Back to top

On the Edge of the Law

On the Edge of the Law
Culture, Labor, and Deviance on the South Texas Border

A sociological study of issues ranging from health care to immigration to criminal justice drawn from interviews conducted by the Borderlife Research Project at the University of Texas–Pan American.

December 2006
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
367 pages | 6 x 9 | 38 figures, 1 map, 2 tables |

The Valley of South Texas is a region of puzzling contradictions. Despite a booming economy fueled by free trade and rapid population growth, the Valley typically experiences high unemployment and low per capita income. The region has the highest rate of drug seizures in the United States, yet its violent crime rate is well below national and state averages. The Valley's colonias are home to the poorest residents in the nation, but their rates of home ownership and intact two-parent families are among the highest in the country for low-income residential areas. What explains these apparently irreconcilable facts?

Since 1982, faculty and students associated with the Borderlife Research Project at the University of Texas-Pan American have interviewed thousands of Valley residents to investigate and describe the cultural and social life along the South Texas-Northern Mexico border. In this book, Borderlife researchers clarify why Valley culture presents so many apparent contradictions as they delve into issues that are "on the edge of the law"—traditional health care and other cultural beliefs and practices, displaced and undocumented workers, immigration enforcement, drug smuggling, property crime, criminal justice, and school dropout rates. The researchers' findings make it plain that while these issues present major challenges for the governments of the United States and Mexico, their effects and contradictions are especially acute on the border, where residents must daily negotiate between two very different economies; health care, school, and criminal justice systems; and worldviews.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Earthquakes and Volcanoes along the South Texas Border
  • Chapter 1. Traditional Health Care Practices (with Cristina De Juana)
  • Chapter 2. Other Cultural Beliefs and Practices (with Ana Leos and María Isabel Ayala)
  • Chapter 3. Displaced Workers (with Priti Verma)
  • Chapter 4. Undocumented Workers (with Alberto Gonzalez)
  • Chapter 5. Immigration Enforcement Issues (with Cristina De Juana)
  • Chapter 6. Drug Smuggling (with Lupe Treviño)
  • Chapter 7. Property Crime (Shoplifting and Auto Theft) along the Border (with Jesse Garcia and Hector Garcia)
  • Chapter 8. American Lives, Mexican Justice (with Juan José Bustamante)
  • Chapter 9. Dropping Out (with John Cavazos)
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix A. Borderlife Research Projects Utilized in This Volume
  • Appendix B. Student Interviewers Whose Ethnographic Accounts Are Included in This Book
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Chad Richardson is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Borderlife Research Project at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Rosalva Resendiz is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Texas-Pan American.


Browse this book with Google Preview »

In 1999 the University of Texas Press published our first book, Batos, Bolillos, Pochos, and Pelados: Class and Culture on the South Texas Border. That book was the culmination of eleven ethnographic research projects and ten surveys conducted almost entirely by students at the University of Texas-Pan American (UT-PA). It dealt with life on the South Texas border, particularly in relation to the impact of social class and race or ethnicity in this region. In it, we mentioned an intended follow-up book about deviance and other social issues on the border. The current volume is the result of that effort.

Both volumes have grown out of the Borderlife Research Project at the University of Texas-Pan American. The Borderlife Project, which was initiated in 1982, uses student interviews to investigate and describe cultural and social life situations of those living along the Northern Mexico-South Texas border. The project has accomplished more than 6,000 in-depth (ethnographic) interviews and over 4,000 survey interviews from a variety of populations on both sides of the border. Most research topics start out as in-depth (ethnographic) descriptions, followed by a survey research project. The patterns revealed in the anecdotal accounts suggest follow-up questions for survey interviews.

The basic purpose of the Borderlife Research Project is to empower students and the local community, and to support an appreciation for their culture and place. This is accomplished primarily by involving them in quality research about the life conditions of local cultural communities.

In 2004 the work of the Borderlife Project was recognized in a book published by Harvard University Press entitled What the Best College Teachers Do. The author, Ken Bain, describes the students who participated in the Borderlife Project as follows:

A few came from families that had prospered in the local agricultural economy that sprang up along the river. Most students, however, lived closer to the poverty line, and many came from the ranks of the one hundred thousand migrant farmworkers in Hidalgo County, people whose labor had created the wealth of the region but who enjoyed few of its benefits. But they were pioneers, often the first in their families to take a college course, and sometimes the first to read and write. The university, with its open admissions policy, cut across a wide swath of SAT scores and high school ranks, but generally didn't attract many students in higher registers.

In this border region, located on the fringes of two national civilizations and not quite comfortable with either, Hispanics valued tradition and culture, yet often found themselves the focus of mean-spirited caricatures that belittled their habits, language, and origins. The twenty percent of the local population that didn't come from Mexican roots—what locals called "Anglos"—sometimes felt isolated and alienated from the local cultures, even though, as a group, they had dominant economic and political power.

[The students]... did original ethnographic research, collecting stories from friends, relatives, and others on both sides of the border: employers of undocumented Mexican workers, smugglers who helped these people enter the United States, immigration officials who apprehended "illegal aliens," Anglos who found themselves in a tiny minority in a Valley high school, Mexican Americans who didn't know Spanish, and others.

The Borderlife Project involves student researchers at all levels. Most of those who contributed to this and to the preceding (Batos) volume did so in introductory classes in sociology and other disciplines of the social sciences. Others in advanced courses in social stratification, U.S. minorities, and the sociology of education also participated. A few graduate students, including most of the chapter coauthors, made the topics of their respective chapters the focus of their master's research projects.


The research generated through this process is more exploratory than explanatory and more hypothesis-suggesting than hypothesis-testing. There are three major reasons for this. First, the ethnographic research techniques used are much better suited to exploratory and descriptive research than to hypothesis testing or theoretical research. Second, many of the topics described in this book lack a solid descriptive research base, at least in a South Texas environment. Much needs to be observed and documented by exploratory research before it can be conceptualized in a theoretical framework. In Chapters 1 and 2, for example, many of the cultural practices we describe have not been thoroughly documented by research that identifies the nature of such practices. Before research can address why certain cultural practices exist (by hypothesis-testing research), for instance, we must understand what these practices are, who practices them, when, and under what circumstances (exploratory and descriptive research). Finally the use of student researchers lends itself much more to in-depth ethnographic and exploratory research. Though we do utilize survey research to propose and preliminarily test select hypotheses, the project emphasizes in-depth understanding of life in this border environment.

Our sampling procedures are also strongly affected by the exploratory nature of the research and by our use of student interviewers. Since most of the research topics discussed in this volume involved highly sensitive topics, including deviant or underground activities, random sampling was neither possible nor advisable. Rather, by directing student researchers to include individuals with certain characteristics among those they approached, and then using those first contacts to help them locate and secure the participating of others, we used a combination of purposive and snowball sampling.

This methodological approach allows us to paint a broad picture of life on the South Texas border, focusing on many populations and topics, as opposed to a single issue or phenomenon. In Batos, Bolillos, Pochos, and Pelados, for example, we were able to describe migrant farmworkers, colonia residents, undocumented domestic servants, maquila workers in Mexico, and Mexican street children. In addition, in that volume we looked at racial and ethnic relations among such diverse South Texas groups as Hispanics, Mexican immigrants, Anglo newcomers or tourists, and African Americans. In the current volume, we continue that multidimensional approach, focusing on a set of issues related to major forces of change operating, often underground, in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Valley of South Texas and Northeastern Mexico.

The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Valley

Many areas of the United States look for distinctiveness in ways that will portray them as "number one." South Texas, especially in the McAllen area (and surrounding Hidalgo County), frequently is number one in a variety of areas, but not in ways that customarily convey bragging rights. Despite a booming economy, for example, this region frequently leads the nation in unemployment. Similarly, though it has one of the three highest population growth rates in the U.S., it ranks near the bottom nationally in per capita income. This border area also has the highest rate of drug seizures in the nation. Finally, it is number one in the number of low-income housing enclaves (colonias), in large part because it also hosts the largest number of migrant farmworkers in the U.S. during the winter months.

Perhaps more than any other area along the U.S.-Mexico border, the extreme South Texas border area is characterized by several puzzling contradictions. Demographic statistics for the region, for example, show a pattern of substantial growth, but without the top-to-bottom prosperity that usually characterizes high-growth areas. Similarly, though it has the highest rate of drug seizures in the nation, its violent crime rate is below the state and national averages. Its colonias are home to the poorest residents in the nation, but their rate of home ownership and of intact two-parent families is among the highest in the nation for low-income residential areas.

Growth in the McAllen area (and the contiguous Reynosa area in Mexico) has been phenomenal, particularly over the last decade. This growth is especially evident in business activity, population increases, and the labor force. Indeed, the McAllen metropolitan statistical area (MSA) recently recorded the third-highest population growth in the U.S., following only Las Vegas and Laredo (another South Texas border city). While much of this growth can be traced to increasing trade with Mexico, other less obvious factors have had a powerful impact, sometimes in unexpected ways. One major factor is migration. People are drawn to this border region from the interior of each country.

Health care is another area of seeming irrationality. Though South Texas has some of the fastest-growing hospitals in the nation, it experiences many of the health problems associated with Third World nations. Nevertheless, some health risks are lower here than in other parts of the state. The rates of sexually transmitted diseases, for example, are lower in Hidalgo County than the average for Texas and the United States as a whole. In addition, despite the county's many health problems, the infant mortality rate for Hidalgo County (6.3) is slightly lower than that of the entire state (6.5). The same is true of the death rate for heart disease (151.9 in Hidalgo County vs. 223.5 for Texas as a whole).

There are a number of factors that help produce these irrationalities. One is a thriving underground economy. Another is migration and its increasing strain on the infrastructure, including transportation and communication systems, schools, housing, and health and social services. Finally, the region's location—so far away from political and economic centers of power in the U.S. and Mexico—is also an important factor.

Free trade and the creation of the maquiladora industry in Mexico were supposed to help Mexico industrialize. Though it has mainly provided low-skilled jobs, it has also produced a migration to the Northern Mexico border. This, in turn, puts enormous stress on the local infrastructure of schools, transportation systems, and law enforcement agencies.

At the political centers of each nation, governments tend to respond to the pressures described above with solutions that often compound the problems. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, for example, made it illegal to hire undocumented workers, though it appears to have actually increased the flow of undocumented immigrants into the Valley. Many undocumented workers become trapped between the official border (the river) and the Border Patrol checkpoints sixty miles to the north. This not only contributes to the growth of colonias but puts enormous pressure on the local economy to provide jobs for people at the bottom who have little formal education and limited English proficiency but a great desire to work and sustain a family.

These factors, in turn, contribute to an underground employment economy. Some people find occasional work in local agriculture or construction. Others are self-employed, selling used articles at local pulgas [flea markets] or finding odd jobs in the area. Some take articles across to Mexico for resale and others even have jobs or small businesses in Mexico, commuting daily or weekly using a mica, a border-crossing card issued by U.S. consulates in Mexico to Mexican border residents. More recently, they have begun issuing laser visa cards.

Thus, the frequent pattern here and elsewhere along the border is for the benefits of border economic development to flow toward the center of each nation, while the costs are absorbed primarily by border residents. In Mexico, for example, the federal government keeps most of the total corporate and income taxes collected along the border. Similarly, on the U.S. side of the border, economists generally agree that the federal government reaps a net benefit from taxes paid by undocumented workers, though local governments must absorb most of the health, education, and welfare costs. The same pattern is found in drug enforcement. When the federal government dramatically increased the number of federal agents interdicting drugs from Mexico in recent years, the expense of prosecuting the resulting drug cases was passed on to state and local jurisdictions.

Though border areas are often regarded as a backward hinterlands, these areas may also be at the leading edge of important social changes. Undocumented Mexican immigration is having an impact throughout the entire United States, for example. Still, it is experienced first and felt most strongly along the border. Similarly, the impact of the drug trade, modernization, and high dropout rates are often experienced by border residents long before—and with much greater intensity—than they affect interior areas of the United States. Residents of border areas have often already found ways to deal with such problems by the time those living in the interior are just beginning to deal with them.

The Research Projects

In the Batos volume, we were able to present survey research findings to document the patterns identified for almost all of the in-depth ethnographic topics. Though we will also combine these two approaches in this volume, our focus on deviant activities suggested a reliance more on ethnographic projects, which utilize in-depth interviews. These will be described in each chapter. Though we still conducted some survey research projects, the topics covered in the present volume made them more problematic. One doesn't ask student interviewers to approach a random sample of drug smugglers, auto thieves, or alien smugglers, for example, and ask them to answer survey questions. As a result, we utilized fewer survey research projects to answer questions about the frequency of certain practices, or how such practices are perceived by the local population.

We did, however, conduct several survey research projects. One was our Cultural Practices Survey (which will be described in more detail in Chapters 1 and 2). To create it, we incorporated responses from approximately 250 in-depth ethnographic interviews on cultural practices among Mexican-origin residents of South Texas to identify forty-two specific practices associated with Mexico. Based on these findings, we designed a survey, administered to 433 Mexican-origin residents of the Rio Grande Valley, to assess how frequently respondents participated in these practices and how they felt about keeping them.

A second survey project was our Undocumented Workers Survey, which will be described primarily in Chapter 4. This survey, also developed from prior in-depth interviews, posed questions to 150 undocumented Mexican regarding why they came and how they were treated.

The remaining chapters utilize responses to our Perceptions of Deviance Survey. This project asked 424 people to rate how good or how bad forty-eight specific forms of border-related behavior were. This allowed us, not only to compare the relative perceptions of "deviancy" of these items with one another, but to show how specific population groups felt about each practice.

In the Conclusion, we briefly utilize still another survey research project, an earlier version of the Perceptions of Deviance Survey which we called the Perceptions of Culture and Deviance Survey. Though this survey was successfully administered to 303 respondents, its results were not subsequently utilized because of significant problems with item reliability. Nevertheless, we were able to salvage measures forming two indexes that allowed us to assess how the number of generations in the United States is related to acculturation.

These four surveys, as we indicated earlier, utilized purposive and snowball sampling procedures. These surveys, together with the in-depth ethnographic projects, are summarized in Appendix A.

When Alicia was a young girl living in Mexico, her parents moved to the United States. Because she loved Mexico and wanted to finish her education there, she stayed behind with family members in Mexico City. After graduating from the National University of Mexico, her parents convinced her to come to the Rio Grande Valley to find work and live with them. They had become U.S. citizens and were able to help her become a legal resident. After obtaining her residency, she went back to Mexico City for six months, where she married a young man she had known for many years.

When she tried to establish legal residency for him also, an immigration lawyer told her that it would be difficult unless she were a U.S. citizen. When she tried to become one, the Immigration Service informed her that she had disrupted her eligibility by having left the U.S. for six months. In fact, they told her, she might lose her own residency as a result of this stay in Mexico, even if it was to get married.

When she tried to find a job, local employers would not recognize her degree in computer programming, though it was given by the largest university in Mexico. In addition, many of them felt that her limited English was an obstacle. She finally managed to land an assembly-line job with an electronics manufacturing firm in Edinburg, Texas, though it only paid $7 an hour. She and her husband built a small home in Edinburg next to her parents. Because her husband was unable to gain legal residency, he had to commute every day to and from his work in Reynosa, Mexico, using a mica, or border-crossing card intended for shopping.

After five years, her employers threatened to move the plant to Mexico in order to pressure workers at the plant to accept a 10 percent cut in pay. Then, in 2003, the plant managers abruptly closed the plant anyway and moved operations to Reynosa, Mexico. None of the assembly workers were offered a chance to keep their jobs if they moved to Mexico, though it is doubtful that any could have survived on the dollar an hour salary the company was paying assembly workers there. When Alicia sought help from the employment office, she was told they could help her only if she enrolled in a GED class. She was angry that they were treating her as a high school dropout when she had a college degree. She knew she needed to learn English, but they resisted helping her with that. After four frustrating weeks of making frequent trips to the employment office, she was finally able to enroll in an English class at the University of Texas-Pan American. At the time of her interview in 2003, she and her husband were falling seriously into debt because they could not survive on his meager salary.

Alicia has experienced, up close and personally, many of the promises and problems related to a major change sweeping the world: the process of globalization. Globalization entices people like Alicia with the promise of better jobs if they will move to countries where their skills are needed. Sometimes, however—as in her case—movement is hampered by regulations that prohibit the movement of workers across international borders. In addition, though globalization is supposed to promote uniform standards, so that a degree from an accredited university in one country will be recognized in others, nationalistic obstacles often keep such recognition from happening. In the end, Alicia experienced another problem of globalization—the exodus of low-skilled assembly-line jobs from postindustrial countries like the U.S. to Mexico and other developing nations.

People like Alicia not only experience personally the pain of globalization but get caught in its battle with another worldwide phenomenon: nationalism. Nationalism gives people a strong attachment to their home countries, such as the feelings that kept Alicia in Mexico for many years. In addition, it promotes regulations that discourage the immigration of "foreigners," so that her husband was unable to live and work legally in the United States.

Ellwyn Stoddard, a pioneering borderlands scholar, observed recently that U.S. officials at the U.S.-Mexico border are beset by these competing forces. Congress, he notes, makes laws to cut down on the flow of people and goods across U.S. binational borders. At the same time, other federal agencies that regulate international trade are trying to increase U.S. trade and tourism with other countries. Thus there is a constant fight within the government as to whether U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico should be open or closed.

This conflict within the government over regulating the U.S.-Mexico border sometimes results in erratic regulations for the people who live there, especially noncitizens. As a consequence, illicit activities often spring up along and across the border. Alicia's husband, for example, does not use his temporary border card, or mica, for its legally defined function of shopping but to live surreptitiously with his wife in the United States and to commute daily to a job in Mexico.

A useful frame of analysis, one introduced in our earlier book (Batos, Bolillos, Pochos, and Pelados), is related to the distinction between culture and structure. Both of these terms can refer to major social forces, or ways that society affects human behavior. Culture, as we explained it, consists of the patterned ways that a society collectively interprets or understands things. This includes their shared understandings of right and wrong, truth and error, and appropriate ways of behaving. The structure of a society, in contrast, consists of the patterns of established relationships among its recognized components, or parts. Thus, structure is all the accepted ways that these parts fit together, or their relation to one another. Culture is a collective mentality, while structure is a web of relationships.

Variations in culture and structure are powerful social forces that sometimes compete with each other in accelerating or holding back change. Throughout the world, for example, shared cultural beliefs among religious fundamentalists have fomented revolutions, blocked globalization, and promoted terrorism. Similarly, the emergence of new trade relations and the resulting struggles over power and wealth are structural factors that have led to wars, colonization, and revolution throughout history.

These two social forces often pull in opposite directions. For example, since the economic structure of U.S. business is based on using the cheapest labor possible, the business community encourages the flow of undocumented immigrants northward from Mexico. This force is countered by strong cultural feelings among U.S. nationalists who want to keep the ethnic balance in this country the way it is now. They demand that federal troops be stationed on the border to repel the "alien invaders." In their actions, nationalists are motivated by a strong sense of "cultural superiority" and a desire to protect their own countrymen against "foreign" workers. Thus, the structural drive to expand markets is countered by a cultural drive toward protectionism and ethnocentric thinking. Similarly, though our me-first culture of individualism has been linked to drug abuse, we set in place an enormous law-enforcement structure to block the flow of drugs across the border—and then blame Mexico for most of our drug problems.

Several scholars have noted the conflict between nationalism and globalization and its impact on people in borderland communities. David Keeling, for example, notes that many governments are increasingly resistant to both legal and illegal migration, even while they promote globalization by saying that they believe in the free movement of "people, goods, capital, and information" associated with free trade. Keeling states that the U.S.-Mexico border is probably the most heavily militarized border in the Western Hemisphere and is "symbolic of the sharp divide in economic opportunity, quality of life, and migration policy" between the two countries, which is the basis of significant political and cultural conflict.

As a result of these conflicts between cultural and structural forces, social problems in each nation seem to be more pronounced in the borderlands. Drug use and drug trafficking, for example, are problems found throughout both countries. Nevertheless, these problems are found in a much exaggerated fashion at the border. In Mexican border towns, rival drug cartels battle for turf and public officials are pressured to turn a blind eye. And on both sides of the Rio Grande/Río Bravo, corruption among law enforcement officers and public officials is often highly pronounced. In addition, pollution and other environmental issues are frequently worse along the border. So are the problems of broken infrastructure and overcrowding.

The same pattern is found with many other social issues. Auto theft is also more common in Texas border cities than elsewhere in the United States. Although there are pockets of poverty in several areas of the U.S., poverty and its attendant problems are most pronounced in the South Texas borderlands. Dropout rates among Hispanics are highest in this border location. So are the problems of undocumented workers, broken infrastructure, and cultural divisions.

Why? Some observers attribute such problems to the fact that the border is the juncture between two countries with very different cultures, laws, and political systems. Others state that the borderlands have more pronounced problems because the periphery of a nation usually has less political and economic power than its center.

Though such explanations are certainly important, there is something deeper going on. The South Texas-Northern Mexico border is not only a place where the periphery of each nation battles for resources with its respective center and where there are great cultural differences, but the location where monumental forces of social change collide.

In his 1996 book The Future of Capitalism, economist Lester Thurow borrows the concept of plate tectonic theory from geology to create a useful metaphor. He states:

In geology, visible earthquakes and volcanoes are caused by the invisible movement of the continental plates floating on the earth's molten inner core... The geophysicist must probe deeper to look at forces generated below the surface of the earth by the continental plates. So too, no one can understand what happened to Mexico [in its economic crises] by looking at the clumsy mistakes made by policy makers in Mexico City. Those suddenly in the middle of an economic earthquake cannot tell you why it is happening any more than those in the middle of a real earthquake can.

Thurow makes the point that, just as real earthquakes and volcanoes occur most frequently where the earth's tectonic plates come in contact, social earthquakes and volcanoes occur most often where major social forces come together. Applying this analogy to the borderlands, many of the social problems encountered in this location can similarly be viewed as part of long-term shifts in the cultural and structural forces shaping our world today. The immediate social problems are surface manifestations of long-term shifts in these plates. In the location where these plates collide, the social landscape is profoundly altered by social and cultural earthquakes and volcanoes, or sudden, negative upheavals visited most profoundly on societies where these pressures are strongest.

For some, these tectonic social plates at the U.S.-Mexico border might be the cultural and sociopolitical systems of Mexico and the United States. Other major social forces, however, are exerting even greater pressure at the border. Chief among these opposing social tectonic plates are globalization and nationalism. Globalization tries to erase borders, while nationalism tries to erect and reinforce them. Both of these forces, incidentally, are often pushed onto the weaker borderlands by the powerful centers of each nation.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. sees globalization and the counterforces of nationalism (and the corresponding ethnocentrism associated with natural culture) as powerful competing forces.

The world is torn today in opposite directions. Globalization is in the saddle and rides mankind, but at the same time, drives people to seek refuge from its powerful forces beyond their control and comprehension. They retreat into familiar intelligible protective units. They crave the politics of identity [nationalism]. The faster the world integrates, the more people will huddle in their religious or ethnic or tribal enclaves... Nor is the fundamentalist revival confined to the Third World. Many people living lives of quiet desperation in modern societies hunger for transcendent meaning and turn to inerrant faith for solace and support.

A brief description of each of these two forces will illuminate their conflictive nature for the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.


Globalization is a process by which money, information, labor, goods, and services move with increasing ease across international boundaries. It is closely related to market capitalism, which produces goods and services be produced where production costs are the lowest, and then sold wherever the greatest profit can be made. In a truly free market, capitalists and workers alike are free to produce a product (or increase the value of their labor) wherever they can, and at the lowest possible cost. They should then be free to sell this product (or their labor) where it can bring them the greatest profit. Obviously, both the creation of a product and taking it to where it can be sold for the greatest profit require free movement across international boundaries. Such international movement also requires the nations of the world to lower trade barriers and to create networks regulating transportation and money transfers while encouraging information sharing and standardized trade processes. Globalization has been accelerating rapidly in the past twenty years, as market capitalism has become the dominant economic force among the nations of the world. As barriers to free trade have fallen, transportation and communication networks have grown exponentially.

This phenomenon is aptly described by geographer David J. Keeling, who says:

For the first time in human history, multinational corporations can produce anything anywhere on the planet and can sell anything anywhere on the planet... Time-space compression has "stretched" capital and information activities across the traditional boundaries constructed by political and geographical structures. This theoretically borderless world now presents few impediments to the rapid and efficient movement of people, capital, goods, services, and information, thus facilitating the emergence of a truly global marketplace.

The giant expansion in trade around the world has produced greater interdependence among the nations of the world. Nations that originally resisted it found themselves left out of the economic development promised by such trade. Thus, even nations of the former Second World—the Soviet Union and Communist China—have rushed to embrace market capitalism, rather than remain isolated from its globalizing influences.

Largely, they have done so based on their desire for the outcomes predicted by the theory of globalization. The theory of globalization proposes that free market capitalism, unfettered by trade barriers, will have four outcomes: it will (1) produce greater political stability, (2) promote democracy, (3) establish worldwide economic and political cooperation, and (4) raise the standard of living for all who actively participate.

That so many nations have bought into the theory of globalization requires, of course, more than just faith in an abstract theory. The nations of the former Soviet Union and China, for example, did not convert to free market capitalism without some fairly substantial evidence. Though these nations have experienced major dislocations as they have embraced globalization, it seems to be working to increase the overall standard of living for many of them.

Latin America has also embraced globalization and free market capitalism, though most Latin American countries have not experienced the economic benefits that have come to Asian nations. The number of people living in poverty in Latin America has grown from 120 million in 1970 to over 220 million in 2000. In 2000 over 40 percent of the population in Latin America was considered poor. Also as a consequence of globalization, many national firms throughout Latin America have been forced out of business by multinational corporations with much better financing, technology, and market connections.

Mexico, as a member of NAFTA, has experienced globalization in particularly negative ways. When Mexico became a member of NAFTA, government price supports for many commodities were abandoned, rural-urban migration increased, and falling agricultural prices depressed an already fragile rural economy. In addition, Mexico changed its constitution to allow the free sale of once-sacred ejido [cooperative farm] lands and reduced barriers to external trade, capital, and goods. Because people at the bottom were drastically affected by these changes, highly nationalistic reactions soon erupted, including the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas.

Throughout other emerging regions of the world, vast segments of society have become further impoverished by globalization. These nations also find themselves losing the power to regulate themselves, because they are often in debt to international financial institutions (such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) and have to follow the regulations set by these lenders. As those at the bottom fall farther and farther behind, many countries experience nationalistic rebellions by ethnic, religious, and political groups who feel threatened by these global forces. Indeed, as Brecher and Costello suggest, the experience of many of these impoverished populations has been closer to "global pillage" than to "global village."

Nationalism is also aroused when globalization begins to weaken national cultures and national identity. Many observers contend, for example, that globalization leads to a worldwide homogenization of culture—often culture associated with U.S. products and popular culture. According to this view, U.S. corporations, have spread U.S. goods and media productions across the globe, especially to developing countries like Mexico and the nations of Latin America. Proponents of this view propose that other countries are becoming Americanized by our advertisements, movies, and TV, and by our "fizzy drinks, faded pants, and fatty foods."

Nationalism/National Culture

Nationalism, the force that often rises to oppose globalization, is hard to define. It means so many different things to so many different people, and these meanings seem to change over time. Many definitions that one hears are negative Pfaff, for example, jokingly states that "a nation is a people united by a common dislike of its neighbors and a common mistake about its origins." Sigmund Freud saw similar negative features of nationalism when he said, "It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness."

Anthony Smith defines nationalism as an ideology which

holds that the world is divided into nations, each of which has its own character and destiny; that an individual's first loyalty is to his or her nation; that the nation is the source of all political power; that to be free and fulfilled, the individual must belong to a nation; that each nation must express its authentic nature by being autonomous; and that a world of peace and justice can only be built on autonomous nations.

Smith points out that a fundamental aspect of nationalism is a strong sense of identity based upon shared national cultural values and symbols. This national culture, he says, inspires men and women to sacrifice their personal well-being for the higher well-being of the nation. It inspires dedicated effort and comforts individuals when they experience loss and grief. It provides shared national memories, glorifying myths and symbols, core values, and a common identity. In short, it is the glue that holds people together and inspires individuals to act out of something besides economic self-interest.

Nationalism, then, is a strong social bond, a form of social solidarity. It is somewhat related to Emile Durkheim's idea of "mechanical solidarity," which is based more on feelings of attachment than on "what's in it for me." As members of a crowd watch the flag being raised, for example, their attention is focused on an object—the flag—and its shared meaning. They feel that they are part of something greater than themselves, the nation. With this sense of belonging comes a feeling of moral obligation to live up to the demands of membership.

Even in the early part of the twentieth century, Durkheim saw the emergence of a competing form of solidarity, which he called "organic solidarity." This social bond was more structural than cultural, since it was created by an increasingly specialized division of labor. People were becoming dependent upon one another, not because of shared feelings, but because they had become so specialized in their work that each could not produce all the things needed for his or her well-being. That is, the basis of their dependency on each other was not shared feelings but economic interdependence.

Durkheim could see that mechanical solidarity was being replaced, to a degree, by organic solidarity in industrialized nations. Today, we can see a similar pattern, in which nationalism seems to be threatened by globalization. The question for us today, as it was for Durkheim, is whether a structural bond (globalization) will replace a cultural bond (nationalism).

Eric Hobsbawm is a leading advocate of the idea that globalization will eventually replace nationalism. He proposes that as global interdependence grows, multinational mechanisms, such as the Internet, the World Bank, and the United Nations will become increasingly important, and that individual nations will be able to provide fewer and fewer of the needs of their people. Indeed, he sees the nation state as becoming increasingly bound by international laws, treaties, and organizations and consequently losing its autonomy.

Many other observers of globalization have argued that it will eventually destroy nationalism. Shin, who disagrees with this proposition, summarizes their arguments:

[T]o the extent that globalism is a fact of social life, there is no place for a sense of national identity, based on one land, one language, or one race. The nation state, guided by nationalism as ideology or as emotion, has outlived its usefulness in maintaining world order. Just as modernization theorists and Marxists predicted the demise of nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s... proponents of globalization expect transnational forces of late modernity gradually to supersede nations and nationalism... Both proponents and critics support the premise that the nation state, nationalism, or national identity is antithetical to globalization. The proponents believe globalization will weaken the functional power of the nation state and the critics worry that it will disrupt ethnic or national identity. Despite their opposing views, they arrive at the same conclusion—globalization cannot coexist with nationalism.

But many observers argue that nationalism is not giving way to globalization. Indeed, many see feelings of nationalism as increasing in reaction to the pressures of globalization. Anthony Smith proposes several reasons why advocates of globalization fail to recognize this resurgence of nationalism and ethnic conflict. Their first error—their main one, he says—is to confuse the state with the nation, assuming that if the functions of the state decline, then the nation (and nationalism) will also decline. Smith points out that the state is limited to national government structures, while the nation includes both national government structures and the national culture. He indicates that the main failure of advocates of globalization is

their refusal to link the consequences of modernity with an understanding of the continuing role played by cultural ties and ethnic identities which originated in pre-modern epochs. These ties and identities are found among local and regional communities, that is, among the lower strata—the peasants, tribesmen, artisans, labourers... This failure has meant a systematic neglect of the popular base and cultural framework of nationalism.

Thus, the cultural changes produced by globalization, Smith argues, are really superficial ones that do not fundamentally change national cultures. Accordingly, the idea that globalization will destroy nationalism is wrong in at least two very important ways. First, recent history shows that nationalism, especially of an ethnic nature, is on the rise. While everyone is talking about market integration, multiculturalism, and religious tolerance, the reality is that ethnic and religious wars and rebellions are erupting all around the globe. We see these, not only among countries of the former Soviet Union and in the Third World, but also in many Western nations (Quebec wanting to separate from Canada, the Basques and Cataluña seeking independence in Spain, etc.). We also see a rising nationalism in the United States and Mexico. Smith, for example, states:

In the United States of America, itself, the most dynamic arena of modernization, a powerful continental providential nationalism is not hard to mobilize. Every time United States soldiers are killed or captured in a UN mission, every time the President agonizes over a foreign-policy issue involving an American military presence, every time trade negotiations threaten to favour America's competitors, the sense of a separate and unique American history and destiny looms in the background, encouraging Americans to feel their common historical mission as bearers of freedom and democracy... The belief in an American Creed, Constitution, and way of life, overarching the many cultures of its constituent [ethnic groups], has remained a resilient force, despite the many setbacks and disappointments of Americans at home and abroad.

The second error of those who predict the death of nationalism, according to Smith, is that many nations today are using globalization to further their nationalistic aims. Certainly, the foreign policy of the United States in recent years has been both pro-globalization and nationalistic. Shin proposes that many nations—especially, in his study, Korea—are using globalization for nationalistic purposes. He states that in many of the nations that have used globalization for nationalistic aims, there has been an increase in ethnic identity and nationalism.

One writer who sees a rise in both globalization and a subset of nationalism is Benjamin Barber. In an article entitled "Jihad vs. McWorld," he identifies the recent rise in religious and ethnic strife as Jihad. For Barber, Jihad is a level below nationalism, involving cultures within a nation rather than entire countries. Also, Jihad involves sects, rather than entire religions. Jihad, he contends, battles not only against globalization but against the jihadists' respective nation states. The second force, McWorld, is essentially the spread of globalization. He sees both forces as antidemocratic and each feeding the antagonism of the other.

Samuel Huntington also recognizes an increase in the pressures of globalization on subnational cultures. American identity and culture, he argues, are being threatened by the competing pressures of globalization and increasing multiculturalism. He is especially concerned about Mexican immigrants because he believes that even when they want to stay in the United States, they remain strongly tied to Mexican national culture and refuse to assimilate.

Huntington is right that many Mexicans who come to the United States, either legally or illegally, are strongly influenced by Mexican national culture and bring with them strong feelings of nationalism. Many are keenly aware that much of the territory of the United States was taken by force from Mexico in a nationalistic war of aggression. As we will show in the chapters to come, however, he is wrong in assuming that these immigrants and their children refuse to assimilate. While globalization pulls them to the United States, the pull of U.S. nationalism, especially in Texas schools, rather quickly diminishes their patriotic ties to Mexico and the continuation of many of the cultural practices brought from Mexico.

As we indicated earlier, globalization and nationalism are like tectonic plates that, when they collide, cause volcanoes and earthquakes to erupt along their main point of contact—the U.S.-Mexico border. Though all parts of the U.S. and Mexico are affected by these forces, their greatest impact is felt at the border.

Each of the topics selected for this volume is directly related to this dialectic between globalization and nationalism. The first two chapters, for example, examine the intergenerational process by which Mexican-origin people in the borderlands are "Americanized." At issue is how long—how many succeeding generations—Mexican cultural practices can be maintained among those who are pulled here by the process of globalization. We examine which aspects of Mexican culture are retained, which are dropped, and which are merged into Mexican American culture. Overall, we look at the conflicts that are created when people from Mexico, which has its own powerful form of nationalism, become part of a global flow of people into the United States, and become exposed to the powerful nationalism experienced in U.S. culture and education.

In Chapter 1, we look specifically at the extent to which traditional Mexican health-related practices are maintained by Mexican-origin people in South Texas. We focus on the negative stigma attached to many of these practices in the dominant Anglo culture. In addition, we examine the extent to which these practices are accepted, and whether cultural preferences or the high cost of conventional medicine best explains their prevalence. This look at traditional medicine also includes an examination of traditional practitioners, including curanderos [folk healers], and why Mexican-origin people in South Texas sometimes prefer them to conventional medical practitioners. Finally, we examine why many border residents of Mexican ancestry regularly cross back into Mexico to receive health care.

Chapter 2 extends the analysis of specific Mexican-origin cultural practices to those practices associated with gender, with interpersonal and family relations, and with special occasions and food. We again examine the extent to which pressures toward assimilation make these practices disappear after several generations in the United States. We also examine which practices seem to be more resistant to change and how the proximity of Mexico might prolong their use.

The remaining chapters also reflect major "earthquakes and volcanoes" arising on the border as globalization and nationalism collide. In Chapter 3, we examine the case of people like Alicia (mentioned in the beginning of this introduction) who, after being drawn by globalization to the United States, become displaced workers as assembly operations move to Mexico and beyond. This chapter also examines the issue of labor flight as a response either to global competition or to an effort by management to exploit workers. We deal primarily in this chapter, however, with how the problems of displaced workers in border cities differ from those experienced by displaced workers elsewhere.

Chapters 4 and 5 examine issues related to undocumented workers in South Texas. Their case is particularly important, because they help us to understand what happens when labor is not free to cross international boundaries but capital is. We also examine how the policy of the United States, which is driven in large part by strong nationalistic sentiments, responds to a labor flow that is increasingly driven by the forces of globalization. The occasional presence of vigilante groups on the border highlights this conflict. U.S. employers seeking the free movement of labor from Mexico and elsewhere run into strong nationalistic sentiments among those who are striving to preserve the culture and "integrity" of the United States. We also observe how the U.S. has pushed globalization onto Mexico through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but reacts with horror when we get some of the unwanted effects of this agreement.

Chapter 4 briefly examines such issues as whether undocumented workers are an economic cost or a net benefit, whether they use more tax-supported services than they contribute in taxes, and whether they threaten U.S. culture by refusing to assimilate. Our primary focus, however, is on the way undocumented workers are treated. We examine how the type of treatment they receive is related to the structural conditions of their employment situation.

In Chapter 5, we examine the law enforcement aspects of undocumented immigration. First, we look at how Mexicans who come legally to South Texas to shop or to visit are treated and whether our laws and our enforcement mechanisms are biased against them. The rest of the chapter discusses how our immigration-control apparatus deals with undocumented immigration. Is immigration enforcement working, or does it simply make the undocumented more easily exploited and abused? Do harsher measures keep the undocumented out, or do they simply increase the rate of injury, abuse, and death? Should U.S. immigration officers seek cooperation with Mexican police, or would this contribute to the exploitation and abuse of the undocumented?

In Chapter 6, we look at another negative effect of globalization, the flow of illegal drugs into the United States in response to the strong undercurrents of free market capitalism. In addition, we examine how U.S. national culture, with its emphasis on individualism, consumption, and maximization of individual pleasure, promotes the flow of drugs. We also examine how our nationalism causes us to overlook our insatiable demand for drugs and to shift to Mexico much of the blame for our drug problems. We also discuss how NAFTA has made it more difficult to stop the flow of illegal drugs. This chapter considers whether drug enforcement policies have done more to slow down the flow of drugs or have added to the burden of lawlessness and deviance, especially in the borderlands. In addition, we examine how cultural and structural factors influence the involvement of local border residents in the drug trade. Finally, we examine a consequence of the flow of drugs through South Texas: how this flow has affected rates of drug dependency in this region.

In Chapter 7, we look at cross-border juvenile and property crime. This is especially important in light of the nationalistic policies of each nation. This nationalism frequently promotes an environment, not of cooperation, but of opportunities for thieves to take property across the border and to involve juveniles in this illicit cross-border "trade." We discuss ways that young shoplifters and auto thieves are able to operate with relative impunity along the border. We further examine whether their involvement in such crimes is due to economic hardships, to lax enforcement, or to the ease with which they can escape prosecution in a border environment. We examine the failure of each nation (and corresponding state governments) to adopt cooperative law-enforcement networks and standardized laws, as would be suggested by globalization. We also observe how nationalistic restrictions on free trade create markets on both sides of the border (making stolen automobiles and firearms more valuable in Mexico, for example, while causing Freon and prescriptions drugs that can be purchased without a prescription to become more desirable in the U.S.). This chapter also addresses the pattern by which an underground economy is created when border people who are excluded from the formal economy become involved in prohibited economic activities.

Chapter 8 describes another underground activity among underage teens in U.S. border cities: going to the Mexican side of the border for alcoholic beverages in clubs and bars. We also look at how the Mexican criminal justice system, especially its jails and prisons, has failed to conform to the pressures of globalization for uniform international standards. We further consider how this lack of cooperation by police agencies on both sides of the border contributes to border crimes. Further, we discuss the issue of Mexican police corruption, asking what cultural and structural factors promote it, even when many Mexicans find it distasteful and unethical. Finally, we look at the conditions in Mexican jails and prisons, examining whether they serve more to curtail crime or to facilitate exploitation and abuse by public officials.

In our final chapter, Chapter 9, we examine what happens when one segment of the U.S. population fails to get the educational preparation needed for full participation in a postindustrial (and supposedly meritocratic) society. Hispanic dropouts become increasingly polarized as globalization leaves behind those without significant education. Schools are not only the major force for participation in a global society, but the main means by which nationalistic culture is promoted. In many U.S. schools, nationalism relegates the contributions of Mexico and Mexicans to a very peripheral role. Nationalism also prevents cooperation across borders that could foster better educational systems to the benefit of both countries. Nationalistic tendencies in the U.S. also push against true bilingual education on the border, where it is needed for globalization. We examine how the proximity of Mexico to the United States affects the dropout rate, especially in a border environment. We examine the relative importance of cultural and structural factors in explaining this high dropout rate, and examine why Mexican immigrant children are so much more likely to drop out of school than children of later generations. Finally, we examine whether bilingual education classes really help native Spanish speakers complete school, or whether they contribute more to a negative stigma and to lower expectations.



Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse