Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945

By George J. Sánchez | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

Across the Dividing Line

The most prevalent image of the American West is, of course, the frontier—an image fixed in American history by Frederick Jackson Turner, but popularized since by a host of writers. The frontier has always projected one myopic vision, that of the East looking West, civilization looking toward chaos, Europe looking toward the rest of the world. It casts the Euro-American as conqueror of both nature and foreign peoples, sometimes depicted as "savages," and speaks to the belief that the young American country would know no bounds in fulfilling its destiny to become the world's leading nation. It serves as a continuation of the story of migration to the New World, depicting the movement west as a destiny just as manifest as the momentous undertaking of crossing the Atlantic was a mission of redemption.

A concept of the border has had no comparable chroniclers among American historians for obvious reasons. The international border suggests limitations, boundaries over which American power and might have little or no control. It implies a dual vision, that of two nations looking at each other over a strip of land they hold in common. It acknowledges that at least two distinct peoples meet in this region, neither having the certain destiny of cultural and military superiority, and with conflict being an ever-present historical possibility. While "frontier" evokes an image of expansive potentialities, "border" speaks to what is real and limiting between nations and peoples.

The border, however, is also a social construct and has a distinct history. Simply demarking a line in the desert or a point on a river which designates the jurisdiction of two governments does not address the social and cultural significance assigned to that spot. It fails to account for the complex cultural and economic relationships that intertwine two countries when they share a common border. Moreover, the relationship between the United States and Mexico is further complicated by the fact that the northern side of this legal boundary was once held by the Re

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