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So Close and Yet so Foreign: Trans-Border relations in Paul S. Flores’ Along the Border Lies (2001)

Si proche et cependant si étranger : les relations transfrontalières dans Along the Border Lies (2001) de Paul S. Flores
Maria Antònia Oliver-Rotger


En partie basé sur une expérience autobiographique, Along the Border Lies de Paul S. Flores examine les côtés nord et sud de la région frontalière de San Diego-Tijuana à la fois d’un point de vue chicano et selon une perspective postcoloniale et postmoderne qui voit dans la classe, le statut et les origines nationales des facteurs déterminant le rapport à ce lieu, les limites du franchissement de cette frontière de part et d’autre et les opportunités qui sont offertes respectivement du côté étasunien ou mexicain. La discussion contextualise la critique de Flores quant aux interactions transfrontalières et socio-économiques dans la région au vu des lois anti-immigration américaines des années 1990, de la militarisation de la frontière, de la plus grande circulation des marchandises venant du Sud et de l’impact, des deux côtés de la frontière, de la hausse de la consommation de drogue aux États-Unis. Dans le roman de Flores, la région San Diego-Tijuana est présentée comme une zone de guerre et de commerce illégal ayant un impact psychologique sur ses habitants et qui détermine les déséquilibres du pouvoir entre les gens d’origine mexicaine et américano-mexicaine qui interagissent de part et d’autre de la frontière. Dans l’ensemble, Along the Border Lies offre une critique sur les espaces que les Mexicains et les Américano-Mexicains voient comme leur chez soi et sur les valeurs des communautés qui y vivent.

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Texte intégral

“They are coming by the millions and they are all pregnant!”

Video by former head of the White Aryan Resistance Tom Metzger,

qtd. by Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times.

“The denial of what is happening on the other side of the United States

is the reason why we have such an insane society.”

Paul S. Flores, unpublished interview with M. Antònia Oliver-Rotger, 2003.

“Tijuana and San Diego are closer than they appear; they share an economic horizon.”

Sebastian Rotella, Twilight on the Line.

Tijuana in Chicano Border Literature

  • 1 The poetics of diaspora emerges from a consciousness or mode of perception – which critics have res (...)

1In Chicano literature and culture the border has become the focus of attention as a trope of a bicultural identity, as a geopolitical space of cultural interaction, a potential destination for Mexicans – and other Latinos – wishing to cross into the United States, and a site where the power differences caused by a globalized economy and American imperialism are strikingly visible. The interest in the border on the part of many post-movement Chicano/a writers has resulted from a poetics of diaspora, which, in the light of de-colonial thought, locates the plight of Mexicans in the United States within a broader historical understanding of political economies and the role of nation-states.1 The thematic shifts in Chicano/a writing are in keeping with the shift in Chicano Studies toward a trans-geographical emphasis that looks on Chicano history and culture as entangled with a history that necessarily takes into account international relations and empire. Within this shift from cultural nationalism to an accent on American trans-hemispheric cultural and geopolitical relations, the Chicano “mestizo/a”, “migrant”, or “diasporic” consciousness necessarily faces the challenge of coming to grips with the disparate nature of transnational conflicts. If the border is a metaphor of Mexican American bicultural identity and hybridization, the socio-economic divisions marked by this geopolitical space for people of Mexican origin can be felt in the north and in the south with different degrees of intensity and with site-specific dynamics that cannot be overlooked.

2In his essay “Millennial Anxieties …,” Arturo Aldama classifies the ways in which the U.S.-Mexico border affects the experience of Mexicans migrating north according to four propositions that I summarize briefly:

The border as “free zone” for U.S. citizens and corporations

The border as a free zone of violence and restrictions for those who try to cross

The border as a discursive barrier that renders inferior poor Mexicans and Latinos, mainly those coming from rural areas

The border as an elastic barrier, a zone of discrimination and marginalization that prevails even if Mexicans have crossed into the U.S.

3Aldama acknowledges that these classifications exclude the Mexican bourgeois elite who can demonstrate to their local embassies that they have sufficient economic ties to Mexico and may thus freely cross into the U.S. (45), but he overlooks the fact that these elites have sufficient economic ties to the United States as well, and that they also benefit from a free trade zone by being able to do transnational business. The free circulation of goods enabled by market liberalization has opened the border to the smuggling of drugs and people from the south into the north. The border is here the conduit of supply-demand dynamics of clandestine migrant labor and drugs and a source of income for the north as well as for the south, all of which are generated by free market deregulation. Aldama also fails to notice the fact that the very discursive barrier that exists for the migrant at the moment of crossing the border may not only be one between Anglos and poor Mexican migrants, but also one between established and newly arrived Mexican migrants. South of the border this barrier exists between high-class and low-class Mexicans.

4Scholars such as Edgar Cota Torres, Rolando Romero, Socorro Tabuenca, Santiago Vaquera-Vázquez, and Pablo Vila among others have observed that we should make explicit the local nuances of the border, their different kinds of material realities and the imaginary, symbolic dimensions associated with them. Indeed, the social inscription of writers, critics, and artists is going to deeply affect their perception of the border or borders and the ways they are affected by them. As Pablo Vila says, in the context of the border, “writing about home” becomes complicated because “us” and “them” collide in many different ways (xix). The fact that both Mexican fronterizos and Mexican Americans share the same culture does not mean that they construct their identities in the same way. As he points out:

My criticism here […] is that it is quite possible to share aspects of the same culture while developing quite different narrative identities, to the point, in some instances, of constructing the ‘other kind of Mexican’ as the abject ‘other’. In this process, the existence of a division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is much more important than the actual location of the dividing line. (329)

  • 2 Comment made by Crosthwaite in the question-answer period in the session El context social com eix (...)

5The division between peoples that share aspects of the same culture and analogous experiences is perceptible in the disclaimer by Tijuana writer Luis Humberto Crosthwaite that his work has nothing to do with that by Chicano/a writers. “The literary production from the Mexican side of the border, and [my] own literary works in particular,” he says, “bespeak a very different reality and cultural tradition.”2 Tijuana writer Heriberto Yépez, however, claims that, in spite of themselves, “Tijuanenses are Chicanos in national territory.” In a passage that echoes Octavio Paz’s argument about the Mexican psyche, he explains that Tijuanenses rebuke anything Chicano as “exaggerated mestizaje”, which can only be understood in the context of a psyche traumatized by a negative view of mestizaje:

  • 3 My translation of No es la chicanización sino el antichicanismo o chicanofobia, uno de los rasgos i (...)

It’s not Chicanization but anti-Chicanism or Chicano-phobia that is one of the main identity traits of the inhabitant of the border. Since in Mexico all of us seem to be traumatized by mestizaje, we are appalled by everything that intensifies that bad hybridization. In the atrophied psyche of the Mexican, Chicanos play the role of the mestizos that went beyond the pale […]. In Tijuana anything that is in touch with the gringo or with the Chicano is tainted. We even discriminate the Mexicans that work there [the U.S.], have family or live part time in USAlandia: they are “Pochos” or “immigrated”, words that are derogatory. We invented the figure of the despicable Chicano, from movies to jokes, in order to feel more pure, not as “jumbled” as they are. 3 (“Todos contra todos”)

6The emphasis on “cultural purity” in the north may be the result of what Edgar Cota Torres terms the leyenda negra (black legend) about the border corresponding to stereotypes of the Mexican border generated both in the United States and Mexico as corrupt, of loose morality, chaotic, and culturally impure (Cota Torres, 13). It is because of this derogatory image that Mexican cultural institutions have in turn marginalized Tijuana writers and later treated them as “barbarians” to be “domesticated” and integrated into national culture (Tabuenca, 155-156).

7Though some Tijuanense writers and intellectuals may reject any connection with Chicanos, the opposite has occurred in the case of north of the border. The 1990s saw the publication of several pieces on Tijuana by Chicano or Mexican American writers whose fascination with the border town had little to do with the black legend. Instead, they sought to locate the particular predicament of the town within debates about globalization from the viewpoint of the afore-mentioned Chicano/a diasporic consciousness. In their writings, Tijuana emblematizes the effects of global, postcolonial postmodernity from several perspectives.

8Across the Wire (1993) and By the Lake of the Sleeping Children (1996) by Luis Alberto Urrea are auto-ethnographic observations of the daily tribulations of Mexican garbage pickers, living in the most destitute area in the border town of Tijuana. While Across the Wire was, according to José Saldívar, a “struggle to make sense” of the helpless lives of the dump dwellers (138), displaying an inability to articulate the economic forces at work that shape those lives (136), By the Lake of the Sleeping Children shows Urrea to be perfectly in the know of what is going on at the border. If in his previous book Urrea could not explain that “nebulous all-pervasive it” at the heart of the lives of those he helps, in By the Lake of the Sleeping Children “it” has several names: “It’s called agribusiness, multinational free enterprise, and if for no other reason than that, the border will never be closed.” (15) Urrea provides endless lists of all the commodities, advantages, riches, possibilities that the immigrants may enjoy; lists of illnesses, catastrophes, plagues that are attributed to the south and the immigrants; lists of all the benefits Americans enjoy thanks to illegal immigrants; and lists of the sources of revenue of migrant labor. The effect is to establish a correlation between massive, abundant capitalist production and benefit in the north, and massive, abundant migration and poverty in the south. Yet, in the end, the Tijuana garbage dump becomes a universal metaphor to talk about the suffering of the human condition, an allegory of the spiritual wasteland on earth when hope is missing from our lives:

Everyone, no matter who, no matter how rich or poor, has lived in the Tijuana garbage dump. One’s type of suffering does not rate, in my book, above or below anyone else’s. You can be as impoverished as a trash-picker driving your 240 SL down the Garden State Parkway to your yacht at Cape May. (6)

9In line with Christian parables or fables, Urrea’s is an adventure into the Christian spirit, an epic test of the soul in the face of material deprivation and suffering, that, like all moral tales, is followed by a lesson or exhortation: heroism lies in “solitary moral courage”, in “being untainted by the world” (33) when one is in the harshest conditions.

10In contrast with Urrea, in The Other Side (1992) journalist Rubén Martínez spells out for us the sources of his diasporic cultural self by linking the multiple trajectories of his identity to actual physical journeys to potential homelands (El Salvador, Tijuana, Mexico D.F., L.A.). Martínez is not only a border crosser but presents himself as a kind of embodiment of a cultural border as a Latino related to experiences of displacement and as a someone involved in the globalization of Latino cultural resistance. In this context, Martínez’s Tijuana is both the site of postmodern, deterritorializing artistic languages and sensibilities from different parts of Latin America and a mixture of a myriad of cultural influences:

First, it’s a bar where the disco pulses and a naked woman writhes under the red spotlight on the stage. She leans down before a tourist, who buries his face in her breasts. On the next block, a young longhair croons pop songs in English to the Americanized Tijuana bourgeoisie. That’s not it either. Then we’re out on the street again, passing by the taco stands next to the hotdog stands, the indígenas proffering their Guatemalan-style “friendship bracelets” and lizards of colored foam. (101)

11For his part, Richard Rodríguez, in Days of Obligation, offers an insightful but distant and somehow apprehensive representation of Tijuana as a threat to his American individuality. But Tijuana is also “the future” in its challenge to the border between identities, its ambition for American dollars, its acknowledgement of its dependence on “American pop culture, its drugs, its disrespect, its despair.” (90) Interestingly, and in tune with Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s coining of the area as “Sandiejuana” (50), Rodríguez views the Tijuana-San Diego border as a place where the inequalities created by global capital are made evident: “Taken together as one, Tijuana and San Diego form the most fascinating new city in the world, a city of world-class irony.” (106)

12The idea of the border as “one place” is pervasive in Paul S. Flores’ Along the Border Lies (2002), which, unlike the previous three works, captures how this particular geographical area determines the life and psychology of several Mexican and Mexican American citizens of different backgrounds. Flores, a writer and performance artist now living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area, was born in Chula Vista to a family of migrant workers and went to school in San Diego with the sons and daughters of rich families from Tijuana. Like many other American teenagers from the border, Flores often crossed over for the more permissive nightlife of Tijuana. He married a woman from Tijuana and became very familiar with the life of the Tijuanense upper class. The plot and characters in his work are inescapably shaped by racism, social inequality, state violence, bi-national economic relations, and drug dealing and consumption. In alluding to the historical circumstances of its production, Along the Border Lies offers the critic the possibility of tracing a “cognitive mapping” of the border, that is, the relationship between social reality and imaginary interpretations of space (Jameson, 353). As Flores himself has said in his unpublished interview,

[A]ll of these people’s identities within that space are already determined by virtue of where they live and so I felt the discovery of that existence, that you are always going to be affected by your surroundings or the level of cultural context that you are engaged in.

13My discussion of the novel intends to contribute to a move beyond the symbolic emphasis on the border often prevalent in Chicano Studies towards a spatial analysis that is present in the scholarly work of critics from both sides of the border such as Mary Pat Brady, Socorro Tabuenca, Debra Castillo, Édgar Cota Torres, José Manuel Valenzuela Arce, and Claudia Sadowski-Smith. In Along the Border Lies, identities are unequally shaped by capitalist notions of power and prosperity and are articulated differently depending on the racial and social status of inhabitants and their possibilities of social mobility. The characters’ status and opportunities in relation to the dominant national cultures and normative views of identity also condition their relationship to others. Interaction between the peoples on both sides of the border does not necessarily lead to communication or real engagement with the other side but to further distance and foreignness. In order to draw attention to the discrepant but intertwined realities of the U.S. and Mexican sides of the border, the writer creates two story lines that become interwoven in the second half of the novel. The U.S. or Mexican American story is that of Alfredo, a young insecure working-class Mexican American from a broken home raised under the influence of propaganda about drugs, immigration and the military who organize a group of vigilantes to patrol the border and ends up shooting a group of clandestine Mexican immigrants. The Mexican story from south of the border features Miranda, a young woman from a rich family in Tijuana who becomes a drug dealer to escape the constraints and obligations placed on women by upper-class Tijuanense society. The two stories are tied together by a set of young people of Mexican and Mexican American origin with different economic and cultural ties to the two countries.

The Patrolled (Post)colonial4 Border

  • 4 In this essay I have used Tabuenca’s spelling “(post)colonial” to distinguish it from “postcolonial (...)

“The U.S.-Mexican border is indeed a place in which (post)colonial spaces are historically connected.”

Socorro Tabuenca, “Viewing the Border: Perspectives from the Open Wound.”

“If you live on the border you are going to see the military, the army, the airforce, the marines, the FBI, the DEA, the border patrol, special forces units, nine or ten military operation administrations within such a close proximity that this is what you are going to see, and this is the way the state makes itself present to an eighteen year old boy and so this has real effects: ‘OK, yes, young man you have the opportunity to become part of the American Dream by joining the military. Go in four years, and we’ll pay for your college and you can integrate and go right back into society. But, no, they don’t integrate into society. That shit changes you. And then once you begin to identify with that as the principal way in which not only the United States conducts his life but that the individual should, you have murderers.”

Flores, unpublished interview.

14Flores has stated that he views the border as a (post)colonial space because most of the territories on the United States side of the border were occupied by this country in 1848 and came under its cultural and political dominance. For people of Mexican origin this political hegemony resulted in racial, cultural, economic and political grievances whose consequences are still in place today. Viewed from a binational perspective the border is also (post)colonial in the sense that it bears witness to how “imperialism as a political or economic process abroad is inseparable from the social relations and cultural discourses of race, gender, ethnicity and class at home.” (Kaplan & Pease, 16)

  • 5 It is beyond of the scope of this essay to review all such literature. An excellent review is prov (...)

15Along the Border Lies needs to be contextualized in the moments of highest border tensions in the United States during the 1990s. Although these tensions are also present today in the post 9/11 era, Flores’ novel is set in the mid-1990s, right after the fortification and militarization of the border in 1994 during Bill Clinton’s presidency and the almost simultaneous implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Several sociologists, political scientists and activists have examined the ways in which the rampant militarization and fortification of the border is a sign of the repressive power of the state and results in the constant violation of human rights of migrants and border residents.5 For the purposes of this study I am mainly drawing on two of the most significant scholarly works on border militarization and the related state propaganda in the context of a global economy: Peter Andreas’ Border Games (2000) and Joseph Nevins’ Operation Gatekeeper (2002). Without meaning to engage in the possible flaws of Peter Andreas’ argument (10-11) that border enforcement is mainly audience-directed – an end in itself rather than a means to an end – I am benefiting from his insights about the particular nature of the escalation of state control of the U.S.-Mexico borderline throughout the 1990s. Andreas states that the transformation of border control from a low-intensity to a high-intensity campaign in the busiest border in the world where sharp criminalization and market liberalization come together has resulted from the need of the state to reaffirm its territorial authority (x). The escalation of the American border policy in the nineties – evidenced by Operation Gatekeeper, Operation Hold the Line and Operation Hard Line – was a response to a sense of “loss of control” over national borders generated by the illegal smuggling of drugs and clandestine immigration (7). Andreas argues that the dominant narrative on a chaotic border put forth by politicians, the media, and law-enforcement agencies shaped public perception and created a sense of anxiety and alarm. The domestic pressure that resulted in increasing border policing drew attention away from the enormous demand for drugs and clandestine migrant labor in the U.S., as well as from the ways in which NAFTA encouraged the migration of peasants displaced by market reforms and facilitated smuggling and the laundering of its profits. At the same time, official policy debates focusing on the fortification and control of borders glossed over the mutual dependence of the U.S. and Mexico on the cheap labor of Mexican workers (106). Andreas documents proposals by officials and military voices for increasing high-tech militarized forms of border control (150) that still continue and have been implemented in the twenty-first century.

16Alfredo, the young teenager in a high-school Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program and protagonist of the story line set on the American side of the border makes his first appearance in the first chapter of the novel openly displaying a Remington gun, set on leading and accomplishing a vigilante mission with his Anglo and Filipino friends to catch illegal immigrants in a San Ysidro canyon after they have crossed from Tijuana, a city whose “dank smell of sewer and waste, […] scattered poverty, chaos, and virtual namelessness” he hates as much as he hates his own Mexican inheritance (13). The story, Flores has said, is based on a group of young men that went to his high-school who were in the Junior ROTC program:

A lot of these working-class kids from broken homes enrolled in ROTC high-school programs in order to have some sense of power, uniformity, belonging, team work. (Unpublished interview)

17Notably neglected by his alcoholic mother and not close at all to a non-involved step-father, he constructs a sense of identity based on the “positive” role model provided by the story of a dead father he never got to know. Alfredo’s shooting at the clandestine immigrants is informed by a patriotic sense of identity embodied by the heroic figure of his blue-eyed father, Corporal Peterson, who, according to his mother, never returned from an evacuation mission in Vietnam. Only later will he learn that his mother invented the story to hide her shame: he was conceived when she was raped by a “drunk gringo sailor” (80). Following the “patriotic” steps of his “father” Corporal Paterson Alfredo seeks his own place in the hegemonic white power structure of the state. The boy’s expedition and shooting against the migrants is a way for him to consolidate his identity as a white American based on a sense of power and superiority over those he believes are inferior and find themselves in a weaker position. Alfredo views the border and its Mexican inhabitants as potentially dirty, “barbarous”, “fugitives, border-crossing criminals”, “invaders” bringing “poverty, corruption and chaos”, a “health hazard” to the “welfare system”, and transporters of “illegal substances and diseases.” (41-42)

18Bullied by his Anglo-American classmates who have nicknamed him “Mexican jumping bin”, Alfredo is both victim and agent of the racialized hatred against Mexicans. He has internalized a well-established image of everything that comes from Mexico as negative and contaminating. The success of immigrant-hating language has its antecedents in the development of what Norma Klahn, drawing on Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, has called “South of the Borderism”. Klahn defines the term as “the ways in which since the mid- nineteenth century American writers and filmmakers have constructed the Mexican ‘other’ as disorganized, lazy, violent and uncivilized.” This construction enabled Anglo-Americans to defend and define their own image as “morally superior and with a great capacity to work as well as prosperous.” (7, my translation)

19As a member of a Junior ROTC program, Alfredo has also imbibed the alarmist propaganda and rhetoric about the need to militarize and control the border against drug smuggling and illegal immigration. He is then out to heroically safeguard and keep the borders of his American nation and identity, to purge them both of unwanted, foreign, “illegal” Mexican traces. He describes himself as a “gatekeeper” defending “the American tradition of courage, destiny and power” (23) thus becoming a proxy agent of Manifest Destiny and the state border control Operation Gatekeeper. His view of Mexicans as alien replicates the state’s emphasis on the illegality of clandestine migrants that Joseph Nevins in Operation Gatekeeper associates with the larger context of boundary construction during the economic recession of the early 1990s and the increasingly globalized economy. The “war on illegals” reached its climax in California when “[o]pportunistic politicians and nativist organizations presented the ‘illegal’ immigrant not only as a lawbreaker, but more importantly as a threat to national sovereignty and the American social and economic fabric.” (11) Nevins further adds that

[g]lobalization’s challenges to national boundaries lead efforts to protect the uniqueness of the nation against alien forces. Gatekeeper is but one such effort. Therefore, the globalized state – apart from being a gatekeeper – is also a political territorial entity whose principal functions are to provide security, largely against real and imagined alien forces. (177)

20Alfredo views his “mission” (15) as analogous to the Vietnam War his father heroically fought and died in. With this comparison, Flores implicitly establishes a parallelism between American domestic border policy and direct military intervention in Vietnam during the Cold War, and hints at the connections between U.S patriotic discourse and exceptionalist ideologies that justify both imperial expansion and the policing and militarization of national borders.

21Through the figure of Alfredo, the author explores the psychological effects of the adoption by the colonized subject of the colonizer’s culture and of the adoption by the racialized subject of a self-denying “white” mask, as Franz Fanon would put it. (Post)colonial critique applies to Alfredo in the sense that he has internalized the American white supremacist rhetoric through which he justifies the extermination of “all the brutes” (Conrad, 87). The Conradian reference is not accidental here as Flores uses Heart of Darkness, one of the most emblematic texts in the field of postcolonial studies, as a meta-literary device that besides drawing attention to the border as a (post)colonial space, highlights the interdependence of space and psychology. Both Conrad’s text and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now are somewhat forcedly introduced by Flores as narratives whose particular interpretation enables Alfredo to view his journey into the San Ysidro canyon allegorically as Marlow’s search for Kurtz: his own search for meaning is the re-enactment of his father’s patriotic heroism.

Narco Juniors’ Transnational Deals

“Drug dealing is an activity, a way to escape. That is prevalent in both cultures but for different reasons. They both abuse the same thing but differently.”

Flores, unpublished interview.

22Miranda Cascabel, the daughter of a well-known family of business people in Tijuana, embodies a very different type of drug dealer from the powerful drug lords involved in local and national business and politics, such as Jorge Hank Rhon or the Arellano Félix Brothers (Rotella, Twilight…, 14-16) or lower-class drug dealers in popular Mexican narconovelas (Palaversich, 102). She takes up dealing as a job or trade that allows her to break away from the role assigned to upper-class women in Tijuana: being a housewife, having babies, having lunch and cocktails and going shopping in San Diego. Diana Palaversich explains the characteristics of these “narco juniors” drawing on the homonymous corrido by the norteño band Los Tucanes de Tijuana: “Young urban Mexicans raised with money who got involved in the business out of boredom and greed.” Unlike “unpolished” Sinaloan lower-class narcos, narco juniors are sophisticated, have an education, and have direct connections to powerful bosses (102).

  • 6 Fresa is a Mexican slang word to refer to rich, spoiled young people.

23Through the character of Miranda Cascabel, Flores explores and critiques the links between politics, business and drug dealing in Mexico. Miranda gets involved in the drug business run by her cousin Julián who is directly connected to Los Reyes, a narco clan that not only enjoys impunity but also has links to the central Mexican government. Palaversich states that “those who know Tijuana well will recognize in the figure of Reyes the eccentric multimillionaire Jorge Hank Rhon, son of one of the wealthiest Mexican politicians and a close collaborator of president Carlos Salinas and his brother Raúl.” (103) Despite their well-known connections to big drug money, Los Reyes, originally from Mexico City, are immediately welcomed into the circle of Tijuana high society. The cartel owners can offer further revenues to the upper class while also providing a way into a more exciting lifestyle to the rich, spoiled young fresas6 who depend on their family’s money. When Miranda’s father, who is looking for a good marriage match for her daughter, introduces her to congressman, “businessman” and owner of the Tijuana racetrack, Don Bardo Reyes, Miranda retorts that “people never say who they are.” (82) Ironically, however, drugs provided by the Reyes cartel will be the most comfortable way for her to escape the world she detests and to feel strong and independent from her family. In the end, she will need the support of this family to take care of the daughter she has had with a drug dealer and will become so intimately involved in the drug business to the point of endangering both her daughter’s and her own life.

24The story of Miranda develops like a thriller in which her affair with Platón, an employee of Los Reyes and friend of her cousin Julián, leads her first to become a drug consumer and eventually a dealer. The corruption and power of the Mexican government is seen in the story of Platón, whose father’s company built the racetrack, but was never paid by the government that then handed it over to one of its officials, Congressman Bardo Reyes. Platón plans to recover his own racetrack from Los Reyes, but he is charged with possession of drugs and imprisoned for ten years – after a trial in which both the prosecution and defense attorneys are on the Reyes’ payroll (83). Flores also shows how the white skin and privileged status of narco juniors Julián, Rudi and Miranda allow them to cross the border freely to do illegal business. They have a “commercial pass” or “NAFTA badge” as alleged “members of the Board of International Commerce Committee of San Diego.” (101) Julián begins to cut the drug supply he gets from Los Reyes and to double deal by selling it to his own connections in San Diego, then laundering large sums of money by using the supermarket chain owned by his family on both sides of the border. After the deaths of Julián and Rudi and under the threat of Los Reyes, Miranda has no other option but to take refuge in the United States, where she sells Julián’s drug to Gabe, an ex-convict of Chicano origin who is a friend of Jesse’s brother, Tavo. In exchange, the very money Gabe uses for buying the drug comes from his selling guns to Alfredo and his friends from the ROTC program Jesse, Erica and Gil. In a microcosmic simulation of the intertwining of drug trade and the military control of national borders in the United States, the money from selling arms for the vigilantes’ policing of the borders is used for drug consumption and the preservation of transnational illegal drug business. The exchange also demonstrates that, as Peter Andreas asserts, the existence of a demand for drugs in American society and free market de-regulation facilitate illegal drug trade in spite of heavy investment in militarization.

Chicano/Mexican Relations across the Border

25Paul Flores’ main interest in this novel is not the clash between cultures and ways of perceiving the world across the border, or the hybridization of identity that occurs in border areas, but in depicting the ways in which state power, corruption and the intertwining of two economies deeply affect the lives of those living on the Tijuana-San Diego border. The class and racial spectrum he depicts is varied and marked by conflict and exclusion. On the American side of the border, Alfredo’s friends involved in the vigilante mission are also members of the ROTC program: Gil, the son of a Filipino family whose father is a naval officer; Jesse, a rich Mexican from Tijuana whose parents own maquiladoras (assembly plants) in Mexico; and Erica, a young Anglo-American girl. Like Alfredo and in spite of his money, Jesse has also been subject to abuse by Anglo students in the academy. Flores foregrounds the distance between Jesse and Alfredo’s disaffection and vindictiveness against poor Mexican immigrants and the civil-rights-based sense of identity of their self-proclaimed Chicano Spanish teacher, who dresses cholo style, teaches Spanglish and enjoys the popularity of Hispanic students in the program. Jesse’s brother, Tavo, “a 26-year-old unemployed drug fiend, who was either always stoned or hanging out all night at the clubs on Revolution Avenue in Tijuana,” (27) his friend Edgar, a Chicano artist, and his connection in the United States, Gabe, a working-class Mexican American ex-convict, are the links to the plot line taking place on the other side of the border. Through Gabe and Tavo the guns sold to shoot the migrant workers help pay for the drugs they buy from Miranda. Tavo’s connections to upper-class Tijuana dealers and his links to low-class criminals like Gabe shed light on how mistaken Alfredo is in seeing migrant workers as responsible for drug smuggling.

26In a further exploration of the effects of state border control and the emphasis on legality in Mexican American families, the novel features the conflict between Gabe and his father, Captain Aguilar, a Mexican American border patrol agent and impeccable upholder of the law. Criminality and law enforcement coexist in the same family where children have been educated ‘by the book’ but have no real emotional connection to their father. Gabe’s mediating role in the exchange of guns, money, and drugs will lead his own father to arrest him and to witness DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) operatives’ killing of his son at home when he resists arrest. Edgar, perhaps the alter ego of the Chicano writer, is proven right when he says that “the ultimate victims of the huge drug market the United States had created were the lower-class blacks and browns of the border towns of Tijuana and San Diego, Nogales, El Paso, and Juárez.” (55)

27On the Mexican side of the border, drugs become the way in which the protagonist, Miranda, can reinvent herself and change identities without actually being nobody. She is described by Edgar as a “master of manipulating her own self-image.” (88) Indeed, when drug-dealing she engages in constant self-reification to the point of becoming “nobody”:

Not just consuming it, but dealing it was a happening underground culture. You were always changing identities, like clothing, for whatever occasion or situation you found yourself in. Because a dealer has to recognize the potential client, the potential to make money off everyone she meets. And then choose the correct mask to wear. You can never present yourself as who you are. You have to forget about whatever person you thought you were before. Because that was the whole reason you got into the drug business to begin with: You’re really nobody. But drugs make you feel somebody. (71)

28For her family, Miranda becomes a failure and the embodiment of everything that is wrong with Tijuana, also blamed for its proximity to the United States: “Drugs and promiscuity. Agringada. Americanized” (96). It is not clear, however, whether Miranda’s prejudice that Chicanos are insecure, rootless and have a low self-esteem changes as she meets Edgar, who is concerned with social issues and seeking to understand the origins of his own self-hatred (121). The voice of the Chicano painter, full of memories of his dead sister killed in a hate crime, is certainly the most denunciatory one in the novel: “Drugs only perpetuated themselves […] and led to more violence, more borders, more migra, more hate.” (114) In spite of this, he finds Miranda’s life and trade alluring, a possible avenue into a better understanding of Mexico and learning about its society from the inside. The fact that Miranda is a drug dealer makes her “even more attractive” (87). While he needs to leave a trace in his painting of his involvement with Miranda and Tijuana, Miranda refuses to be portrayed or become the subject of a painting because, as she says, he will “only see in [her] what he wants to see.” (85) Mexico, Miranda and the southern side of the border remain impossible to appropriate and quite a mystery to Edgar in spite of his sharing aspects of the culture as a Chicano.

29Flores’ contribution to the body of Chicano and border literature with this dark, popular narco-thriller is to shed light on how, in spite of economic ties between the north and the south, or perhaps because of them, the border continues to divide Mexicans and Chicanos, Chicanos and Anglos, Tijuanenses and Chicanos, Tijuanenses and Mexicans. Along the Border Lies shows the complicity of the San Diego American upper-classes, Tijuana Mexican high society, U.S. border policies and Mexican government officials in drug consumption and trade. At the same time, and unlike one of the most reputed films on drug trafficking in the Tijuana-San Diego area, Traffic (2000), the novel resists the stereotype that Anglos are generally well-meaning but naïve, while Mexicans are corrupt but astute. In Flores’ novel, young people from both sides are revealed to be victims of the drug-dealing business and of prejudices about the inhabitants of the other side. The end of Traffic offers the audience some hope through the stubborn pursuit of the investigation by an African American police agent on the U.S. side (Don Cheadle) and the transborder collaboration between American officials and a Tijuana policeman (Benicio del Toro). Hope is however absent from Flores’ novel, in which the future of Mexican Americans and Chicanos seems to be darker than in than most Chicano/a literary works. Deterministic and gloomy as the novel may be, its value and merit lies in its forceful critique of cross-border state policies, drug-dealing elites, as well as in its challenge to American-centered views of immigration and drug-trafficking.

30Part of the research conducted for preparing this essay was done thanks to a Fulbright/Generalitat de Catalunya Grant. A grateful acknowledgment is made to both institutions.

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1 The poetics of diaspora emerges from a consciousness or mode of perception – which critics have respectively termed “borderlands” or “mestiza” consciousness (Anzaldúa), “border thinking” (Mignolo), “postcolonial mestizaje” (Pérez-Torres), and “oppositional consciousness” (Sandoval). De-colonial delinking (e.g. desprendimiento) was proposed by Aníbal Quijano in his significant article “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality” to highlight the restrictive power of Eurocentric structures of knowledge. The epistemic resistance of de-colonialist begins with a detailed understanding of coloniality, one that includes an understanding of the imposition of the deeply heterosexualist modern/colonial gender system.

2 Comment made by Crosthwaite in the question-answer period in the session El context social com eix del món literari within the framework of the festival Fet a Amèrica, festival internacional de novel·la contemporània en llengua castellana, Casa Amèrica, Barcelona, 18 – 23 October, 2010.

3 My translation of No es la chicanización sino el antichicanismo o chicanofobia, uno de los rasgos identitarios del fronterizo. Debido a que en México todos parecemos estar traumados por el mestizaje, nos da asco todo lo que aumenta esa mala hibridación. En la atrofiada psique del mexicano, los chicanos cumplen el papel de los mestizos que se pasaron de la raya. […] En Tijuana todo lo que tenga contacto con lo gringo o chicano se ensucia: se discrimina incluso a los mexicanos que trabajan allá, tienen parientes o viven part time en USAlandia: son “Pochos” o “inmigrados”, vocablos que son peyorativos. Se inventó la figura deplorable del Chicano, desde las películas hasta los chistes, para sentirnos más puros, no tan “revueltos” como ellos.

4 In this essay I have used Tabuenca’s spelling “(post)colonial” to distinguish it from “postcolonial”, a term that for some may imply that the “fight is over and the oppressed have won.” (L. Romero, 247)

5 It is beyond of the scope of this essay to review all such literature. An excellent review is provided by José Palafox in his essay “Opening Up Borderland Studies… .”

6 Fresa is a Mexican slang word to refer to rich, spoiled young people.

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Maria Antònia Oliver-Rotger, « So Close and Yet so Foreign: Trans-Border relations in Paul S. Flores’ Along the Border Lies (2001) », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. XI – n° 2 | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2013, consulté le 26 février 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Maria Antònia Oliver-Rotger

Maria Antònia Oliver-Rotger is an Associate Professor at the Humanities Department of Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona, Spain) where she teaches courses on English and American literature and Hispanic Cultures in the United States. Her main research interest is Chican@ Literature with a particular focus on gender and, more recently, on the impact of border crossings on the construction of subjectivity. Her publications include the essays “Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderless Theory in Spain,” (Signs, 37, 1, 2011), “Travel, Autoethnography and Oppositional Consciousness in Juan Felipe Herrera’s Mayan Drifter,” Imagined Transnationalism, 2009, and the award-winning book Battlegrounds and Crossroads: Social and Imaginary Space in Writings by Chicanas (2003).

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