At the border, two nations colossally unequal in wealth and military strength face each other in a modern version of David and Goliath. Nowhere else in the world does the asymmetry loom greater, as the huge gap in per capita income and production between the two neighbors verifies. The border is an "open wound," writes Gloria Anzaldua, the Chicana poet, "where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds"; or, in the words of a Mexican, where people fleeing from ubiquitous poverty, the ceaseless search for jobs, and the bane of political thuggery are drawn northward by the mirage of the First World.
Distinct heritages and cultures clash at the border: One, a Catholic and Spanish society resting on Roman law; the other, by language and values, Protestant and, despite its surging minority population, English at heart. South of the Rio Grande lies Latin America, the Ariel of Enrique Rodó, the essayist from Uruguay and, to the north, his Caliban, Anglo America. America shares one of the world's two longest international borders with Canada, and the other with Mexico, but the differences between the two neighbors of European origin shrink when compared to those that separate mestizo Mexico from Rodó's colossus. For nearly two centuries, the overwhelming presence of the United States has been a sword of Damocles for Mexico; little of importance occurs north of the border that does not intrude upon the life of Mexicans.
Economics dictate this asymmetrical relationship. But without the distorted capitalism of Mexico that confronts the financial and industrial capitalism of the United State, the trade and commerce that joins them together would not exist. The disparity stimulates economic exchange, giving rise to border cities that handle dissimilar exports and imports. The United States provides the finished products and the financial capital, while burgeoning