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featured guest
 Claire Fox

Border Talk Discussion - Join one now
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Your Questions 6 Questions

P.O.V.'s Borders visitors sent Claire Fox these questions in response to her work and her answers to P.O.V.'s initial 6 Questions. Read on!

Question: Why is literature a particularly good lens to use to study border culture?

Claire: I think that literature is one arena through which people from the border region are able to challenge sensationalist or stereotypical representations of the border that have circulated in the mass media (such as those emanating from the Hollywood- and Mexico City-based film industries). Many important contemporary texts of border literature have also attempted to correct the distortions of other more mainstream texts, such as Américo Paredes' With His Pistol in His Hand (1958) which challenged Walter Prescott Webb's The Texas Rangers. This is also the case with John Rechy's 1963 essay "El Paso del Norte" — stressing gay culture, popular religiosity and the color bar — that was written in response to a celebratory Time magazine article about the border. In many border locations, it seems that traditional or lettered intellectuals enjoy a strong public profile. Among other things, I attribute their status to the relatively small size of higher educational institutions and the cultural industries in border cities. On the other hand, literature is certainly not the only lens through which one can approach border culture — other forms of expressive culture such as music and dance, folklore, and performance offer equally important insights.

Question: Given the strong support for Republican candidates and their foreign policy agendas in this most recent election, what challenges do you foresee undocumented workers facing in gaining social, political, and economic legitimacy in the United States?

Claire: I think that Frank Sharry and Dan Stein, who are current Borders guests, will be able to answer this better than I can. From my perspective, I am interested to follow the various proposals that have been forwarded about the revival of a bracero program, the introduction of a new amnesty program (along the lines of IRCA), and some enhanced form of binational citizenship, all of which were prominently debated in binational arenas following Fox's election. My impression is that discussion of these issues has quieted somewhat in the wake of 9/11. The proposed restructuring of the Customs Dept. and other government agencies that are active in border and immigration enforcement under the new Homeland Security Department also has the potential to impact undocumented workers. As an aside, we witnessed a great fortification of the border during the Clinton administration. In terms of border policy, it seems that the previous administration laid the groundwork for what is occurring now.

Question: Do you think a greater sensitivity to the nuances of border identities — the mix of national, racial, cultural, and gender values that define us — can be practically integrated into the regulation of geopolitical borders?

Claire: In a practical sense, I'm certain that "sensitivity training" of border officials could address the identity markers that you mention, but the scope of your question invites one to imagine a completely different system of governance, one that is as attentive to local dynamics as it is to the global implications of all kinds of cross-border traffic.

Question: Hi Claire, I'm a prof at a small liberal arts college. I'm teaching an interim course on the US-Mexican border in Jan., which involves ten days in Nogales. Can you recommend a good, concise reader on border lit? I've already chosen "Lives on the Line" as one text.

Claire: As a complement to Lives on the Line, I would suggest U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Oscar J. Martínez. It is organized thematically, and each section contains historical documents as well as related essays by social scientists, historians, and other scholars. You probably already know a lot of literature in English about Nogales, but for the benefit of other readers, I'd mention the short stories of Alberto Ríos, Tunnel Kids by Lawrence J. Taylor and Maeve Hickey, and Women and Work in Mexico's Maquiladoras by Altha Cravey (this last text is based in part on the Nogales maquiladoras).

Question: Have you ever studied the literature of other border regions, such as in Israel, or Kashmir? Are there any parallels in the literature?

Claire: No, I have not, although I think that I and other U.S.-Mexico border scholars would benefit from dialogue with scholars working on the literatures of those border regions. There is an emerging body of research in comparative border studies — so far social scientists have contributed a great deal to this area (for example, Hastings Donnan and Thomas M. Wilson, Borders: Frontiers of Identity, Nation, and State; Lawrence Herzog, ed., Changing Boundaries in the Americas; and, Paul Ganster, et al. eds., Borders and Border Regions in Europe and North America). The comparative border studies trend is also extending to the study of historical, literary and cultural phenomena. Some scholars in the humanities, such as Claudia Sadowski-Smith, Erika Lee, and Dominique G. Brégent-Heald, for example, conduct comparative research on the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders.

Question: Claire — Have you felt any pressure, internally, from your university, other academics, or America as a whole, to change your stance on de-regulating borders since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

Claire: No, I haven't.

Question: Do you think if NAFTA had provided for a North American Minimum wage, that in effect that might have "erased" the border between the US and Mexico?

Claire: I think that the border is too complex a social system to disappear through an act of labor legislation. I would, however, support the upward harmonization of wages among the NAFTA signatories for reasons other than erasing the border.

Question: You mentioned in your responses that there is scholarship dedicated to the idea of looking at airports and hotels as border zones. What's the value in thinking about borders as defined/reinforced far from physical, geopolitical border sites?

Claire: There is a great deal of debate among border studies scholars as to how widely the term borders should be applied to describe things other than geopolitical borders. The concept of borders has been widely used in recent decades to describe all kinds of differences, including ones involving language, sexuality, urban space, race, and gender, to name a few. To view an airport as a border zone obviously cannot mean that it possesses all the same characteristics of a physical, geopolitical border. The scholars who have characterized airports and hotels as border zones qualify their usage by stressing the similarities of these two areas with regard to the enforcement and regulation of citizenship and undocumented labor.

As a first pass, I would say that what is gained from such usage of the term border to describe airports and other public spaces is an appreciation of how certain locations internal to the geographical boundaries of the U.S. may be experienced as hazardous points of crossing from the perspective of the undocumented, as well as a greater understanding of the activities of those authorities typically associated with border enforcement, in places where the general public is perhaps not aware of their presence.

Want to read more? Check out Claire's answers to P.O.V.'s 6 questions, the same 6 we asked all of the featured guests.

about Claire Fox


Claire Fox is a professor of English and co-director of Latin American Studies at the University of Iowa. She is the author of The Fence and the River (1999), which explore literary and visual representations of the U.S.-Mexico border in the era of free trade.



Check out some of Claire Fox's recommended websites:

Frontera NorteSur
Online news coverage of U.S.-Mexico border issues

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
For information about global immigration policies and issues

Hacktivism website

"Mixed Feelings: Art and Culture in the Postborder Metropolis"
Border art exhibition at USC's Fisher Gallery