Academic journal article Social Justice

Mexican Border Crossers: The Mexican Body in Immigration Discourse

Academic journal article Social Justice

Mexican Border Crossers: The Mexican Body in Immigration Discourse

Article excerpt

THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO SHARE A BORDER THAT EXTENDS NEARLY 2,000 miles along the southern borders of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In most areas, the border is located in remote and sparsely populated areas of vast desert and rugged mountain terrain. Historically, the U.S. side of the border has served as a staging arena for U.S. military forays into Mexico. For example, after Pancho Villa's excursion into Columbus, New Mexico, on the evening of March 9, 1916, General John "Black Jack" Pershing launched a military invasion into Mexico (Welsome, 2006). The border has also served as a burying ground for Mexicans crossing into the United States who get lost in the desert and die of thirst. The likelihood of finding dead Mexican bodies along the border joining Arizona and Mexico is so high that the area is known as "The Devil's Highway" among Mexicans crossing into the United States (Urrea, 2004: 20):

   You'd be hard pressed to meet a Border Patrol agent in either
   southern Arizona sector who had not encountered death. It would be
   safe to say that every one of them, except for the rankest probie
   just out of the academy, had handled at least one dead body. And
   they all knew the locations of unidentified skeletons and skulls.
   Bones peppered the entire region.

The border shared by the United States and Mexico, however, is more than just a line on a map demarcating the geographical separation between the two countries. It identifies a sharing of geographical, cultural, and social space between two neighbors (Weisman, 1986). The two neighbors are joined together by the border, almost like a seam between two pieces of cloth on a quilt. The U.S.-Mexico border engenders a discourse that encompasses the social, economic, political, and physical confines of social and geographical space. Regarding the cultural and political complexities of the border separating the United States and Mexico, Fox (1999: 122) has noted that "the border was always much more than a line demarcating national space. Emphasizing the social and cultural dimensions of the U.S.-Mexico border over topographical ones immediately gave 'border consciousness' a certain mobility." As a result, the U.S.-Mexico border, la frontera, is synergistic--it fuels social and cultural representations of the border.

The shared social and physical space that characterizes the U.S.-Mexico border has generated numerous social and public policy concerns in the United States, from immigration issues to terrorist threats (House Committee on Homeland Security, 2006; Doty, 2007). These concerns reflect the border's elasticity and vulnerability regarding the level of criminalization the United States imposes on Mexicans crossing the border into the United States. However, these concerns focus on only one aspect of the border: its use as a line separating "us" from "them." As a result, little attention is given to the representativeness of the U.S.-Mexico border for a discourse on meaning and belonging, in particular, situating the Mexican body in border discourses. We borrow from critical theory to construct a discussion regarding the social and cultural representations of the U.S.-Mexico border and the movement of Mexican bodies into the United States (see Beltran, 2004). Contrary to conventional perceptions that the border is a fixed concept that demarcates "us" from "them," we argue that the border is constantly changing in form and meaning. The movement of Mexican bodies into U.S. social spaces illustrates this synergism. An implicit argument here is that the border has the potential to merge land and people together into a shared body of social and cultural representations.

A Critical View of the Border

Sociologically, borders are partitions that divide social and geographical space, as well as cultural forms and their representations. Within this perspective the border shifts in form and meaning from a physical notion of geographical and social space to a discursive notion of the border as fluid. …

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