The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1993, Volume 39, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

The Disappearing Border: Mexico-United States Relations to the 1990s. By Clint E. Smith. Stanford: Stanford Alumni Association, 1992. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 176 pages. $12.95.

Reviewed by James R. Mills, former member of the California State Senate. Author of San Diego: Where California Began and many articles on California history.

The first half of this book is a brief history of the republic of Mexico, beginning with the revolution against Spain and coming down to the present day. It is a simple and uncritical account, so much so that it gives the reader the impression that it is a book written for Mexican high school students and translated into English.

Any reader with a knowledge of the history of Mexico will find the treatment of some of that nation’s past presidents unduly charitable. Generally speaking, the past policies and decisions of the Mexican government are presented in a sympathetic fashion, as opposed to the policies and decisions of the United States government with regard to Mexico. While any interpretation of the historic relationships of the two countries must recognize that the Mexicans have been more sinned against than sinning, a representation that blames the United States disproportionately for our unfortunate conflicts in times past does not give a true understanding of how we came to be where we are today with relation to Mexico.

Yet there is another kind of value in this book. Most citizens of the United States know very little about the history of Mexico, and they know even less about how Mexicans feel about this country. It is time we made ourselves aware on both counts, and The Disappearing Border accomplishes the latter purpose well, and that appears to be the primary objective of the author.

The last half of the book is devoted to diplomatic, economic, social, and cultural relations between the two nations. Subjects referred to are migration, drugs, and the environment, among others. Again the impression is that of a basic text book intended for young Mexican students.

Consistently the arguments made are those offered by various contemporary spokesmen for Mexican interests, even when the views derived from such sources conflict with each other. For example, the author states, with reference to the undocumented worker that, “Today he or she is better educated, almost certainly literate, and leaving a job in Mexico.” He further states that many Mexicans see unmanaged emigration as a net economic loss for their country. “They are rightly concerned about the loss of young, educated, skilled men and women to productive jobs in the United States, where they contribute to the U.S. rather than the Mexican economy.”

On the other hand, he suggests that one of the great benefits to the United States is that these immigrants will take jobs that American workers will not accept, and that does not suggest the attitudes to be expected of skilled, well-educated workers. In short, the book is simplistic in its treatment of current relations between the two countries, just as it is in the treatment of their past relations. Yet it has the same value in this regard. It acquaints American readers with the diverse opinions of a lot of Mexicans.

The title The Disappearing Border really refers to the second half of the book, especially to the last chapter, which presents the arguments in favor of NAFTA. These arguments are all of the standard ones and are expressed simply and well. For most Americans, it is worth reading for this set of explanations alone.

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