Border Identifications: Narratives of Religion, Gender, and Class on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Border Identifications: Narratives of Religion, Gender, and Class on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Border Identifications: Narratives of Religion, Gender, and Class on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Border Identifications: Narratives of Religion, Gender, and Class on the U.S.-Mexico Border


From poets to sociologists, many people who write about life on the U. S.-Mexico border use terms such as "border crossing" and "hybridity" which suggest that a unified culture-neither Mexican nor American, but an amalgamation of both-has arisen in the borderlands. But talking to people who actually live on either side of the border reveals no single commonly shared sense of identity, as Pablo Vila demonstrated in his book Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders: Social Categories, Metaphors, and Narrative Identities on the U. S.-Mexico Frontier. Instead, people living near the border, like people everywhere, base their sense of identity on a constellation of interacting factors that includes regional identity, but also nationality, ethnicity, and race. In this book, Vila continues the exploration of identities he began in Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders by looking at how religion, gender, and class also affect people's identifications of self and "others" among Mexican nationals, Mexican immigrants, Mexican Americans, Anglos, and African Americans in the Cuidad Juárez-El Paso area. Among the many fascinating issues he raises are how the perception that "all Mexicans are Catholic" affects Mexican Protestants and Pentecostals; how the discourse about proper gender roles may feed the violence against women that has made Juárez the "women's murder capital of the world"; and why class consciousness is paradoxically absent in a region with great disparities of wealth. His research underscores the complexity of the process of social identification and confirms that the idealized notion of "hybridity" is only partially adequate to define people's identity on the U. S.-Mexico border.


In my previous book in the Inter-America series, Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders, I tried to show how the categories and interpellations, the metaphors, and the narratives people use to address themselves and the “others” on the border have a basically regional logic in Juárez and an ethnic/racial one in El Paso (while national logics work on both sides of the border). Of course, I also wanted to show how the peculiar circumstances of the border “ask” people (above all, those of Mexican descent in the American side) to mix, in variable ways, those logics all the time. In this second book I will show how the regional, ethnic, and national logics behind interpellations, metaphors, and narratives are intricately intertwined with other possible identity anchors. I will concentrate on how religion, gender, and class subject positions are made meaningful in the border context when understood, as many people in the area do, through the particular lenses of region, ethnicity, and nation.

If, as Kristeva (1973) points out, texts derive their meanings from other texts, in a continual interplay of readings and interpretations, this book is much more intertextual than others, because in its pages I make continuous references to the first book of the series, Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders. However, that does not mean that this book cannot stand on its own and that it is mandatory to read the first volume to understand this second. On the contrary, I think that the narratives of religion, gender, and class I discuss here can be analyzed and comprehended in their own terms, in other words, as the particular discursive practices border actors enact to understand who they are in an area where particular discourses of region, ethnicity, race, and nationality are hegemonic.

In this book, I rely heavily on the literature that claims that a cumulative effect of sorts emerges from the diverse identities we bear in our everyday lives. As Avtar Brah (1992, p. 131) points out for the specific case of women:

Within … structures of social relations we do not exist simply as women
but as differentiated categories such as working-class women, peas
women, migrant women. Each description references a specificity
of social condition. And real lives are forged out of a complex articula
tion of these dimensions … in different womanhoods the noun is only

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