Border Dilemmas


Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848-1912
Anthony Mora
2011, Duke University Press
379 pages

THE POOR inhabitants of La Mesilla who established their town on the southern, Mexican, side of the newly drawn borderline established by Mexico’s defeat at the hands of the US in 1846-48, thereby spurning the conquering power: for their patriotic efforts, they were subsequently incorporated into the expanding US in 1854 when the border was redrawn once again. But that six-year period provides the point of departure for a fascinating historical comparison by Anthony Mora of the development of La Mesilla, and of its progenitor, Las Cruces, just five miles to the north but established by Mexicans who had initially decided to take their chances in the US. Mora traces the trajectory of each town from their founding until New Mexico became a US state in 1912 in the first instance in which a territory was incorporated into the union with a majority that was not Euro-American. This is an absorbing and very valuable piece of work that explores how these two related towns were divided by conflicting ideas of race and nation – ideas that continue to inform the contemporary Mexican American experience. The book explores the evolution of differences in the understanding of race, nationality, religion, gender and regional identity across the towns, and identifies the emergence of a particular discourse around regionalism that emerged to reconcile racial and national conflict in the border area. Border Dilemmas concludes with engrossing reflections on what this historical exercise can tell us about multiculturalism and interracial relations in the US that have very contemporary relevance. In particular, Mora draws attention to how the experience of New Mexico informed the emergence of the category “Mexicans” who appear even today to be racial outsiders to the US and hence perpetual foreigners. The author writes: “As some scholars have suggested, Mexicans thereby appear in the United States as an ‘alien presence rather than as part of “American” history.’ Through various periods of the twentieth century, in other words, popular and political discussions most often made Mexicans and Mexican Americans unwelcome intruders who lacked any historical or cultural connections to (other) Americans. State-sponsored programs of mass deportations could then be justified in the 1930s, 1950s, 19802, and 2000s because those individuals did not ‘belong’ in the nation.” [p. 281] – GO’T

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