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"On the Border:
Portraits of America's Southwestern Frontier"
by Tom Miller

Review by John Gabree

Here is a New Yorkerish study of a 2,000-mile long, 20-mile wide strip of territory stretching between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast, with its own laws, its own culture and its own people. It is the people, especially, who come alive in Tom Miller's wry, sensitive profiles.

The frontier between the United States and Mexico has a contrived quality to it, as if it were erected in response more to xenophobia than to genuine political or economic problems. The society on one side is much like that on the other. Indeed, the barbed-wire and chain-link fence slices through not only metropolitan areas, neighborhoods and streets, but also through families, dividing breadwinners from their relatives and children. For the people on its banks, the Rio Grande is a river of tears.

Tom Miller, who made the trek from east of Brownsville to the shore of Baja, knows how to tell a story. In one revealing (and often amusing) tale after another, he brings alive the campesinos, politicians, political activists, border police, businessmen, parrot smugglers, Klansmen and whores who make the region as lively and interesting as any other part of the country. He not only captures the border as it is, but delves into its past, a history not only of wars and treaties, but of cultural landmarks such as Rosa's Cantina, the locale of Marty Robbins' classic country and western hit "El Paso."

I hope this book is as widely circulated as it deserves to be. It is rare for an essay to be as informative as this is on an important issue -- and the recent congressional debate on immigration emphasized how important this issue is -- and still be wonderfully entertaining. (1982)

Buy On the Border by Tom Miller



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