Social and Cultural Dynamics of the U.S.-Mexico Border with José Manuel Valenzuela Arce
The U.S.-Mexico border is one of the most challenging regions for bilateral policymaking and a fertile arena for creative innovation. On April 7, 2006 the Mexico Institute hosted Dr. José Manuel Valenzuela Arce, one of the leading scholars of the U.S.-Mexico border, to discuss how those who live at the border interpret and reinterpret culture and society in the space where the two countries meet.
Through the use of different artistic expressions from as early as the turn of the century, Valenzuela captured the ways in which people have viewed the border. He referred to it as the "open wound" that never heals between two countries. In Mexico, the border has traditionally been seen as the "threat" where people lose their origins, as is exemplified by the word pocho, used to describe people of Mexican origin in the United States. The word refers to something that was torn from its roots, in essence, without a nationality. He emphasized that people on both sides of the border tend to fear change, and automatically label this population of pochos as "de-cultured."
However, this phenomenon is no longer focused in the region surrounding the border, but has traveled nationwide within both countries, and even into other Latin American countries, as evidenced in cultural and even linguistic expressions.
However, he also noted that people who live along the border have converted this dual identity of living between two worlds into a positive asset by creating a series of hybrid cultural expressions that combine Mexican and American symbols. Through these fusions of culture, expressed through sculpture, painting, music, and language, a means of communication between the two cultures is formed. The presumption that the border is culturally deprived is slowly being disproved as awareness grows about its unique trans-national culture.
Valenzuela also commented that in Latin America the 21st century has been marked by poverty, inequality and displacement. Between economic hardships and violence, he predicted that the trend of seeking better opportunities by migrating to more developed countries will continue. He pointed out that the increased numbers of migrants coming to the United States as a result of these push factors has become an explosive issue in public discourse since the attacks on the United States on September 11th. The perception of what the border signifies has shifted to an issue of national security. The complex issues surrounding the border have created a forum for massive resistance from those directly affected by immigration policy. The immigration reform bill passed in the House this December, Congressman Sensenbrenner's HR 4337, which criminalizes immigrants and those who help them has provoked the mobilization of millions from the migrant community as well as a tremendous support group. Valenzuela stated that the bill represents a rupture in the opportunity to work towards a more productive relationship between the two countries.