This is a book about the people who live on the other side of the southern border of the United States—a sprawling landscape of mostly arid lands and deserts that stretches from the Mexican city of Tijuana, cheek by jowl with the Pacific Ocean, to Matamoros, in the neighborhood of the Gulf of Mexico—and their links to the other side, where Americans make their homes from Brownsville to San Ysidro. It is one of the longest international boundaries in the world, setting apart two entirely different countries for more than two thousand miles. Nowhere else does a poor, Third World country like Mexico share a common border with a wealthy, powerful neighbor.
As any reading of American journals readily informs, the borderlands, to employ a term coined by the historian Herbert E. Bolton, are headline news: Witness the hullabaloo attached to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the global economy, the pundits who label assembly plants the saviors of the Mexican poor, the accounts applauding the capture of Mexican drug lords, and column upon column devoted to stories about illegal immigration, to call to mind just four topics of the day. For Mexico and the United States alike, border relations should be a matter of special interest. Both California and Texas, two of the biggest and richest states of the American union, front on Mexico, as do Arizona and New Mexico. Every day, more and more people inhabit both sides of the international line. A huge majority of Mexicans depend for their livelihood, either directly or indirectly, on the United States, but just the same, American border cities would slumber were it not for cheap labor and customers hungry for American goods. The exchange of goods and services underlies the dynamics of border economics.
The subject of the Mexican border brings back memories of my youth and forebears. My mother, her father and mother, and her grandparents, as well as patriarchs before them, were born and matured on the outskirts of Parral, a mining town in the border province of Chihuahua that dates from the early seventeenth century, where most of them were also overtaken by death. My mother and two of her sisters were the exceptions; they married, migrated north, and then succumbed on this side of the