The following essay is drawn from my dissertation research, which covers road building and motor travel in Mexico from 1920-1952.
The celebrations that commemorated highway openings in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands reveal the optimism and ambitions that local communities had for greater binational engagement. In September 1941, for example, thousands of people gathered in Monterrey from across the region to inaugurate the new road to Reynosa, Tamaulipas. It was a great spectacle. The city police’s mariachi band and a travelling orchestra from Laredo, Texas played open-air concerts, while vendors lined the streets selling food and trinkets to visitors. Political speeches filled the day. Even the transit authority joined in the festivities, organizing a park for children to play-act driving with miniature automobiles and learn about motor safety. These events evoked a sense of community, reflecting a passage from President Manuel Ávila Camacho’s first state of the union address: “It is not possible to truly integrate a sense of the nation without an ample road network that facilitates economic exchange [and] connects human groups.” Continue reading
As both a college professor and a humanitarian aid worker, I am always searching for new films on immigration for my classroom. On April 29, 2013, the PBS series [I]NDEPENDENT LENS aired the documentary The Undocumented by filmmaker Marco Williams. The latest in a series of productions addressing the influx of border crossings in Arizona’s Sonora Desert, the film is, on the surface, the story of Marcos Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant living in Chicago and searching for his father Francisco, who was abandoned in the desert in 1998 while crossing to find work in the United States. Viewers follow Marcos eleven years later as he desperately reaches out to organizations such as Derechos Humanos, the Mexican Consulate, and the Pima County Medical Examiner in order to find his father and bring him home.
The Undocumented is more than the story of Marcos Hernandez’ s search, however. It is the story of the hundreds of desconocido(a)s discovered in the Arizona desert each year unable to speak for themselves and of the men and women who work tirelessly to help them regain their identity. Continue reading
I began this semester thinking that I wanted my undergraduate borderlands course to be continental in scope. What I envisioned, essentially, was a course that spent roughly equal time addressing imperial borderlands in North America, the U.S.-Mexico border, and the U.S.-Canada border. Having now finished my U.S.-Mexico borderlands course, I’ve completely changed my mind.
The two major lessons that I’ve learned in teaching this class (aside from the many minors ones) are: one, for a junior-level borderlands course I now prefer to focus primarily on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands; and, two, I’ve also learned to never again naively think that I know exactly how I want to teach a course before actually having tested my pre-conceived notions in the classroom.