The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1984, Volume 30, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Book Reviews

Raymond Starr, Book Reviews Editor

Evolución de la Frontera Norte. By Romeo R. Flores Caballero. Monterrey, México: Centro de Investigacions económicas, 1982. Bibliography. 204 pages. $9.00 paper.

Reviewed by Rosalie Schwartz, author of Across the Rio to freedom (1975).

While many border residents refer to la frontera as a geographic, ecological, economic, and cultural region, Romeo R. Flores Caballero leans toward a concept of frontera as dividing line. He devotes as much space to the determination of the actual boundary between Mexico and the United States as he does to the life that develops around it. Detailed attention to lines of demarcation characterizes sections on treaty agreements. Flores Caballero repeats verbatim the text of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo dealing with “la linea.” He not only covers the efforts of the late 19th century boundary commission, but adds the later agreements covering changes in river beds. We plod through pages of El Chamizal, from 1850 until the 1963 agreement (reprinted in full) which resolved the disputed land claim.

This attention to the dividing line overshadows the treatment of border regional development as we understand it. The rather short, wide-margined book fails to provide an enlightened Mexican perspective of the dynamics of the United States-Mexico frontier. Flores Caballero repeats the same old stories: the Austin colonies and the loss of Texas, U.S. expansionism and the Mexican-American War, U.S. economic penetration into Mexico at the turn of the century, migratory workers. All of this is presented with no fresh insights into Mexican perceptions of the historical role of the country’s northern limits. The book covers more of U.S.-Mexican relations than the evolution of Mexico’s northern frontier. While some scholars are careful to locate historical causation within Mexico’s own context, Flores Caballero manifests no such constraints.

Only the first chapter, a scant fifteen pages, deals with the process of populating the northern reaches with Mexicans. From then on manifest destiny and the northern colossus take over. We learn almost nothing about the types of people who lived in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Sonora, or Baja California-the farmers, miners, ranchers, entrepreneurs-or the societies they created. Who went to the frontier in the nineteenth century and why? What were the opportunities? Did the Mexican government promote migration?

The author ignores the Mexican secessionist sentiment in the north under Santa Ana’s extreme centralism and offers no explanation for the movement in the northern tier to join the southern secessionists of the United States in creation of a combined, independent republic.

Flores Caballero’s narrative of the Mexican revolution in the region affords no understanding of why the “men of the north” emerged as the leaders of the post-revolutionary national government, or how their assumption of power affected the balance of regional economic and / or political forces. He acknowledges Chihuahua as the nucleus of the Revolution (p, 87) but supplies little analysis as to why this was so. He never touches on the railroad lines built northward from Mexico City to the border, for example, nor tackles their impact on Mexico’s northern frontier. The author is silent on the reorientation of economic patterns and the shifting of population.

We gain no insight into post-revolutionary land tenure patterns and the implications of such a change. How did the state of Sonora emerge as one of Mexico’s wealthiest states based on its role as supplier of winter vegetables for the United States? Does he assume prior knowledge on the part of his readers?

An assessment of today’s frontier fills the last section, one-sixth of the whole book. This chapter updates the problems and programs occupying the Mexican government and the border region since the first edition of the book in 1976. Flores Caballero deals with maquiladoras (border assembly plants), worker migration, economic interdependence, Colorado River salinity, and tourism. He assembles some pertinent statistics, but never rises above a pedestrian analysis. He cannot be blamed for lack of solutions-he is an academic, not a purveyor of miracles. The fault rather lies in a lack of imagination and challenge; the book is ultimately unsatisfying.