Due in large part to sensationalist representations in contemporary media and politics, the U.S.-Mexico border is popularly understood as a space of illegal activity defined by threats to national security. Viewed through the late-20th and early-21st century prisms of drug wars, immigration restriction, terrorism, surveillance, and resurgent American nationalism, the border itself appears to be a definitive boundary between dichotomous societies, nations, and people. Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University Geraldo L. Cadava challenges this view in his book Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland (Harvard University Press, 2013). Focusing on the Arizona-Sonora segment of the U.S.-Mexico border during the mid-to-late 20th century, Cadava narrates the interlocked histories of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and whites as regional boosters (i.e., politicians and businessmen on both sides of the border) envisioned the formation of a Sunbelt Borderland extending from the urbanizing centers of Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona to the industrializing locales of Nogales, Hermosillo, and Guaymas, Mexico. Engaging the findings of scholars that have focused on the hardening of the U.S.-Mexico border through restrictionist federal immigration policies and the increased policing of the boundary itself during the first half of the 20th century, Cadava argues that recent borderlands history is “defined less by the international line itself and more by the range of economic, political, social, and cultural relationships that transcended the line.” What emerges is a rich history of transnational communication and movement throughout the region by a host of complex figures including businessmen, politicians, consumers, students, artists, and undocumented laborers; resulting in the development of a “regional culture forged through the institutions and traditions of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.
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