models particularly for consumption by the younger population, cross border popular culture is prominently expressed in the Tex-Mex-culture: musica nortena, language, symbols, and youth movements. Among the most recent of these movements to become popular after the mid-1970s is el cholismo, the most massive youth phenomenon that emerged among the poor population in the northern part of the country. Cholos represent a major cultural paradox, for they import their national symbols from the Chicano and Mexican barrios in the United States. Many of these symbols had given voice to cultural resistance in the Chicano movement and among Mexican-born youths throughout the United States; they were redefined and integrated into the speech, graphic arts, and symbolism of cholos in Mexico.

On the other side, important sectors of the Mexican-born population in the United States resist emotional and cultural isolation by consuming cultural products made in the U.S. Mexicans in the United States are also culturally strengthened by further immigration of Mexicans to that country and by relationships formed with populations on the border . In these cultural interactions, as in the consumption of Mexican cultural products , and in the immigrants’ implication in social and political processes in Mexico or in transnational processes such as undocumented migration, relationships between the Mexican and the Chicano populations in the United States are shaped by what happens south of the border .

In the crucible of the border, culture is subjected to a process of purification that refines and redefines the dominant traits of Mexican national culture and combines them with other popular forms, regional expressions, and emerging identities. However, the various collective identities find themselves penetrated and influenced by proximity of the United States. The presence of the United States takes various forms, and its cultural products are also redefined by the life experience of the social groups who use them.


In 1519, Fernando Cort s set out from Cuba to explore the coastline of Central Mexico followed by Francisco V squez de Coronado who explored northward in 1540 and came in the hopes of discovering “un nuevo M xico” -a New Mexico- perhaps even richer and more magnificent than the Mexico discovered by Fernando Cort s twenty-one years earlier. The first European settlement in what is now the Southwest occurred in 1540, a full three hundred years before the “Westward Movement” that has become ingrained in our consciousness.

Over the course of the succeeding three centuries, Spaniards would migrate to the vast reaches of the northern frontier of New Spain as missionaries, soldiers, merchants, farmers, and ranchers, and they would plant the seeds of a rich Hispanic culture in this part of the New World.

Perceptions of Spanish activities in the New World historically have tended to reflect a negative image, maintaining that the Spanish conquerors and settlers were unusually cruel to the Indians. This image was frequently reinforced in England and the Protestant countries of Europe by the publication of travel narratives with engraved illustrations that emphasized scenes of torture, maiming, and hangings.

But one of the strongest forces for the protection and religious training of the Indians was the Catholic missionary. From the very beginning of Spanish colonization of the Indies through the late eighteenth century, thousands of priests representing Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Augustinians, and other orders labored to convert the natives to Christianity. One of the most notable among these was Fray Bartolom de las Casas, whose untiring efforts in the early sixteenth century served as the catalyst for the reform laws.

The missionaries, most notably the Jesuits and Franciscans, also served to advance new Spain’s frontier northward into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Often accompanied by military presidios and civilian settlements, the missions served to indoctrinate Native American populations in the ways of Spanish culture.

Today Mexico s population is 89 % Roman Catholic , about 6% is Protestant but still there is a strong influence of the ancient indigenous traditions, which were adapted to the Catholicism. The religious situation in the border region is marked by a variety of religious groups. With growing percentages of Hispanic population, the intolerance of Catholicism of the Anglo-Saxon-Protestants has not diminished, but loosen importance.

6. Conclusions and outlook

In order to improve the social and economic situation in the Border region both the U.S. and the Mexican government have to enforce the yet existing development actions and introduce new measures. Among the most important and urging are:

? Improve the general acceptance of the population of Mexican origin and the Mexican immigrants.

? Stress ethical and humanitarian objectives by giving priority to refugees fleeing from persecution.

? Take advantage of the structural and economic differences by setting up U.S. assembling lines in Mexico and service-business in the U.S.

? Restructure provisional work programs that open the U.S. to temporary workers who take jobs that U.S. residents don t want, while guaranteeing the basic rights of these workers to organize and receive worker benefits such as unemployment compensation.

? Give political and social assistance to the Mexican government to stress the needed reforms of the Mexican political and economic reforms.

? Protect the most vulnerable economic sectors from an influx of low-wage competition.

? Lower legal immigration flows to sustainable levels.

? Protect the basic human rights of all U.S. residents, legal or not.

Working on the remaining problems the Border region will develop into a central area of industrial and economic success. For Mexico the northern border states will become the key to high technology from the northern NAFTA members. For the U.S. the border states in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas may take up with their neighbor states in the west and east in economic development by taking advantage of the benefits which offer Mexico to them.

7. Bibliography

? Causes of the Mexican-American War


? Making of America, Online Publications


? US Immigration and Naturalization Service


? Code Of Federal Regulations 8 (Aliens and Nationality) INS.CodeOfFederalRegulations8/index.htm



? Distant relations


? Culture, Migration & Madness on Both Sides of the R o Bravo


? The Azteca Web Page


? Transterritorial, The Spaces of Identity and the Diaspora



by Oscar J. Mart nez, Ph.D. University of Arizona


? BORDER STUDIES Texas – Mexico Border

Texas Humanities Resource Center


? Cross-Border Links: Where the Action Is

IRC U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Project


? CHICANO ART , A Resource Guide

The California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives, University Library, University of California, Santa Barbara http://www.library.ucsb.edu/speccoll/cema/introar2.html

? Aspekte der “Immigration Reform”-Debatte in den U.S.A.

Prof. David Kramer, Ph.D. Alice-Salomon-Fachhochschule Berlin



? The Population-Environment Report

A Publication of Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary, National Audubon Society by David Berger




? U.S. Census bureau


? People of California


? Texas Department of economic Development


? Instituto Nacional de Estatistica , Geografia e Informatica, Mexico http://www.inegi.gob.mx/homeing

? TED Case Studies- Rio Grande Case http://www.american.edu/projects/mandala/TED/RIOGRAND.HTM

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