The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1992, Volume 38, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

La Frontera: The United States Border With Mexico.

By Alan Weisman. Photographs by Jay Dusard. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986. Bibliography. Maps. Photographs. Index. 200 pages. $19.95.

Reviewed by Federico A. Sánchez, Professor of Chicano and Latino Studies, California State University, Long Beach. Author of several articles on California history.

In the past ten years, a number of excellent books on the United States-Mexico border have appeared on university bookshelves. These works laid the foundation for the detailed study of the eighteen hundred mile frontier separating the nations, and for the border regions it formed. Alan Weisman’s La Frontera must now be added to the list of notable works on the subject. Earlier books on the border analyzed the political, economic, social life and systems of the region, but rarely did they present the region from the point of view of the people who live and work along the varied and increasingly complex frontier. This important oversight has been corrected by Weisman’s book.

Weisman takes on an interesting journey along the border from Brownsville-Matamoros in southeastern Texas-Tamaulipas to the Tijuana-San Diego end and eighteen hundred miles to the west. He divides La Frontera into nine chapters, each representing a geographic area along the frontier. Along with introductions, Weisman includes small, good maps of the areas; moreover, arranged throughout the book are Jay Dusard’s stark, excellent, black and white photographs of the tremendously varied landscape, of barrios and cities, and of the people.

Throughout the work, Weisman provides sketchy histories of Mexico and the United States that enable readers to understand each particular region visited. Much of the time, he simply lets the people tell their stories, and through these narratives readers are introduced to the landscape, the economy, local and international politics, and the constant struggle for survival of border cities and industries.

One of the author’s main points is that people — Anglo Americans, Chicanos, Mexicans, and Native Americans — can solve their problems if they can meet, sit, eat, and live together. This is shown time and again in pithy interviews of people from different walks of life on both sides of the border. Unfortunately, both governments continuously intrude into their daily lives through unilateral and bilateral laws that make sense in distant capitals, but have unexpected consequences — at times negative, at other times hilarious, often tragic, very often all three combined.

Another main point that Weisman makes is that the border zone is developing its own unique bilingual, bicultural society. Through interviews, people describe the border as regions where Anglo American and Mexican ways, values, and culture are mixing and synthesizing into styles of life that are combinations of both parent cultures, but developing according to their own unique regional logic to form something new. One of the most noteworthy examples is found in the dynamic Tijuana-San Diego region.

La Frontera is an interesting, supplementary reader for any student of the United States-Mexico border. Unfortunately, the points of view of the respective capitals concerning their border policies are missing, as are detailed descriptions of the economic and social impact of the border on the rest of the United States and Mexico. Weisman’s main contribution is to present the everyday life of the border regions through the voices of the people living, struggling, surviving there. At this level, La Frontera is an excellent book.