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
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
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
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
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
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.