Dec 20, 2022 - World

New books reveal U.S.-Mexico borderlands' real history

Book covers of "Borders of Violence and Justice" and "Border Bodies."

"Borders of Violence and Justice" and "Border Bodies." Photo: Courtesy of The University of North Carolina Press

The U.S.-Mexico borderlands have historically been a region of myth and romance, but the reality of their past is much darker, as two new books are showing.

Why it matters: Historic violence in the borderlands contributed to systemic socioeconomic and racial inequalities that persist today, scholars write.

Details: "Borders of Violence and Justice: Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Law Enforcement in the Southwest, 1835-1935" by Brian Behnken, published last month, examines how police and white mobs sought to control Mexican Americans along the border.

  • Police agencies and "extralegal groups" policed and controlled people of Mexican origin to maintain power, writes Behnken, who teaches history at Iowa State University.

Zoom out: Mexicans and Mexican Americans were seen as "foreign" populations by white-dominated law enforcement agencies that used racist stereotypes to justify violence.

  • Behnken shows how Mexican Americans fought back against the violence, and even joined law enforcement to reverse the violence, although systemic problems persisted.

University of New Mexico English scholar Bernadine Marie Hernández tackles how the violence affected women in her book, "Border Bodies: Racialized Sexuality, Sexual Capital, and Violence in the Nineteenth-Century Borderland," published in June.

  • Hernández tells Axios she combed through letters from sex workers and looked through public documents to see how the dues and fees that they paid to carry out their work helped build the borderlands' roads and bridges.
  • The women have been left out of this history, and Hernández seeks to give them a voice.

Other works on the borderlands published in the last few years include "The Injustice Never Leaves You" by Monica Muñoz Martinez, who examined lynchings of Mexican Americans, and "South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War," by Alice Baumgartner.

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