Ethnography at the Border

Ethnography at the Border

Ethnography at the Border

Ethnography at the Border

Synopsis

For cultural theorists, "the border" has proven a fluid and hybrid space profitably explored for new ideas about identity, gender, and ethnicity. But for those who occupy this region, the border is not merely a metaphor, but a lived experience, yielding immediate, often pressing ambiguities, problems, and perils. Focusing on a particular area of the U.S.-Mexico border, Ciudad Juarez-El Paso, Ethnography at the Border brings out the complexity of the border experience through the voices of the diverse people who inhabit the region. In a series of ethnographic essays that investigate specific aspects of border existence, the contributors provide rich and detailed insights into such topics as life in illegal subdivisions, called colonias, in Texas; the experience of actually crossing the bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez; the impact of Operation Blockade on illegal crossings; the controversy surrounding El Paso Border Patrol's proposal for a border wall in Sunland Park; the paradoxes of making "American,products" using Mexican workers; and the relevance of grassroots efforts, environmental problems, and the multiple meanings of "Mexican." The final chapter offers a critique of the all too metaphorical border often depicted by cultural studies. Painstakingly conveying how the border looks and feels to those on both sides, Ethnography at the Border transmutes statistics on migration, labor markets, and economic trends--as well as conceptualizations of cross-cultural identities--into the experience, the observations, and the troubling lessons of border life.

Excerpt

My intent in compiling this collection of essays is to offer people interested in border experiences a more nuanced, complex, and even contradictory picture of the U.S.–Mexico frontier than what is usually found in border literature. Belonging to a generation of ethnographers highly influenced by the “crossing borders” metaphor, I went to an actual border, Ciudad Juárez–El Paso, to see how the metaphor worked— and I encountered something else. That experience was more or less shared by an array of graduate students whose visit to the area coincided with mine in the early 1990s. Eventually we became friends, and we have maintained an intellectual dialogue. This book is a humble attempt to reflect our encounter with that particular portion of the U.S.–Mexico border and the subsequent intellectual exchange we experienced.

Although the essays in this collection were written from the perspective of different disciplines (geography, sociology, communications, literature, gender studies, anthropology, and political science), they were authored by people who, from a career standpoint, were a homogeneous group. All of us went to Ciudad Juárez–El Paso as graduate students to do fieldwork for our dissertation projects. Accordingly, though we are heterogeneous in gender, discipline, ethnicity, nationality, and theoretical orientation, we share the common experience of doing extended fieldwork in one border region. These differences and similarities in our various subject positions obviously influenced how we have experienced and written about the border.

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