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Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts

Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts
Culture, Capitalism, and Conquest at the U.S.-Mexico Border

A compelling ethnographic examination of global capitalism's impact, colonial and post-colonial, in Mexico's Ciudad Juárez.

August 2008
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339 pages | 6 x 9 | 33 b&w illus. |

Established in 1659 as Misión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Mansos del Paso del Norte, Ciudad Juárez is the oldest colonial settlement on the U.S.-Mexico border-and one of the largest industrialized border cities in the world. Since the days of its founding, Juárez has been marked by different forms of conquest and the quest for wealth as an elaborate matrix of gender, class, and ethnic hierarchies struggled for dominance. Juxtaposing the early Spanish invasions of the region with the arrival of late-twentieth-century industrial "conquistadors," Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts documents the consequences of imperial history through in-depth ethnographic studies of working-class factory life.

By comparing the social and human consequences of recent globalism with the region's pioneer era, Alejandro Lugo demonstrates the ways in which class mobilization is itself constantly being "unmade" at both the international and personal levels for border workers. Both an inside account of maquiladora practices and a rich social history, this is an interdisciplinary survey of the legacies, tropes, economic systems, and gender-based inequalities reflected in a unique cultural landscape. Through a framework of theoretical conceptualizations applied to a range of facets—from multiracial "mestizo" populations to the notions of border "crossings" and "inspections," as well as the recent brutal killings of working-class women in Ciudad Juárez—Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts provides a critical understanding of the effect of transnational corporations on contemporary Mexico, calling for official recognition of the desperate need for improved working and living conditions within this community.


2008 Southwest Book AwardBorder Regional Library Association

2009 Book AwardAssociation of Latina and Latino Anthropologists

  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Part I. Sixteenth-Century Conquests (1521-1598) and their Postcolonial Border Legacies
    • Chapter 2. The Invention of Borderlands Geography: What Do Aztlán and Tenochtitlán Have to Do with Ciudad Juárez/Paso del Norte?
    • Chapter 3. The Problem of Color in Mexico and on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Precolonial, Colonial, and Postcolonial Subjectivities
  • Part II. Culture, Class, and Gender in Late-Twentieth-Century Ciudad Juárez
    • Chapter 4. Maquiladoras, Gender, and Culture Change
    • Chapter 5. The Political Economy of Tropes, Culture, and Masculinity Inside an Electronics Factory
    • Chapter 6. Border Inspections: Inspecting the Working-Class Life of Maquiladora Workers on the U.S-Mexico Border
    • Chapter 7. Culture, Class, and Union Politics: The Daily Struggle for Chairs inside a Sewing Factory in the Larger Context of the Working Day
    • Chapter 8. Women, Men, and "Gender" in Feminist Anthropology: Lessons from Northern Mexico's Maquiladoras
  • Part III. Alternating Imaginings
    • Chapter 9. Reimagining Culture and Power against Late Industrial Capitalism and Other Forms of Conquest through Border Theory and Analysis
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Permissions Credits
  • Index

Alejandro Lugo is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the co-editor (with Bill Maurer) of Gender Matters: Rereading Michelle Rosaldo.


The scope of the modern European expansion which began in the fifteenth century far exceeded that of any previous "world" conquest. During the 1500s and 1600s it proceeded to enmesh in its web of domination the natives of the Americas, Africa, southern Asia, and the islands of the South Seas . . . As in the wake of other conquests, there were many different trends and counter-trends with respect to the acceptance and rejection of what the conquerors offered as a new and superior way of life. . . . In most cases, after the native peoples were subjugated, strong sentiment grew up in the conquering nation regarding the injustice of the original conquest . . . but only a segment of the dominant nation was influenced by such sentiments. In contrast in every country stood those generally classed as practical people who remained dominated by the old urge for conquest, but now expressed in new terms, such as political integration and cultural assimilation.

Edward H. Spicer, Cycles of Conquest


If we knew the sixteenth century better . . . we would no longer discuss globalization as though it were a new, recent situation. . . . Right from the Renaissance, Western expansion has continuously spawned hybrids all over the globe, along with reactions of rejection. . . . Planetwide mestizo phenomena thus seem closely linked to the harbingers of economic globalization that began in the second half of the sixteenth century, a century which, whether viewed from Europe, America, or Asia, was the Iberian century par excellence, just as our own has become the American century. This glance backward is merely another way of discussing the present . . .

Serge Gruzinski, The Mestizo Mind


Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, founded in 1659 and with a current population of approximately 1.3 million people, is both the oldest colonial settlement along the U.S.-Mexico border (Arreola and Curtis 1993) and one of the largest industrialized border cities in the world. Of major importance is the fact that many of the sociocultural markers of empire (including names of ethnic groups, missions, urban settlements, and rivers, for instance), as well as the unequal social relations that produced these markers, have persisted, with minor alterations, for more than four hundred years—at least since the conquest of the area by the Spaniards in 1598. Furthermore, several of the colonial identities that emerged from the conquests of northern New Spain, particularly from the conquest of southern New Mexico (where Paso del Norte—present-day Ciudad Juárez—was located), inevitably became intertwined with the social, material, and cultural relations of economic globalization during the last four decades.


This book juxtaposes the social and human consequences of global industrial capitalism in the late twentieth century with those of the early imperial conquest of Mexico's northern frontier during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in order to document, both ethnographically and through historical analysis, the "urges for conquest, expressed in new terms," that have culminated in the material and cultural subjugation, or present conquest, of economically vulnerable populations in the U.S.-Mexico border region.


I conducted ethnographic research (participant observation) inside multinational assembly plants, or maquiladoras or maquilas (as the workers often call them), and on the streets and in the neighborhoods of Ciudad Juárez in the mid- to late 1980s, during 1990-1991, and intermittently throughout the 1990s. This ethnographic material on everyday life under late capitalism complements my interpretive analysis of a rich but selective historiography and literary work that allowed me to explore the articulation of the conquests of Mexico and New Mexico in the sixteenth century. In this process, I (1) weigh the varying late-twentieth-century labor practices of industrial-capitalist agents of the American empire (mainly multinational corporations) against sixteenth-century military strategies of conquest on the part of the Spaniards (both Crown and Catholic Church officials—missionaries, military men, and chroniclers); (2) compare the Spaniards' material and discursive techniques of control and physical exploitation with the symbolic forms of domination deployed through twentieth-century academic discourses and disciplinary practices of American or U.S.-trained historians and anthropologists; and (3) examine writings by local Juárez/El Paso intellectual and ethnographic voices of subalterns, including maquiladora workers.


These three major juxtapositions, which make up (not necessarily in a linear way) the main body of this book, lead, eventually, to the following argument: that the continuing social-economic-political domination of the Mexican masses, particularly the indigenous poor and the mostly mestizo working- and lower-middle classes, is a sociohistorical product of the politics of conquest of two global empires: the Spanish Empire (1521-1810) and the American Empire (1848-present), which are currently operating almost simultaneously as a doubly heavy "iron cage" (to invoke Max Weber) on the shoulders of Mexican subalterns, not only in Mexico but in the United States as well.


In consequence (at least for the historically and politically important case of Ciudad Juárez at the turn of the twenty-first century), the conditions for general class mobilization against capitalism and other forms of conquest are not occurring, precisely because class mobilization itself is constantly being unmade—culturally, politically, and economically—at both the global level and that of everyday life. I am not arguing here, of course, that workers do not rebel or organize; they do (see Peña 1997). But in most instances, either the state apparatus represses them or the mobilization is relatively temporary (see Castellanos 1981). I hope to show that this uneven but effective assault on the workers, this unmaking, is complicated by the complex nature of its constitution: it is a power matrix made up of gender, class, and color hierarchies and "border inspections" of all kinds—all of which have a culture and a history in the particular politics of global capitalism in Ciudad Juárez and in the specific politics of imperial conquest in the region.


Ultimately, by deciphering this power matrix throughout the chapters that follow, I hope to disentangle, at least analytically, the "web of domination" associated by Edward Spicer with "modern European expansion" since the sixteenth century, and by Serge Gruzinski with "Western expansion" since the Renaissance. Through these juxtapositions, I argue that Mexico, as a colonized society both historically and into the present, is a product of the uneven combination of the Iberian century and the American century, as Gruzinski defined them. These historical and political forces are clearly manifested in the postcolonial border metropolis of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico—the focus of this ethnographic study.


As an anthropological study of contemporary Mexico, this monograph comparatively complements, both geographically and chronologically, some of the major historical and anthropological studies of Mexican society, especially Eric Wolf's Sons of the Shaking Earth (1959), Octavio Paz's Labyrinth of Solitude (1961), Ruth Behar's Translated Woman (1993), Ana María Alonso's Thread of Blood (1995), Guillermo Bonfil Batalla's México Profundo (1996), Claudio Lomnitz's Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico (2001), and Lynn Stephen's Zapata Lives! (2002).




Two decades ago, explicit debates on urban working classes in the social scientific literature of northern Mexico were rare. Today there are several excellent and useful sociological, historical, and ethnographic studies about different aspects of this region's working classes, including, but not limited to, descriptions of working-class neighborhoods, social and ecological environments, the informal economy, and working-class women in particular, as well as specific studies of "working-class formation" (Arreola and Curtis 1993; Behar 1993; Bustamante 1983; Carrillo and Hernandez 1985; Fernández-Kelly 1983; García 1981; Hart 1998; Heyman 1991; Iglesias 1985; Kopinak 1996; Orozco Orozco 1992; Peña 1997; Ruiz and Tiano 1987; Sklair 1989; Staudt 1998; Stoddard 1987; Taylor and Hickey 2001; Tiano 1994; Young 1986; among others). The present book contributes to this vast and rich literature, not only with ethnographic material collected in the late 1980s and early 1990s among male and female factory workers (see also Salzinger 2003)—as well as its analysis of print media representations and depictions of border life and death throughout the 1990s and into the present (see also Fregoso 2003)—but with an explicit cultural analysis of working-class life under the shadow of its early colonial past.


It is precisely the analytical juxtaposition of the colonial and postcolonial realities of Paso del Norte/Ciudad Juárez, and their consequences for the continuing politics of conquest against border subalterns, that distinguishes this book from previous monographs about this desert metropolis, including the following foundational texts: Oscar Martínez's (1978) Border Boom Town: Ciudad Juárez since 1848; Alicia Castellanos's (1981) Ciudad Juárez: La vida fronteriza; María Patricia Fernández-Kelly's (1983) For We Are Sold, I and My People; Armando B. Chávez's (1991) Historia de Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; Devon G. Peña's (1997) Terror of the Machine; Kathleen Staudt's (1998) Free Trade? Informal Economies at the U.S.-Mexico Border; Mario Lugo's (1998) Detén mis trémulas manos; Pablo Vila's (2000) Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders; Sergio González Rodríguez's (2002) Huesos en el desierto; Jorge Balderas Domínguez's (2002) Mujeres, antros y estigmas en la noche juarense; and Leslie Salzinger's (2003) Genders in Production (in addition to the interdisciplinary ethnographic essays in Pablo Vila's [2003] edited collection, Ethnography at the Border, which in itself amounts to a productive collaborative monograph on the Paso del Norte region).


With the exception of Armando Chávez's historical study of Juárez and W. H. Timmons's (1990) historical study of El Paso, none of these key monographs (either historical, anthropological, sociological, or geographical) explores the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and neither Chávez nor Timmons examines the impact of the early colonial encounters on the postcolonial subjecthood and subjectivities of underprivileged communities in late-twentieth-century Ciudad Juárez.


With regard to the vast literature on border crossings—perhaps the most theoretically exciting interdisciplinary body of work produced since the mid-1980s (for instance, Anzaldúa 1987; R. Rosaldo 1993; Flores 1993; Limón 1994; Morales 1996; Vélez-Ibáñez 1996, 2004; Michaelsen and Johnson 1997; Saldívar 1997; Bonilla et al. 1998; Jackson 1998; Maciel and Herrera-Sobek 1998; Aldama 2001; Staudt and Coronado 2002; de Genova and Ramos-Zayas 2003; Fregoso 2003; Bejarano 2005)—this book contributes complementary ethnographic material on "border inspections" and a cultural analysis of late industrial capitalism, as well as focusing primarily on the Mexican side of the border (see also Fregoso 2003 and Staudt and Coronado 2002), including an examination of the latter's discursive "invention" in the sixteenth century. Most of these studies have prioritized the plight of Mexican Americans and other Latinos on U.S. soil. For the most part, they ignore the Mexican side of the crossing in the context of its early colonial history (Arreola and Curtis 1993 and Jackson 1998 are exceptions).


These resources on northern Mexico, border issues, and feminist preoccupations of working-class women have influenced the key theoretical questions I raise herein. In several ways, this study attempts to engage directly and indirectly with these rich, heterogeneous traditions—all in order to better understand the working classes in the twenty-first century as products of the changing modern nation-state in the contexts of monarchy, transnationalism, and power (Foucault 1978). I can only hope that this study about Paso del Norte/Ciudad Juárez offers the next generation of politically committed scholars exactly what I want to give: a reminder that in manufacturing (and assembling) capitalist societies, working-class life, particularly as it was constituted in its everydayness during England's nineteenth century (see Thompson 1966), has not improved for many of the rank and file carrying out the working day around the world, even at the turn of the twenty-first century. In fact, in many places such as Ciudad Juárez, for many of the workers inhabiting these industrial, historical, and cultural borderlands—especially young women—life and death have gotten worse.


Organization of the Book


The ethnographic and historical materials in this book are necessarily presented in a nonlinear manner covering two seemingly unrelated historical moments organized into two major sections: (1) the original conquests of Mexico and southern New Mexico in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and (2) the economic and cultural conquest of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands in the late twentieth century. Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts also includes a theoretical treatise (Chapter 9), which is empirically substantiated with specific materials in Part 1, the historical chapters (2 and 3), and in Part II, the ethnographically grounded chapters (4-8). The book closes with an epilogue on the killings of women and young girls in Ciudad Juárez.


The two chapters in Part I, "Sixteenth-Century Conquests (1521-1598) and their Postcolonial Border Legacies," attempt to delineate specific historical processes, giving "official" identity to the region under study during the encounter between local indigenous communities and the Spaniards in the sixteenth century in both central New Spain and in what became New Mexico, and during the encounter with the Americans under the new imperialism in the nineteenth century (though the latter period is dealt with only briefly).


Chapter 2, "The Invention of Borderlands Geography: What Do Aztlán and Tenochtitlán Have to Do with Ciudad Juárez?" traces the political and economic processes that gave names (and thus initial Western identity) to the territories we currently call Mexico and New Mexico. The chapter does not take for granted any of these critical inventions of conquest. The chapter moves in time (chronology) and space (geography) from the invention of "Mexico," the "Aztecs," and "Nueva/New Mexico" as cultural categories, to the invention and naming of the "Río Bravo," "Rio Grande," "Paso del Norte," "Aztlán," and lastly "Ciudad Juárez," a phrase coined in the late nineteenth century. I attempt to uncover the political and economic layers that gave cultural form to the late-twentieth-century space we call today the U.S-Mexico (Chihuahua-New Mexico-Texas) border region: the Paso del Norte region, which includes Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; El Paso, Texas; and Las Cruces, New Mexico.


I believe it is important to understand the historical and cultural processes through which the border region has been imagined as part of a larger entity, such as New Spain, Mexico, the American Southwest, New Mexico, Texas, Chihuahua, and lastly, Aztlán. The latter so-called mythical place of origin of the Aztecs, and its broader cultural legacy, is the analytical and political epitome of the chapter due to its continuous historical and political importance, especially for Mexicans and Chicanos/as (politicized Mexican Americans) on the U.S. side of the border, though I revisit Aztlán in the context of the Spaniards' appropriation of its "mythical reality." One of the major goals of this chapter is to show how the two conquests of Mexico and of New Mexico in the sixteenth century gave identity not only to "a place" as we know it today, but also to the politics of conquest of the Mexican masses in both central and northern Mexico—a politics of domination that too many, even today, cannot escape or transcend (see Spicer 1962).


Chapter 2 examines the history and power of the politics of geographic naming. Chapter 3, "The Problem of Color in Mexico and on the U.S.-Mexican Border: Precolonial/Colonial/


Postcolonial Subjectivities," attempts to historicize and problematize the social geography of the Mesoamerican and Southwest regions, not through naming, but through a specific cultural practice of coloring individuals according to peoples' different shades of skin color (see also Chapter 6). I argue here that the discourse on color was heterogeneously maintained from the time of conquest through the colonial period, from independence to the Mexican Revolution, and from the revolution era to late capitalism under the maquiladoras of Ciudad Juárez. This chapter presents the reader with the historical and cultural contexts, dominated by hierarchies of color, within which to better understand a relatively "silent" aspect of the everyday life not only of maquiladora workers but of the Mexican population in general.


By interrogating the category of "the postcolonial," the chapter also challenges both the Latin American and the non-Latin American(ist) postcolonial reader, as well as the literature on mestizaje, by calling for the analysis of a new term, colorismo, particularly given the many ways "Mexican identity" can be questioned when issues of color are raised. Lastly, this chapter examines the problem of racism in Mexico within the so-called mestizo population—a political problem so far largely ignored. The sociohistorical treatment given here underscores the question of color constituting social inequalities in Mexico, especially as these will be manifested and depicted ethnographically in the subsequent chapters on culture, class, and gender (Chapters 4-8).


In Part II, "Culture, Class, and Gender in Late-Twentieth-Century Ciudad Juárez," five chapters explore industrial life inside and outside the factories as lived by women, men, and this anthropologist. Each chapter, by describing social life within an industrial/assembling setting, documents how cultural practices are produced, reproduced, and transformed, as well as how class experience is made while class mobilization is unmade—all through the everyday actions of individual human beings struggling to live a decent life under late industrial capitalism. Through these five chapters, the reader should capture what it meant to live as a factory worker in the late twentieth century on the U.S.-Mexico border.


Chapter 4, "Maquiladoras, Gender, and Culture Change," introduces the initial ethnographic research questions I raised about cultural change in gender relations, particularly during the mid-1980s, and my early ethnographic findings with respect to hiring practices of several transnational corporations, job-searching techniques used by unemployed men and women looking for maquiladora work, and the general effect these strategies for survival under global capitalism had on the local gendered labor market and on gender relations among workers in the new industrial border city.


Chapter 5, "The Political Economy of Tropes, Culture, and Masculinity Inside an Electronics Factory," focuses on the problem of "culture," both its production and its reproduction, in particular industrial contexts. It examines the cultural notion of "laziness," not only in a historical context (starting with the colonial relation between "Indians" and Spaniards), but in the equally global, though more complicated, circumstances of the international division of labor under late capitalism in the late 1980s. The chapter specifically documents through ethnographic detail how working-class language is incorporated into the production of microcircuits for computers, and how, in the process, the localized ideology of machismo (exalted manliness or masculinity) is reproduced through a transformed notion of laziness articulated in the term barra, which denotes both "lazy" and the name of a tool used in production. It is also in this chapter that a systematic concept of culture is utilized (following Boas, Sahlins, and R. Rosaldo) to examine additional ethnographic material. I argue that our academic imaginings about culture (and class) do not exist and, in fact, have not existed outside "structure and agency." I try to maintain this argument while at the same time applying, to appropriate situations throughout the book, Renato Rosaldo's notion of "cultural borderlands."


Chapter 6, "Border Inspections: Inspecting the Working-Class Life of Maquiladora Workers on the U.S.-Mexico Border," tells stories of defiance and failure on the part of working-class people in Ciudad Juárez. It also suggests that the analytical strength of "border crossings" as a theoretical tool can be ethnographically enriched in an empirically substantial manner by recognizing that most border crossings are constituted by "inspection stations" that inspect and monitor what goes in and out in the name of class, gender, race, and nation. The chapter explores (and attempts to explain) the pervasiveness of border inspections under late industrial capitalism inside an automobile type of maquiladora and beyond, and calls explicitly for a new analytical tool, border inspections, to be added to the current metaphor of border crossings. While it is true that there are multiple borders, the chapter tries to demonstrate that too many of them cannot be crossed, especially if the crosser is an underprivileged, working-class person.


Chapter 7, "Culture, Class, and Union Politics: The Daily Struggle for Chairs Inside a Sewing Factory in the Larger Context of the Working Day," examines, through the exposition of selected notes from the (battle)field, the unstable way in which "structure and practice" disarticulate or rupture from each other, causing cultural change or transformation in the life of sewing-factory workers. In this particular garment factory, the workers were not assigned a chair in which to sit. They had to negotiate a different chair every morning at 6:00 AM. The problem at the everyday level was that not all negotiators were equal. In fact, due to the changes in the structure of the labor force since the 1980s, the negotiators tended to be unequal: men negotiating against women, teenage women negotiating against men in their twenties, and shy newcomers from the south of Mexico negotiating against experienced and "aggressive" workers from the working-class neighborhoods of Juárez.


In this process of negotiation and occasional confrontation, cultural forms of respect toward others were practically and immediately discarded from workers' cultural baggage, especially when they were told by the supervisor that they must start working at 6:00 AM, and not later. The determination needed to keep their chair transforms itself into aggressiveness not only on the shop floor but also outside the workplace, where the workers must struggle to lead a new life characterized by being at the right place and "on time." Thus, in trying to keep the job and the quota fulfilled, sewing-factory workers, men and women, had to transform their subjectivities and, inevitably, their cultural and class consciousness (shifting from respecting neighbors to competing with them). Unfortunately, the simultaneous reproduction of working-class subjecthood did not transform itself into a working-class consciousness—that is, into political mobilization that could lead to independent union organizing. In fact, it unmade it, and the union itself contributed, along with the multinational corporation, to the latter effect: the unmaking of the Mexican working class.


In Chapter 8, "Women, Men, and "Gender" in Feminist Anthropology: Lessons from Northern Mexico's Maquiladoras," I bring together material from the three previous chapters to show the challenges for feminist anthropologists, particularly to critics of Michelle Z. Rosaldo, when studying both men and women systematically. Thus, in trying to "rescue" Rosaldo's early work on gender, I hope to bring together, theoretically and empirically, two major aspects of cultural life in late-twentieth-century northern Mexico: class and gender and their implications for our understanding of working-class women and men at the border. The latter ethnographic project would not be possible, however, without Devon G. Peña's practical advice:


Future research on workplace politics might focus on determining whether there are in fact any significant gender-based differences among maquila workers. My own limited account here suggests that there are some differences, but whether these are attributable entirely to gender or to other factors as well (such as seniority) is something I am not prepared to resolve at this point. Students of maquila workplace politics would do well to design future survey and ethnographic research projects with this problem in mind: it is important that we select equal numbers of male and female respondents in future studies. To continue to ignore male workers is to risk misunderstanding and misrepresenting the nature of the shifting construction of gender in maquila workplace politics. (1997, 261-262)


This analysis of gender and class (also see Salzinger 2003) acquires an even denser texture by situating the class and gender experiences of factory workers in the larger predicament of color and race inspections dealt with in Chapters 3 and 6.


In the concluding section, "Alternating Imaginings," readers will find my final arguments regarding theories of culture, history, class, and the state. Chapter 9, "Reimagining Culture and Power against Late Industrial Capitalism and Other Forms of Conquest through Border Theory and Analysis," systematically presents a critical reexamination of our academic imaginings of "borderlands" within cultural anthropology, border studies, and studies of the state and beyond—all in the context of capitalism and empire—through what Edward Said (2002, 9) called an "extremely productive tension" of the combined theoretical work of Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault.


Chapter 9 ultimately demonstrates that the changing contexts of the nation-state and the unchanging nature of introductory industrial capitalism as a new form of conquest throughout the past century reflect (and are reflected in) uneasy conceptions of class and changing conceptions of culture (from "shared cultural patterns" to "fragmented cultural borderlands" in the life of working-class people, for example) within the academy. The book closes with an epilogue on the tragic consequences of the overlapping conquests affecting Ciudad Juárez today: the brutal killings of economically vulnerable women and girls that began in the late 1990s and continue today.


As a whole, the chapters in Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts propose analytical shifts in the theoretical conceptualization about the border working classes of Ciudad Juárez—from border "crossings" to border "inspections" (Chapter 6); from cultural production to cultural reproduction (Chapters 4 and 5) and cultural transformation (Chapter 7); from a feminist focus on either women or men to a feminist focus on "gender" (which must include both women and men; Chapter 8); from a centralized focus on the conquest of Mexico to a focus on the conquests of both Mexico and New Mexico, especially regarding the northern borderlands (Chapter 2); and, lastly, from a discussion of mestizaje to a discussion of colorismo among Mexican people (Chapter 3)—all with the purpose of acquiring a critical understanding of the complex constitution of the unmaking of the Mexican working classes and their mobilization, an unmaking derived from multiple forms of conquest, including the brutal assassination of working-class women.


This ethnographic study is based on actual fieldwork in distinct subindustries of the maquiladora mode of production in Ciudad Juárez—electronic, garment, and automotive (from finding a job, to being trained in it, and eventually to performing it). The immersion of the ethnographer in the everyday life of factory workers, from the time they get up in the morning to the time they get back home in the afternoon or evening, was vitally important, especially given the inevitable yet unplanned constructive critique of multinational corporations that is produced by such a "witnessing ethnography."


The methodology consisted mainly of getting jobs as an assembly-line worker in three different factories (I explain in the pertinent chapters the specificities of how I was hired); walking, riding, and driving the streets and avenues of Ciudad Juárez; and residing in three geographically dispersed working-class neighborhoods, where I lived in rooms (cuartos) and/or apartments I rented. I attended several birthday parties; religious celebrations; rock, ranchera, and norteña music concerts; and family gatherings, and I witnessed children's games in their neighborhoods. More than three dozen informal and formal taped interviews were conducted (about labor and migration histories, personal views on the maquilas, the border economy, and border social life in general) with men and women of all ages, from sixteen to sixty years of age, and who worked in several factories of Ciudad Juárez. The taped interviews lasted between two and four hours each, and most were carried out in people's own homes and some in open spaces, such as front yards, back yards, and parks. The daily newspapers, contemporary and historical, were a major source for the recording and collecting of everyday happenings in the larger Ciudad Juárez area.


Gender inequalities, hierarchies of color or class, and (unequal) regional and international divisions all intermittently land on the workers' shoulders, both as gendered subjects and as human beings. My observations, my experiences in the factories, and my personal and political preoccupations have led me to denounce, in writing and in public, certain working, living, and dying conditions that should not have existed in the late twentieth century but that continue into the present.


I hope this book contributes effectively to a much-needed attempt to "recapture" the concept of culture in its relation to class, gender, color, and race and vice versa. I also hope it provides a convincing critique of transnational corporations—a critique that might lead to the official recognition, legitimation, and viability of attempts by maquiladora workers to demand better working and living conditions for the twenty-first century.


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