Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Literature. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 02 March 2024

Border and la frontera in the US–Mexico Borderlandsfree

Border and la frontera in the US–Mexico Borderlandsfree

  • Alicia ArrizónAlicia ArrizónDepartment of Women's Studies, University of California, Riverside


In the U.S.–Mexico context, the concepts of the border, borderlands, and la frontera represent their ongoing complex geopolitical, cultural, and historical relations. With the signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, the Mexican and U.S. governments established the southern border of the United States. The border is the international boundary line between the two countries, and the borderlands are the zones neighboring both sides of that boundary. It is a place where the First and Third Worlds collide daily, creating borderlands that amount to collective spaces of transcultural/transnational encounters. The concept of la frontera represents a counter-narrative of the term “frontier,” which became synonymous with American expansionism, or the westward expansion of the United States as proclaimed by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1883. The Spanish term “frontera,” as used in this framework, presupposes a knowledge production ranging from the implications of land annexation to the geopolitical and cultural processes of borderland sites. While the borders mark the place where adjacent jurisdictions, communities, and nation-states meet, it has also been a hotly contested subject—literally and figuratively speaking—inciting extreme emotional reactions that fuel negative stereotypes about immigrants, ethnic discrimination, and xenophobia. Immigration has become one of the most salient sociopolitical issues discussed on the national level. Unfortunately, it is debated mainly outside of the historical context because the histories embedded in its borderlands can contribute enormously to inform current political debates about immigration in the United States. Border crossers coming from south of the border are often portrayed by U.S. politicians as the most unwelcome and undesirable (yet necessary) immigrants. As the national discussion on immigration reform continues and the alleged ills of the U.S.–Mexico border dominate the political discourse and the media, expressive art and print culture must continue to form novel epistemologies of borders and counter unsubstantiated alternative facts propagated by anti-immigrant groups. To that end, it is important to consider the border's literature and imagine the borderlands as the fruitful heterogeneous site of an imagined and creative homeland: Aztlán.


  • North American Literatures
  • Latin American and Caribbean Literatures
  • 19th Century (1800-1900)
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)
  • Literary Theory
  • Cultural Studies

In the 1840s, westward expansion in the United States was driven by the combined impetuses of the idea of Manifest Destiny and the discovery of gold in California. Of the two, the ideology of Manifest Destiny, which sanctified imperialism as the embodiment of the will of God, was more devastating for Mexicans. The Mexican-American War (1846–1848) was a direct consequence of the United States’ belief in its holy right “to overspread and to possess the whole continent which Providence has given us for the development of the greater experiment of liberty and federated self-government.”1 In blatant disregard of Mexican sovereignty, U.S. troops precipitated a lopsided war that resulted in the annexation of a prosperous territory containing rich farmlands and natural resources such as gold and oil. Besides the annexed land, the United States also gained control of the Pacific Ocean in the process, which contributed enormously to the country’s economic growth. Meanwhile, as Rodolfo Acuña noted, “Mexico was left with its shrunken resources to face the advances of the United States.”2 Acuña and many borderlands scholars have documented the “unofficial” story, revealing the violent acts of theft brought on by the expansionist war of Manifest Destiny.3

The relationship complexities between the Anglo expansionists and the Mexicans in the borderlands were uniquely represented in María Ruiz de Burton’s novels Who Would Have Thought It? (1872, rep. 1995) and The Squatter and the Don (1885, rep. 1997). Although Who Would is considered the first novel written in English by a Mexican living in the United States, both works were unknown until rediscovered and reprinted.4 Born in 1832 to an elite family of landholders in Loreto, Baja California, Mexico, she witnessed the 1846 U.S. invasion of La Paz, Baja California, at the start of the Mexican-American War. Paradoxically, three years later she married the captain of the invading army, Henry S. Burton. The novels reflect not only her ambiguous position as an elite, privileged woman but represent a critical view of romanticized democracy and justice in the United States. In the first novel, the protagonist Lola Medina, a wealthy Mexican American born in Indian captivity, faces the overt racism of her adopted New England family. In The Squatter, the story begins with the invasion of the Californios’ land and represents U.S. society’s cultural defamation of Mexican and Californios, as they are politically, economically, and socially marginalized. The portrayal of “migrants” living in a territory they had long considered “home” is vividly juxtaposed to the narrative of land annexation and its consequences of disenfranchisement. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which formally ended the war, guaranteed U.S. citizenship to Mexicans who remained north of the border: they had the right to own property and had the political liberty to preserve their language and cultural values. However, the treaty, like others that the U.S. federal government signed with the indigenous people of North America, was never upheld. The government breached its agreement by violating the clauses that guaranteed respect for the cultural autonomy and material property of Mexicans living in the United States. In the aftermath of the war, when the United States was rapidly developing as one of the most powerful empires in the world, Mexicans who chose to remain in the United States were subjected to the power and domination of Anglo expansionists. Lured by adventure and capitalist ideals, these Yankee explorers justified their imperialism as the will of “God.” They believed themselves to be the “chosen people.” Indeed, it was the alleged superior “racial” traits of Anglo-Saxons that became the impetus for American expansionism and empire building. The basis of white supremacy is embedded in this narrative.5 Most Mexicans living in the United States during the 19th century were considered a class separate from the whites, who increasingly insisted upon themselves as a homogeneous biophysical entity. The myth of racial purity and superiority became consonant with prevailing beliefs that each race had a unique quality that was ordained by God. Thus the relations between the “dispossessed” people and the adventurous “expansionists” came to be understood as “forever” fixed. In this way, the conquest of the Mexican Southwest transformed the Mexicans into a quadruply conquered people: subjugated militarily, they were also vanquished commercially, administratively, and culturally. This narrative of conquest and its cause and effect serve as background in Ruiz de Burton’s novels, which investigate issues at the core of borderlands history: national/binational identity, citizenship, gender, class, race, and power relations. Ruiz de Burton’s work has been considered a precursor to borderlands and Chicana/o literature. Her work documents the conquered Mexican population—one that despite being granted full rights of citizenship by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was becoming a subordinated and marginalized national minority.

While the Mexicans residing in the former Mexican territories were forced to assimilate into a “new” culture, they were regarded by U.S. citizens as inferiors. The treaty promised U.S. citizenship to former Mexican citizens, but the Native Americans residing in the ceded territories were not given full U.S. citizenship until the 1930s. The Gadsden Purchase and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the location of the current U.S.–Mexico border, creating a figurative and literal border that divided families and tribal communities alike. Such tragedy befell the Tohono O’odham tribe, who live in southern Arizona and in northern Sonora, Mexico. Unlike indigenous people along the U.S.-Canada border, the Tohono O’odham were not offered dual citizenship when the border divided their lands.6 Before the Gadsden Purchase, members of the Tohono O’odham moved freely across the current international boundary—with the blessing of the U.S. government—to work, participate in religious ceremonies, keep medical appointments, and visit relatives. The Tohono O’odham nation (formerly known as the Papago) is the only tribe in the United States that grants enrollment to its people who happened to be born on the Mexican side of the border. Regardless of Mexican citizenship, enrolled community members are entitled to health-care services provided by the tribe in Arizona. However, after the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Resolution 98-063, passed in 1998, enforcement of immigration laws has made it extremely difficult for all Tohono O’odham to continue their sovereign right to cross the U.S.–Mexico border.7 Because of issues related to drug trafficking and illegal immigration, the United States has created stringent border enforcement that restricts this movement. Tribal members born in Mexico, or some who may lack documentation to prove U.S. birth or residency, have found themselves trapped with no access to the tribal community centers.8 By imagining the border beyond these geopolitical disruptions, Tohono O’odham poet Ofelia Zepeda reminds us of the power of words in her poetry collection Where Clouds Are Formed (2008), in which she explores what it means to be O’odham in a rapidly changing world.9 In her poetry, she invokes a powerful sense of O’odham identity that is tied to land and language. In the poem “Landscape,” she depicts an old woman who tells us that she is “aware of the unevenness of the landscape” and that “the earth has no smooth surfaces. In “Lost Prayers,” the plight of migrants unaccustomed to a “new language” and the desert heat is juxtaposed with the O’odham, who know how to pray so that all elements of nature will fall into rhythm:

Passing below the sacred peak, here prayers signified by rosary beads are futile. Calling on the Virgin Mary is useless. Instead, one must know the language of the land. One must know the balance of the desert. One must know how to pray so that all elements of nature will fall into rhythm.10

Aztlán: The Imagined and Physical Borderlands

First used by a group of Chicano activists led by Oscar Zeta Acosta during the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the term “Aztlán” was applied to name the territory of northern Mexico annexed by the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War. Aztlán redefines space; and its discursive configurations, ranging from ancient mythology to land annexation, are engaged repeatedly in Chicano literature and Chicana feminist practices.11 Aztlán became a symbol for Chicano activists who believe they have a legal and primordial right to the annexed land. From the “manifesto” of the nationalist Chicano movement to the feminist theorizations in Cherríe Moraga’s queer configurations of space and bodies, the Aztlán epistemological legacy affects cultural identity, shaping the ongoing modifications—and sometimes commodifications—of the collectivity.12 In Moraga’s view, queer Aztlán is a particularly potent cultural metaphor for redefining the Chicano movement in the 1990s. She writes, “Since lesbians and gay men have been forced out of our blood families, and since our love and sexual desire are not housed within the traditional family, we are in a critical position to address those areas within our cultural family that need to change.”13

Moraga’s “imagined community” is a call of liberation from the sexism and homophobia that damaged the Chicano movement. Thus, queer Aztlán becomes the site of the imagined borderlands. The affirmation of Aztlán as an imagined borderland becomes a symbolic act that reclaims the lost territory and reaffirms cultural identity. Yet Aztlán’s spiritual reality helps combat racism and exploitation, while its physical reality justifies contemporary efforts to reclaim this lost land—the vanished territory after the Guadalupe Hidalgo. The queering configuration of Aztlán is deeply embedded in the anthology Queer in Aztlán: Chicano Male Recollections of Consciousness and Coming Out (2015) by editors Adelaida del Castillo and Gibran Guido.14 This collection brings together mainly original work by queer Chicanos/Mexicanos that expressively engage in youthful discoveries of sexuality, coming out, and critical moments of identity formation. Autobiography, essays, recipes, poems, plays, and prayer are used as way to represent new possibilities for being and belonging to more inclusive communities. The Aztlán reconfigured in this contemporary volume, surpasses the nationalist agendas proclaimed in the 1960s when El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán attested to the declaration of Chicanismo. Like Moraga’s queer Aztlán, the search for a homeland that could embrace its entire people and its diversity is fundamentally necessary.15

Since the late 1960s, many works of literature and critical studies volumes used Aztlán as a tool to reclaim Chicana/o identity and borderlands agency. In 1970, the first issue of the journal Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies was published at UCLA, as a way to make Chicano studies visible and competitive with Latino, ethnic, American, and global studies. Aztlán has been the leading journal in the field of Chicano studies since 1970. In the first issue, the poet Alurista wrote the preface in poetic form (“Poem in Lieu of Preface”). He unites the mythical Aztec past with the present. For him, the use of indigenous signifiers are used to mark Chicano subjectivity and cultivate pride in its cultural legacy:

mYthIcal land for those who dream of roses and swallow thorns or for those who swallow thorns in powdered milk feeling guilty about smelling flowers about looking for AztláN16

Alurista’s vision of Aztlán juxtaposes the mythical Aztec past with the contemporary struggles of the “new” pilgrims in the Promised Land. The signifier Aztlán is also used in the novel by Miguel Méndez, Peregrinos de Aztlán (1974).17 Recognized as a classic borderlands novel, Pergrinos is set in the 1960s near the Tijuana border. The central character is Loreto Maldonado, an old Yaqui man working in a car wash. From Chuquito and Chalito to Chuyito, Bobby Foxye and Colonel Rosario Chayo Cuamea, Méndez introduces characters from a variety of backgrounds to illustrate the heterogeneity of that particular border community—not just Chicano, but also Mexican, Yaqui, and Anglo as well. He depicts those Mexicans who became “Americans” with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe and those drawn to the States as cheap labor. Peregrinos represents the collective voices of the millions of migrant workers who enter the United States from Mexico in search of a better life. Similarly in Heart of Aztlán (1976), a novel by Rudolfo Anaya, the notion of pilgrimage is an obvious theme that recurs throughout the story: set in a mid-20th-century New Mexico barrio, Anaya evokes an intersection of myth, magic, and migration.18 Aztlán is fictionalized as an ideological construct manifested in the search of place and identity. This ideological construct is fundamentally the pretext in the new expanded edition of Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, edited by Rudolfo Anaya, Francisco Lomelí, and Enrique R. Lamadrid. In his contribution to the expanded edition, Anaya writes, “Aztlán is real because myth is real, we argued. Aztlán was potential because it was a place of prophecy. Migrating groups of Asians, in the process of becoming indigenous Americans, had settled in Aztlán.”19

Gloria Anzaldúa conceptualizes Aztlán as an in-between place, coinciding with the physical and metaphysical space of the U.S.–Mexico border.20 For her, the U.S.-Mexican border is an open wound, “una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture.”21 Anzaldúa uses the image of “blood” to symbolically depict Mexico and the United States as opposing forces, historically joined in the creation of the border space. Anzaldúa’s configuration of the “borderlands” makes a paradigmatic connection to the symbolic orders of the contact zone, which is “set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them.”22 As an example of contact zone, the borderland is where los atravesados (the border crossers), are in constant motion to avoid being trapped, arrested, and deported by la migra (the border patrol).23 The borderland as a contact zone, therefore, is a type of dangerous collective space wherein people try to cross in search of better opportunities and others hunt los atravesados for a livelihood, pleasure, and/or “vigilante-ism.” The tensions and risks are obvious signifiers. But still, border crossers endure the hazards of the contact zone everyday (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Road Sign Depicting the Silhouette of a Mother, Father, and Little Girl Running and the Word “caution,” on a Stretch of U.S. Interstate 5 Near the U.S.-Mexican Border in San Diego, California, 2005.

Photograph by Olga Vásquez.

As illustrated in the road sign, the silhouette of a mother, father, and little girl running and the word “caution” are intended to warn drivers that they may encounter people trying to cross lanes of freeway as they flee to escape la migra. In response to the increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants heading north of the U.S.–Mexico border, these signs were posted by Caltrans along the San Diego freeways in the early 1990s. During the mid-1980s and early 1990s, many immigrants were killed accidentally by drivers that failed to stop in time. Although the freeway deaths ended long ago, the road signs remain, marking the perils of the contact zone.24 As a metaphor for undocumented immigration, the sign represents the tension, which according to Anzaldúa, “grips the inhabitants of the borderlands like a virus. Ambivalence and unrest reside there and death is no stranger.”25 Anzaldúa alludes to la migra and the experience of immigrants when confronting the dangers of crossing or living in the borderlands. In the first chapter of her Borderlands book, “The Homeland, Aztlán,” she identifies poetically the border as “1,950 mile-long open wound” that divides people and their culture:

dividing a pueblo, a culture, running down the length of my body, staking fence rods in my flesh, splits me splits me me raja me raja This is my home this thin edge of barbwire.26

Anzaldúa embodies the physical and metaphysical border/borderlands. While she underscores the nearly two-thousand-mile physical boundary, she problematizes the notion that the fence only divides land by emphasizing how it has divided a people and a culture. She feels the pain of the border crosser and reminds us that we are historically migrants: “We have a tradition of migration, a tradition of long walks. Today we are witnessing la migración de los pueblos mexicanos, the return odyssey to historical/mythological Aztlán. This time the traffic is from south to the north.”27

While Aztlán is a symbolic cultural marker that reaffirms space and identity, it is embedded in narratives of peregrination/immigration that are a fundamental part of borderlands literature. The theme of immigration juxtaposed to the idea of the search for a place to call home marks a genealogy that questions the sense of belonging and identity formation. A classic Chicano novel of immigration is Barrio Boy (1971), the story of a boy’s journey and cultural transition from a Mexican village to the barrio of Sacramento, California. Ernie Galarza’s story is a collection of memories, beginning when he is about four years old and ending just before he starts high school. The Galarza’s family escaped the upheaval of the Mexican Revolution and began their peregrination from Jalcocotbn, Tepic, Acaponeta, Casa Redonda, Mazatlán, Nogales, and Tucson before they finally land in Sacramento, California. From Barrio Boy to the publication of Arturo Islas’s novels The Rain God (1984) and Migrant Souls (1990), Estela Portillo Trambley’s Trini (1986), and Victor Villaseñor Rain of Gold (1991), the theme of immigration/migration is an important element that connects these works of literature with the borderlands. The sequence novels of Islas are set in a fictional small town on the Texas–Mexico border. The novels tell the story of the Angel family who, as in the story of the Galarza’s clan, fled the Mexican Revolution and migrated to the Promised Land. While The Rain God tells the story of three generations of two families, their migration to the United States, and the difficulties they faced, Migrant Souls continues to explore the effects of life on the border. Similarly, Villaseñor’s Rain of Gold represents the story two families escaping from the Mexican Revolution to the relative safety of the United States. Villaseñor traces an accurate picture of life in Mexico in the early 1900s during the Mexican Revolution and in the coastal area of California from Prohibition through the 1930s. The migrant narrative is also exemplary in Trambley’s Trini, in which her young protagonist, Trini, crosses the borderlands after she loses her mother at an early age. Set in the borderlands in the 1940s and 1950s, the story in not only a journey across borders but also a journey into womanhood.

The immigrant experience as a theme can also be found in short stories. For example, Sandra Cisneros’s “Woman Hollering Creek” and María Helena Viramontes’s “Cariboo Café” distinctively represent the experience of border crossers. In “Cariboo Café” Viramontes reflects on the kinds of repression immigrants and refugees from Central America experience in the United States. She represents undocumented Spanish-speaking residents living in poverty and in fear of relocation or reprisal from police acting in conjunction with immigration officials. She parallels that repression to the tyranny some immigrants and refugees have been subjected to in their native countries instigated by totalitarian and corrupt military regimes. “Woman Hollering Creek” tells the story of a Mexican woman named Cleófilas who marries Juan Pedro Martínez Sánchez and moves with him across the border to Seguín, Texas. Like the happy stories she watches in the telenovelas (soap operas), she hopes of having a joy-filled marriage. However, Juan Pedro is unfaithful, abusive, and often leaves her in isolation. As her depression increases, her interest in the legendary figure, la llorona (“weeping woman”) (and the creek named after her that runs behind her house) also develops. Symbolically, unlike this “weeping woman,” who chooses death as a means to escape her unloving husband, Cleófilas, chooses life and independence. With the help of two women, Felice and Graciela, she is able to leave her abusive husband and escape back to Mexico. While Viramontes explores the terrible emotional consequences of repression and poverty that immigrants and refugees confront, Cisneros’s represents a story of a woman who crosses the border back and forth in search of happiness.28

The Mexican Revolution was a major armed struggle that started in 1910, ending the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. While the revolution completely transformed Mexican culture and government, it was a phenomenon that caused Mexicans to flood north across the border into the relative safety and security of the United States. As a subtext, the revolution is clearly embedded in the literary trajectory of many Chicano/a authors during and after the Chicano movement. The manifestation of the revolution as a thematic unit took dramatic form decades earlier in the works of Josefina Niglli. “Little Niggli,” as the family called her, was sent out of Mexico in 1913 to escape the disruption of the revolution. During the late 1920s and early 1930s Niggli became popular in San Antonio, Texas, writing and producing for KTSA Radio. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Incarnate Word College in 1931, she began to study playwriting at the San Antonio Little Theatre. In 1935 she joined a graduate program called the Carolina Playmakers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She completed her master’s degree with Singing Valley, a play produced by the Carolina Playmakers in 1938. During this time she wrote a few historical plays about Mexico: The Fair God, The Cry of Dolores, and Azteca. She also wrote some plays that deal with the Mexican Revolution as a central theme. The most fascinating play of this stage in her playwriting is Soldadera, which depicts the daring participation of women soldiers. During the late 1940s and early 1950s critics described her as “an American writer born in Mexico,” or as a “native of Hidalgo.” In her novel Mexican Village (1945) she characterizes life in a rural Mexican community. In 1953 Hollywood adapted this novel into the film Sombrero. In 1947 Niggli published her second novel, Step Down Elder Brother, which focused on the industrial city of Monterrey, Mexico. The novel examines what it means to be Mexican in the modern, post-revolutionary moment. In 1964, she wrote her third and last novel, A Miracle for Mexico, in which the narrative of the Virgin of Guadalupe is intertwined with the lore and legends of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations.29

Narratives of Border Crossers, Immigration, and “Illegality”

Historically, the evolution of U.S. immigration policy toward crossers from the southern border is marked by ups and downs, best characterized by its constant fluctuations, contradictions, and inconsistencies. In the early 1920s, the majority of undocumented workers who crossed the border did not have any protection against exploitation by American farmers. Influenced by President Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy, Mexico and the United States began negotiating an agreement to protect the rights of Mexican agricultural workers.30 After the United States entered World War II, and with American men going off to fight the war, the demand for cheap migrant agricultural laborers increased exponentially: so much so that the United States approached the Mexican government regarding its need for farm laborers. Consequently, the Mexican and U.S. governments collaborated on the Bracero Program (1942 through 1964), which was designed to allow controlled migration of Mexican nationals into the United States as farm workers.31 The Bracero Program lasted 22 years, becoming the largest foreign worker program in U.S. history with more than 5 million Mexican nationals legally contracted for work in twenty-four U.S. states. While some Mexicans simply crossed the border illegally, some braceros returned to the United States several times on different contracts—feeding the circular migration patterns of Mexicans into the United States.

As a reaction to undocumented immigration during the Bracero Program, Operation Wetback (1954) was created as a repatriation project intended to remove undocumented Mexican immigrants or “wetbacks” from the Southwest.32 Pejoratively used in the United States as an ethnic slur to refer to Mexicans, in particular undocumented workers or those perceived as illegal border crossers, the term “wetbacks” (mojados) imagines border crossers getting wet in the process of swimming across the Rio Grande from Mexico to Texas (or the Colorado River between Sonora and Arizona). While Operation Wetback temporarily worked in part as deportation tool in the 1950s, it did not quell the unrelenting U.S. demand for cheap labor, which implicitly and explicitly supported illegal immigration through the sustained hiring of undocumented workers. The bracero experience, or the stories of documented or undocumented workers, have been the subject of a distinctive narrative by Mexican authors. From the point of view of a bracero, the novel by Jesús Amaya Topete, Aventuras de un bracero (1949), is it worth mentioning because it was written during the Bracero Program. Topete’s narrative provides a complete and unique depiction of a bracero’s journey. The narrative follows its unnamed protagonist throughout his entire “adventure”: from obtaining an official contract in Mexico City, to his transportation by train to California to do hard labor as a farm worker, to his disappointment and disillusioned return to Mexico. Similarly, the 1948 novel by Luis Spota, Murieron a mitad del rio (They died in the middle of the river), represents the harsh conditions Mexican immigrants experience as they cross the border and work long hours for low wages. The narrative begins with the main protagonist, José Paván, a native of Mexico City, and his friends Luis, Lupe, and Cocula, crossing the border. In homophobic terms, Cocula is negatively depicted as a self-absorbed homosexual who becomes frightened and decides not to cross the river with his friends. The other three cross the border and find temporary work in agriculture and fishing. They continually have to move due to threats of violence and mistreatment at the hands of Mexican Americans and Anglos. Tragically, Lupe is shot to death when crossing the river after spending the eve of Mexican independence in Mexico, and Luis is detained by the border patrol. The novel ends when Paván is deported to Mexico by U.S. authorities. Also at the end of the novel, Cocula reappears, living in a small Texas town: after obtaining a fake social security number, he was able to secure a job as a cook.33 While both novels are intended to represent the harsh conditions suffered by immigrants who cross the border in search of work and wealth, the moral message suggests that Mexicans should stay home, even under the most challenging circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Latino demographic in the United States had continued to increase in the midst of growing prejudice and racism manifested in xenophobic legislative bills. One of the most controversial anti-Latino immigrant laws in Arizona is the S.B. 1070 (2010), which discriminates against anybody who may appear to be an undocumented immigrant. While supporters tried to justify the bill in the guise of border security, racial profiling was clearly intended in its conception. In addition, the establishment of extreme militarization of the border have served only to decrease real security in the borderlands. Despite these dreadful circumstances, immigrants continue to attempt to cross the Arizona’s desert in search of a better life. In response to the increased militarization of the border, many humanitarian groups have emerged to help prevent unnecessary deaths by providing these immigrants with medical aid, water, and food during their journey. Some of the stories resulting from these encounters, between migrants and humanitarians, are documented in Crossing with the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail by Kathryn Ferguson, Norma A. Price, and Ted Parks. The stories collected in this book are the accounts of immigrants told to volunteers for the Samaritans, one of humanitarian groups helping immigrants in the desert.34 The humanitarian needs are juxtaposed to religious implications in The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands (2010), in which Margaret Regan recounts the story of Josseline Jamileth Hernández Quinteros, who was only fourteen years old when she died alone in the Arizona desert. She and her younger brother were crossing the border into the United States with a group of people and were on their way to be reunited with their mother in Los Angeles. When she became sick in the desert, the group abandoned her. Three weeks later, her decomposed body was found. Her story, as represented in this book, has become symbol for all the migrants who have died in the borderlands.35

Border crossers and Latino/a immigrants, documented or undocumented, continue to redefine social categories of belonging, especially their cultural citizenship: the right to claim their own cultural difference and to be treated as a first-class citizen. One such group is the DREAMers—young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and educated here. They have reenergized the immigrant rights movement, which led to a series of local and state-level victories and eventually to the passing of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012.36 The DREAMers movement also inspired thousands of older immigrants to rise up and demand their right to stay in the United States and claim their cultural citizenship.37 Cultural citizenship provides agency to their subjected and dehumanized immigrant experience. The understanding of cultural citizenship in the context of human “illegality,” implicit in the ill-treatment of immigrants, is counteractive to the dominant discourse that stigmatizes and rejects them. Cultural citizenship can clearly be applicable in the testimonies recounted by and about undocumented students. In We Are Americans: Undocumented Students Pursuing the American Dream (2009) by William Perez and Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out (2008), edited by Gabriela Madera, hope and determination characterize the unique sensibilities and subjectivities of students.38 Determination and audacity are inherent in Julissa Arce’s 2016 memoir, My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive.39 While her story of “coming out” as an undocumented successful Latina challenges immigrant stereotypes, her experience validates the stories of millions living powerless in the United States. Another story of personal triumph is Diane Guerrero’s 2016 memoir In the Country We Love: My Family Divided. The television actress from Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin was only fourteen years old when her parents were detained and deported. Guerrero was born in the United States to Colombian parents who lived in the United States until they were deported in 2001. After the deportation of her parents, friends and family took her in, which prevented her from been placed in state care. She says in the opening of her memoir: “My story is heartbreakingly common. There are more than eleven million undocumented immigrants in America, and every day, an average of seventeen children are placed in state care after their parents are detained and deported.”40 Stories about deported parents and children placed in state care are compellingly documented in Margaret Regan’s 2016 non-fiction book Detained and Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire. Regan documents the narratives of families that have been trapped by the United States’ punitive immigration policies.41

The narratives, memoirs, and testimonies of the undocumented experience narrated from the perspective of the undocumented is a call not only to elicit solidarity from readers but also an act that authorizes the agency of the speaking subject. Since the publication of Ramón “Tianguis” Pérez’s Diary of Undocumented Immigrant in 1991, the resistance against “illegality” has been significantly articulated in personal narratives.42 In Diary, the first-person voice narrates the author’s journey to the United States as an undocumented immigrant. After experiencing some problems crossing the border, he finally arrives in the United States, where he eventually holds menial jobs in Houston, San Antonio, and later in Oregon, where he harvests strawberries. The burdensome of “illegality” is what Jose Angel N. writes in his 2014 testimony Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant.43 He describes the distress and humiliation of what it means to be undocumented or living “amid the shadows,” as he describes it. The same sentiments are marked in the story of Yamileth, a Nicaraguan Sandinista woman who migrates to Los Angeles in 1989 searching for a better life and better economic opportunities. In testimonial form, her story is told in Undocumented in L.A.: An Immigrant’s Story (1997) by Dianne Walta Hart.44 Yamileth looks for a place to live and a job to support her family, but she must also keep secret the fact that she is undocumented. For Alberto Ledesma, questions of belonging are fundamental in his 2017 book Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life.45 In his graphic memoir, Ledesma uses humor to depict his personal experience from being an undocumented immigrant to becoming a student and college professor while representing the complex concerns of undocumented youth who struggle in search of community and their identity formation.

Narrativa fronteriza and the Perils of the Borderlands

For Anzaldúa, a “borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants.”46 This undetermined place is also a landscape where violence leads to crime and to the uncertainty of the justice system and sometimes drug trafficking. These are also themes inseparable from fictional narratives capturing the perils of borderlands. Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s 2007 novel Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders represents the City of Juárez and its border with El Paso, Texas, in a mystery thriller about the mass murders of women.47 The protagonist, Ivon Villa, is a lesbian professor living in Los Angeles, California, who returns home to El Paso to adopt a baby boy from Cecilia, a Mexican maquiladora worker living across the border in Juárez. But to her dismay, Cecilia was found dead in the desert, with the baby disemboweled. Ivon’s life is complicated when her sixteen-year-old sister Irene is kidnapped while visiting Juárez. The search for her sister leads Ivon to discover a terrifying conspiracy that involves everyone from the border patrol to the corrupt authorities in Juárez. Gaspar de Alba contextualizes the terrifying death of women in the border region of El Paso/Juárez. Since 1993, the number of feminicidios (as they are called in Mexico) continues to rise despite international pressure and government-led initiatives.48 The Juárez feminicidio targets a specific group of women and girls: young women from impoverished backgrounds who work either as waitresses or in the maquiladora industry (manufacturing operation) or they are students. The Juárez femenicidio is also the pretext for Stella Pope Duarte’s novel, If I Die in Juárez.49 In this narrative, thirteen-year-old Evita Reynoso struggles with the dangerous life on the streets of Juárez after being run out of her home by her alcoholic mother. While struggling to survive in the streets, she glimpses newspaper columns about the murders in the city. Her cousin, Petra de la Rosa, comes to the city with her family from a small village, as they seek medical help for her father. Petra and her mother begin working at an American-owned maquiladora while Evita traverses the city’s streets. An acquaintance of Petra, Mayela, a twelve-year-old Tarahumara Indian, also migrates to the city. Over the course of the story, the girls are stripped of their childhoods and face the realities and atrocities of the city’s harsh environment. After a casual encounter reunites the girls, they must work together before one of their own becomes a victim. Both novels are graphic representations of the femenicidio dangers. In response to the Juárez murders of women, journalist Sergio González Rodriguez sees the implementation of the maquiladora industry as a transborder ultra-capitalist scheme that contributes to the transformation of Juárez into what he calls “the femicide-machine.” In his book, The Femicide Machine, he uses the machine allegory to explain what seems to be an almost incomprehensible level of misogynistic violence and systematic failure of the Mexican authorities to address the feminicidio effectively.50 His “femicide machine” can be read as a neocolonial, patriarchal contact zone where the abstract terror of capitalism and globalization intersects with entrenched machismo and male hegemony in a judicially corrupt state plagued by the harsh reality of a border city.

The portrayal of Juárez is also representative in the writings of Alejando Paés Varela, native of Juárez, in which drug traffickers (narcos and sicarios) are central characters in his novel, Corazón de Kaláshnikov: El amor en los tiempos del narco (Love in the times of the narco) (2009). Like in the two previous novels, Juárez life is depicted in a narrative that opens up a debate on the culture of violence and drug trafficking in Mexico.51 The protagonists find themselves face to face with their destinies, following the route of a series of tragedies in their Juárez coexistence: a prostitute, the widow of a trafficker leader who now loves a hitman, an inexperienced murderer, a criminal who starts a new life, a body dissolved in acid, and the misfortune of three children who played around a car—are all part of this story. In general, it portrays the border as detached environment where the murders of women are just a bureaucratic misstep.

The complexities of living on the U.S.–Mexico border region is also a thematic unit in the works of Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, a native Tijuanense. Crosthwaite was born in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, where he spent most of his life before moving to San Diego, California. In San Diego, he worked at the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper as columnist and editor. In his 2010 journalistic-style novel, Tijuana: Crimen y olvido (Crime and forgetfulness), the “author,” whose signature is the initials “LHC,” investigates the disappearance of two journalists, Magda and Juan. While Magda is a resident of Tijuana, Juan lives in San Diego. By confronting the absence of a constructive debate on forced disappearance of people in media and politics, as well as the lack of a social structure where the concerns about the victimized could be addressed, the novel offers a reflection on the limitations of constructing the meaning of violence. Crosthwaite offers a sardonic sociohistorical analysis of the border wall in his 2002 book Instrucciones para cruzar la frontera (Instructions to cross the border).52 His analysis of a wall and two cities, two territories, two countries, two conceptions of the world (opposite and complementary at the same time) highlights an oppositional vision of the good and bad aspects of urban life between the underdeveloped side (Tijuana) and the “developed” side (San Diego). In the end, a city like Tijuana, the author suggests, must seek its own identity.

The selected texts in this section can be seen as paradigms conceptualized as narrativa fronteriza, situated in two distinctive border locations. The issues discussed here, from feminicidio to the story of the disappeared and the paradoxical knowledge embedded in the border metropolis, do not intend to be exhaustive nor absolute. While these border cities are centers of oppression and violence, they are also sites of liberation and creativity.

Discussion of the Literature

In her book La Borderlands/La Frontera, Anzaldúa wrote about immigrants who had crossed the border safely and “find themselves in the midst of 150 years of racism in the Southwest and in big northern cities. Living in a no-man’s-borderland, caught between being treated as criminal and being able to eat, between resistance and deportation, the alien refugees are some of the poorest and the most exploited of any people in the U.S.”53 Her book has vivid descriptions of the perils immigrants encounter in their journey. Ten years later, influenced by Anzaldúa’s borderlands consciousness, José Saldívar explained in Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies (1997), his reasons for writing about the border: “I have written this book about the U.S.–Mexico border precisely because the government is gearing up to implement a new “battle plan” against border-crossers from the South into the North, a plan involving a complex network of support from the military, the National Guard, and local police department.”54

While José Saldívar locates Chicana/o cultural studies in the larger frame of American Studies, Anzaldúa’s borderlands knowledge has become a groundbreaking paradigm, influencing new discourse and thinking on the experience of mobility and migration in the 21st century. Sonia Saldívar responded to this borderlands knowledge in her 2000 book Feminism on the Border: Chicana Gender Politics and Literature, in which she contextualizes Chicana cultural productions and literature while calling for solidarity between Third World women in the United States and elsewhere.55 While she examines the works of Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros, and Helena María Viramontes and the critical contributions of Norma Alarcón, Cherríe Moraga, Eliana Rivero (and countless others), Saldívar juxtaposes her “transfrontera” method to Central American women’s testimonies. Her “transfrontera” theory takes up the perception of the borderlands as a transnational social, cultural, and geographic space. The transnational method is also used by the coeditors of Border Women: Writing from La Frontera, which is a study of short fiction by Chicanas and Mexican fronterizas from the U.S.–Mexico border. While the authors critique the conceptualization and abstraction of a border theory that it is not directly linked to geography, their approach to women writers from north and south of the border intends to situate borderlands literature as a truly transnational endeavor.56 The transnational approach is what makes Bridges to Cuba: Puentes a Cuba (from editor Ruth Behar) a collection that defines the notion of the border in broader terms. For the first time in English, this book brings together second-generation Cuban voices, both on the island and in the diaspora. In describing the contradictions of being a border woman, María de Los Angeles writes in the collection: “I am ‘white’ when I wake up in Havana, but I am ‘other’ because of my migratory experience. I am again ‘other’ when I journey the thirty minutes through airspace to Miami, because I am not longer ‘white’, and because my commitment to return to Cuba and have a normal relationship with my home county makes me politically ‘other’ among Miami Cubans.”57

Influenced greatly by Anzaldúa, the study of borders has been established as an interdisciplinary field in late-1980s/early-1990s academia. It reinforces a sense of historical legitimacy while emphasizing the challenges linked to Chicana/o and Latina/o identities, the continually growing immigrant Latino communities, and sense of belonging. While geographers were the first to begin studying borders and boundaries, these areas are now critically studied by anthropologists, economists, sociologists, literary and cultural critics, ethnologists, historians, and more. Many have considered the geopolitical effects of borders in relation to nationalism, national borders, and citizenship. In the study of the U.S.–Mexico border, the borderlands is a useful concept of inclusion that embraces the large migrant communities even in parts of the United States located far from the southern border, such as Chicago and New York. In the Mexican border regions, the study of borders (or “los studios fronterizos”) was founded in 1982 after the Centro de Estudios Fronterizos del Norte de México (Cefnomex) was established. In 1986 it adopted its current name, El Colegio of la Frontera Norte. El Colegio publishes two important journals: Revista Migraciones Internacionales and Revista Frontera Norte. The focus of Revista Migraciones is the study of migration and immigration internationally; Revista Frontera Norte is a bilingual journal focusing on the complexities of the U.S.- Mexico border and other binational border relations.

U.S. Latina/o literature and literary/cultural criticism stands at the imagined crossroads of the borderlands. Since the 1970s, multiple works began to appear in the United States: Aztlán: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature (1972); Borinquen: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Writers (1974); Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings (1989); Latina: Women’s Voices from the Borderlands (1995); The Floating Borderlands: Twenty-Five Years of U.S. Hispanic Literature (1998); Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature (2005); Companion to Latina/o Studies (2007); Performance in the Borderlands (2010); Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.–Mexico Border (2011); Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands (2012); to mention just a few of the more prominent titles.58 From the nationalist agendas implicit in the preliminary contributions by Chicanos and Puerto Ricans to the development of new spaces in Latina/o literature and cultural criticism, the unmasking of the multiple sources of Latina/o identity is crucial to an understanding of the borderlands. Even though not all Latinas/os are black or brown, and some speak only English, some only Spanish, and some Spanglish, the complexity embedded in national-cultural markers of identity formation must be related to that which defines Latinas/os in general, and Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Chicanos, Cubans, and many others. Thus the term Latina/o, in its own gendered inflection, signals the complexity and heterogeneity of the borderlands.

In the 1990s, Latina/o writers became more visible as their works began to be published in mainstream print media. As pointed out in the introduction of (Re)mapping the Latina/o Literary Landscape (2016), the Latina/o works they critically examine suggest a framework to “consider the utility for mapping. Whether [they] are mapping land, borders, time, migration, or connections and disconnections across time and space.”59

Further Reading

  • Abrego, Leisy J. Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014.
  • Aldama, Frederick Luis. Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.
  • Benhabib, Seyla, and Judith Resnik, eds. Migrations and Mobilities: Citizenship, Borders, and Gender. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
  • Brady, Mary Pat. “Border.” Keywords for American Cultural Studies. Edited by Bruce Burgett and Glen Hendler, 29–32. New York: New York University Press, 2007.
  • Calderón, Héctor, and José David Saldívar, eds. Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991.
  • Camacho, Alicia Schmidt. Migrant Imaginaries: Latino Cultural Politics in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands. New York: New York University Press, 2008.
  • Caminero-Santangelo, Marta. Documenting the Undocumented: Latino/a Narratives and Social Justice in the Era of Operation Gatekeeper. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016.
  • Cantú, Lionel, Jr. The Sexuality of Migration: Border Crossing and Mexican Immigrant Men. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
  • Castañeda, Jorge G. Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants. New York: New Press, 2007.
  • Cecil, Leslie G., ed. New Frontiers in Latin American Borderlands. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2012.
  • Chang, Kornel S. Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
  • Chávez, Sergio. Border Lives: Fronterizos, Transnational Migrants, and Commuters in Tijuana. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Cornelius, Wayne A., and Jessa M. Lewis. Impacts of Border Enforcement on Mexican Immigration: A View from the Sending Communities. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006.
  • Cotton, Trystan, ed. Transgender Migrations: The Bodies, Borders, and Politics of Transition. New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Davis Rocío G., Dorothea Fischer-Hornung, and Johanna C. Kardux, eds. Aesthetic Practices and Politics in Media, Music, and Art: Performing Migration. New York: Routledge, 2010.
  • Díaz, George T. Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling Across the Rio Grande. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.
  • Erickson, Winston P. Sharing the Desert: The Tohono O’odham in History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003.
  • Ferguson, Yale H., and Richard W. Mansback, eds. Globalization: The Return of Borders to a Borderless World. New York: Routledge, 2012.
  • Flores, Juan. Divide Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity. Houston: Arte Público, 1993.
  • Fojas, Camilla. Border Bandits: Hollywood on the Southern Frontier. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
  • Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. The New World Border: Prophecies, Poems & Locuras for the End of the Century. San Francisco: City Lights, 1996.
  • Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. Dangerous Border Crossers. New York: Routledge, 2001.
  • Griswold del Castillo, Richard, and Arnoldo de León. North to Aztlán. New York: Twayne, 1996.
  • Gutiérrez-Jones, Carl. Rethinking the Borderlands: Between Chicano Culture and Legal Discourse. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
  • Harsha, Walia, and Andrea Smith, Undoing Border Imperialism. Chico, CA: AK Press, 2013.
  • Khosravi, Shahram. “Illegal” Traveler: An Ethnography of Borders. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Lowe, Lisa. The Intimacies of Four Continents. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.
  • Mata, Irene. Domestic Disturbances: RE-Imagining Narratives of Gender, Labor, and Immigration. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014.
  • Nicholls, Walter. The Dreamers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.
  • Paredes, Américo. “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958.
  • Payan, Tony. The Three U.S.–Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration and Home Land Security. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2006.
  • Saldaña-Portillo, María Josefina. Indian Given: Racial Geographies across Mexico and the United States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.
  • Saldívar, Ramón. The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
  • Schmidt Camacho, Alicia. Migrant Imaginaries: Latino Cultural Politics in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands. New York: New York University Press, 2008.
  • Staudt, Kathleen, Julia E. Monárrez Fragoso, and César M. Fuentes, eds. Cities and Citizenship at the U.S.–Mexico Border: The Paso del Norte Metropolitan Region. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Stephen, Lynn. Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.
  • Stephen, Lynn. “Expanding the Borderlands.” Latin American Research Review 44, no. 1 (2009), 266–277.
  • Thomson, Charles D., Jr.Border Odyssey: Travels Along the U.S./Mexico Divide. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.
  • Viramontes, Helena María. Under the Feet of Jesus. New York: Penguin, 1995.
  • Wald, Elijah. Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • Wilson, Thomas M., and Hastings Donnan, eds. A Companion to Border Studies. Oxford: Blackwell, 2012.


  • 1. John O’Sullivan, quoted in Albert K. Weinberg, Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1935), 145.

  • 2. Rodolfo Acuña, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 3rd ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 20.

  • 3. Among other borderlands scholars it is worth mentioning Francisco A. Rosales, Vicky L. Ruiz, Richard Griswold del Castillo, Elizabeth “Betita” Martínez, Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Roberto Calderón, among others.

  • 4. Since the recent reprinting of her novels, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton (b. 1832–d. 1895) has become a key figure in the recovery of 19th-century Mexican American literature. Both novels, Who Would Have Thought It? and The Squatter and the Don, were reprinted as part of the series Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage by Arte Público Press. Both novels were edited by Rousaura Sánchez and Beatriz Pita, who provided a well-researched historical and critical framework in their introduction and notes to the novel.

  • 5. As the Mexican population in the Southwest grew, overt acts of discrimination against them increased. With the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915, the ideology of white supremacy found a near-perfect vehicle. Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color: Against White World Supremacy (1920) identified brown people such as Mexicans as a threat to white supremacy. Stoddard (b. 1883–d. 1950) was an anti-immigration advocate who wrote a number of books considered prominent examples of early 20th-century scientific racism.

  • 6. For thousands of years, the Tohono O’odham (meaning “desert people”) inhabited what is today southern Arizona and the northern state of Sonora in Mexico. They were there long before either Mexico or the United States existed as nations. After the Mexican-American War, the international boundary between the United States and Mexico was drawn at the Gila River, just north of the O’odham ancestral lands. But the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 redrew the border right through O’odham territory.

  • 7. Border patrol prohibits tribal members from crossing the border anywhere but the official border crossings, even though some of these routes date back thousands of years and are relevant to their cultural and religious beliefs.

  • 8. Since 2001, bills have repeatedly been introduced in Congress to solve the “one people-two country” problem by granting U.S. citizenship to all enrolled members of the Tohono O’odham, but so far their sponsors have not gained passage. For more information on the Tohono O’odham nation, consult Ruben Pacheco, “When the Border Crosses You,” Open Borders blog, July 31, 2015.

  • 9. Zepeda is a professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona and is well known for her efforts in the preservation of her native language and as a literacy advocate. In 1999 she received a MacArthur “Genius Grant” for her work as a consultant and advocate on behalf of a number of American indigenous languages. She is the author A Tohono O’odham Grammar (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1983); Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert (Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1995); Home: Native People in the Southwest (Phoenix, AZ: Heard Museum, 2005); and Where Clouds are Formed (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008).

  • 10. Zepeda, Where Clouds are Formed, 15.

  • 11. According to myth, Aztlán is the ancestral homeland in the north that the Aztecs left in 1168 when they journeyed southward to find the Promised Land, Tenochtitlán (Mexico City), in 1325.

  • 12. Moraga has a section entitled “Queer Aztlán: The Re-Formation of Chicano Tribe” in her book The Last Generation (Boston: South End, 1993).

  • 13. Moraga, The Last Generation, 148.

  • 14. Adelaida R. Del Castillo and Gibrán Güido, eds., Queer in Aztlán: Chicano Male Recollections of Consciousness and Coming Out (San Diego: Cognella Academic, 2015).

  • 15. The editors write in the preface that some authors withdrew from the project because the recollection of disturbing moments in their lives was too difficult to endure.

  • 16. Alurista, “Poem in Lieu of Preface,” Aztlán: The Journal of Chicano Studies 1.1 (Spring 1970), p. ix.

  • 17. Originally written in Spanish, the novel was translated in English in 1992 by David Foster and printed by Bilingual Review Press in Arizona. Born in Bisbee, Arizona (an old mining town near the Mexican border), Miguel Méndez was a bilingual, bicultural Mexican American writer who wrote exclusively in Spanish. Before devoting himself full time to writing, he worked in construction and as a farm laborer. In 1974, he started teaching at the University of Arizona in Tucson and was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1984. He was an Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona until his death in 2013.

  • 18. Heart of Aztlán (Berkeley, CA: Justa Publications, 1976) is the second novel in a trilogy that began with the acclaimed Bless Me, Ultima (Berkeley, CA: Quinto Sol, 1972) and ended with Tortuga (Berkeley, CA: Justa Publications, 1979): these comprise Rudolfo Anaya’s trilogy about Latino children in the United States. His most recent works of fiction include Randy Lopez Goes Home: A Novel (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), and The Old Mans Love Story (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014). In 2013, Bless Me, Ultima was adapted into a full-length film. Anaya’s work has been a great influence in Chicano literature. In 2015, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.

  • 19. Rudolfo Anaya, Francisco A. Lamadrid, and Enrique R. Lamadrid, eds. Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, Revised and Expanded Edition (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017).

  • 20. Gloria Anzaldúa is most known for co-editing the volume This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (New York: Kitchen Table, 1981) with Cherríe Moraga, as well as her own groundbreaking work Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. In Borderlands/La Frontera (San Francisco, CA: Spinster/Aunt Lute, 1987).Anzaldúa uses her own subjectivity as a queer Chicana born and raised on the South Texas border, to theorize not only about the borderlands as an intercultural/transcultural space but also to apply this space as the foundation for a social justice framework embodied through the “new mestiza consciousness.”

  • 21. Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Meztiza (San Francisco: Spinster/Aunt Lute, 1987), 3.

  • 22. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 3.

  • 23. Mary Louise Pratt has described the “contact zone” as the imaginary space of colonial encounters, where the “relations among colonizers and colonized, or travelers and ‘travelees’ [are expressed] not in terms of separateness or apartheid, but in terms of copresence, interactions, interlocking understandings and practices, often within radically asymmetrical relations of power.” For Pratt, a metaphor for the “contact zone” is “colonial frontier.” However, she considers “frontier” as only a signifier of Europe, while implicit to the “contact zone” is the ramification of colonial encounters all over the world. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992), 7.

  • 24. Nowadays, the image of the running family has become an iconic symbol—this is either positive or negative depending to how one feels about undocumented immigration and immigrants in general. The image is found on T-shirts, covers of books and CDs, and in fine art. A photo of the sign is even displayed at the Smithsonian. The creator, John Hood, is a graphic artist that works for Caltrans. He has suggested in an interview with journalist Leslie Berestein that by creating this sign he just wanted to help save lives, adding that now “it has its own life.” Leslie Berestein, “Highway Safety Sign Becomes Running Story on Immigration,” San Diego Union-Tribune, July 2, 2005.

  • 25. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 4.

  • 26. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 2–3.

  • 27. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 11.

  • 28. Both stories are part of the authors’ respective short story collections: Cisneros’s story is named after the collection title, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (New York: Vintage, 1993); and Viramontes’s story was printed in The Moths and Other Stories (Houston: Arte Público, 1985).

  • 29. For more information regarding Josefina Niggli, consult my book Latina Performance (1999) and my entry “Niggli, Josefina Maria,” Handbook of Texas Online,

  • 30. Coined by President Herbert Hoover, the Good Neighbor Policy was the U.S. foreign policy aimed at improving U.S. relations with Latin America, which was at an all-time low due to U.S. armed interventions in Haiti (1934) and Nicaragua (1933). Its main tenet was that of non-intervention and non-interference in the domestic affairs of Latin America to ensure non-hostile neighbors south of its borders. President Franklin Roosevelt also continued this U.S. foreign policy, promising that the United States would be a “good neighbor” and would engage in reciprocal exchanges with Latin American countries. This was an effort to gain Latin American cooperation in the war effort by maintaining the flow of petroleum and other raw materials. See pages at and Wikipedia entry.

  • 31. The Bracero Program was named for the Spanish term meaning “manual laborer.” For more details on the Bracero Program consult Elizabeth W. Mandeel, “The Bracero Program 1942–1964,” American International Journal of Contemporary Research 4, no. 1 (January 2014), 171–184.

  • 32. As Trump repeatedly says he would deport 11 million undocumented workers from the country, he cites “Operation Wetback” as his model. During an interview with CNN Jake Tapper, he noted that many people recall the 1954 operation as a “shameful chapter in American history.” Of course, Trump disagrees and replies that “it was very successful, everyone said. So I mean, that’s the way it is. Look, we either have a country, or we don’t. If we don’t have strong borders, we have a problem.” In “How Trump’s deportation plan failed 62 years ago.” Story by Maeve Reston and Videos by Gabe Ramirez, CNN, January 19, 2016.

  • 33. Consult Jesús Amaya Topete, Aventuras de un bracero (México: Editorial AmeXica, 1949.) and Luis Spota, Murieron a mitad del rio (México: Editorial Grijalbo, 1948). With the same title, Spota’s novel was released as a film in 1987. The film was directed by Jose Nieto Ramírez and produced by Alianza Cinematográfica Mexicana.

  • 34. Consult Crossing with the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2010). The authors are Arizona residents and Samaritan volunteers. The book includes thirty-nine personal stories of their experiences in aiding migrant travelers along the U.S.–Mexico border between the years 2002 and 2008.

  • 35. Margaret Regan, The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands (Boston: Beacon, 2010).

  • 36. The DREAM Act (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which proposed a process that would have granted legal status to the DREAMers, never passed. Subsequently, the Obama administration signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. DACA provided approximately 553,000 undocumented youths with temporary relief (two years) from deportation. DACA was an important victory in its own right, influencing the legal and political precedent for the broader immigrant rights movement to push for a similar measure to benefit all undocumented immigrants residing in the country, “DACA for all.” Consult Walter J. Nicholls, “Dreamers Unbound: Immigrant Youth Mobilizing,” New Labor Forum, January 19, 2015. He is also the author of The Dreamers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013).

  • 37. Roberto G. Gonzales, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016). Harvard sociologist Roberto Gonzales’s book is the culmination of a 12-year project following 150 teens and young adults around the Los Angeles area and detailing how their lives are shaped by their lack of legal citizenship.

  • 38. Consult Williams Perez, We Are Americans: Undocumented Students Pursuing the American Dream (Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, 2009); and Gabriela Madera, ed., Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out (Los Angeles: UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, 2008). This book is the first in a three-book series, followed by Undocumented and Unafraid: Tam Tran, Cinthya Felix, and Immigrant Youth Movement (UCLA: Center for Labor Research and Education, 2012) and Dreams Deported: Immigrant Youth and Families Resist Deportation (UCLA: Center for Labor Research and Education, 2015).

  • 39. Julissa Arce, My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive (New York: Center Street, 2016).

  • 40. Diane Guerrero, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided (New York: Henry Holt, 2016), 2.

  • 41. Margaret Regan, Detained and Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire (Boston: Beacon, 2016).

  • 42. The Diary of an Undocumented Immigrant was originally published in 1991 by Arte Público Press. The book was translated by Dick J. Reavis. In 2003 it was published in the original Spanish as Diario de un Mojado.

  • 43. Jose Angel N., Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2014).

  • 44. Dianne Walta Hart, Undocumented in L.A.: An Immigrant’s Story (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997).

  • 45. Alberto Ledesma, Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2017).

  • 46. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 3.

  • 47. Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Desert Blood (Houston: Arte Público, 2007).

  • 48. For more than two decades, hundreds of women and girls have been murdered. Although the exact numbers are difficult to confirm, the body count is anywhere from four hundred to as high as a thousand or more. In 2005, Amnesty International reported that since 1993 more than 370 young women and girls have been murdered in Juárez and Chihuahua and “at least a third suffering sexual violence—without the authorities taking proper measures to investigate and address the problem” (Amnesty International, 2005).

  • 49. Stella Pope Duarte, If I Die in Juárez (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008).

  • 50. Sergio González Rodriguez, The Femicide Machine, trans. M. Parker-Stainback (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2012).

  • 51. Corazón de Kaláshnikov (Mexico: Editorial Planeta, 2009) is the first novel by journalist Alejandro Páez Varela. It is part of a trilogy that also includes the novels El reino de las moscas (The kingdom of flies) (2012) and 2013’s Música para perros (Music for dogs).

  • 52. Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, Tijuana: Crimen y Olvido (Mexico: Tusquets, Editores, 2010); and Instucciones para cruzar la frontera (Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz, 2002).

  • 53. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 12.

  • 54. Jose David Saldívar. Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

  • 55. Sonia Saldívar, Feminism on the Border: Chicana Gender Politics and Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

  • 56. Debra A. Castillo and María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba, Border Women: Writing from La Frontera (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002).

  • 57. María de los Angeles Torres, “Beyond the Rupture: Reconciling with our Enemies, Reconciling with Ourselves,” in Bridges to Cuba: Puentes a Cuba, eds. Ruth Behar (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), 36.

  • 58. Luis Valdez and Stan Steiner, eds., Aztlán: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature (New York: Vintage, 1972); Stan Steiner and Maria Teresa Babin, Borinquen: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Writers (New York: Random House, 1974); Asunción Horno-Delgado, et al., Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989); Lillian Castillo-Speed, Latina: Women’s Voices from the Borderlands (New York: Touchstone, 1995); Alicia Arrizón and Lillian Manzor, eds., Latinas on Stage (Berkeley, CA: Third Woman, 2000); John Christie and Jose Gonzalez, eds., Latino Boom: An anthology of U.S. Latino Literature (Boston: Pearson, 2005); Juan Flores and Renato Rosaldo, eds., Companion to Latina/o Studies (Madden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007); Ramón Rivera-Servera and Harvey Young, eds., Performance in the Borderlands (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Alejando L. Madrid, Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.–Mexico Border (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Arturo Aldama, Chela Sandoval, and Peter J. García, eds., Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012).

  • 59. Cristina Herrera and Larissa M. Mercado-López, eds., (Re)mapping the Latina/o Literary Landscape: New Works and New Directions (New York: Palgrave, 2016), xiii.