U.S.-Mexico Border Conflict
in U.S. Popular Culture:
Recodifications of the Revolution
and the Porfiriato
Hollywood's Mexico consists of the U.S.-Mexican border as a specific region and the rest
of Mexico as an undifferentiated mass.
— Carlos E. Cortés1
The Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920 was concomitant with the rise of certain forms of visual mass media in the United States, such as feature-length films, newsreels, and picture postcards. Within such media coverage of the Revolution, images of the border figured prominently. Many key battles were fought on the Mexican sides of border twin cities, because they were strategically valuable points of entry for arms from the United States as well as collection sites for customs duties.2 The images of the U.S.-Mexico border of this era mark the emergence of an allegorical way of seeing the region that, I will argue, continues to be invoked to this day. According to this allegorical model, the border is a synecdoche of the nations it divides. That is, developments on the border are perceived to be symptomatic of the overall status of U.S.-Mexico relations, and the importance of border events is presented from the point of view of national actors rather than local inhabitants. This process of marking the border as an internationally strategic site also involved representing it as a militarized zone, rather than merely as a haven for individual deviants, as it had been portrayed in the Western genre.
Turning to this transitional period in Mexican history is also useful for periodizing the historical transformations of border images. In this chapter, I will consider the argument voiced by some Mexican intellectuals that the last three decades represent a “return of the Porfiriato,” that is, the three-decade-long dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, which was toppled by the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920. The comparison of the two historical periods implies that the futuristic “new border” of the post-1965