Border Encounters: American Cultural Politics and the U.S.-Mexico Border
byJennifer Andrea Reimer
Doctor of Philosophy in Ethnic Studies
University of California, Berkeley
Professor José David Saldívar, Co-Chair
Professor Laura E. Pérez, Co-Chair
Border Encounters: American Cultural Politics and the U.S.-Mexico Border is a transnational, interdisciplinary cultural study of the contemporary U.S.-Mexico border that argues for the critical role of the international border in the racial past, present, and future of the Americas. Through critical readings of contemporary photography, music, fiction, and poetry, this dissertation shows how the border is not only a contact zone for Mexican, white, and Native peoples, but also a more heterogeneous geography that includes a fluid set of diverse racialized subjectivities. I bring together a distinct collection of multiracial cultural texts to demonstrate how they interrogate issues of nation, race, and belonging through the representation of certain critical terms and issues related to the U.S.-Mexico border and the borderlands studies (immigration; feminicide; trafficking; NAFTA; maquila labor; the structural inequalities between the United States and Mexico, and the trope of boundary crossing, among others). By grounding literary, visual, and musical analyses in the material realities of the borderlands, Border Encounters engages the U.S.-Mexico border as a complex site of innovative cultural production while simultaneously revealing how global operations of power work through the series of specific geographies we call the borderlands.
In the first section, I bring together a series of experimental cultural texts in order to demonstrate how a diverse group of artists use innovative aesthetics to comment on material realities in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. I begin with an analysis of the transnational collaborative photo-textual book, Here Is Tijuana! by Fiamma Montezemolo, René Peralta, and Heriberto Yépez (2006). Expanding transa's field of reference from Tijuana to the greater U.S.-Mexico borderlands, my second chapter reads Harryette Mullen's epic poem, Muse & Drudge, as a text of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. I conclude this section with a comparative analysis of experimental fictions by Chicana writer Helena María Viramontes and Asian American writer Karen Tei Yamashita. The second section compares and contrasts representations of the U.S.-Mexico border by two different white artists in order to explore the under-theorized relationship between whiteness and cultural production in U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Chapter Four turns to Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy and argues against reading McCarthy as a "revisionist" Western historian, and critiques McCarthy's sexualized representation of Mexican women on the border as a dominant, if ambivalent, white masculine narrative. By contrast, my final chapter analyzes the lyrics and musical forms of the Roger Clyne & Peacemakers, a contemporary rock band from Tempe, Arizona, identifying how the band advocates for a peaceful cross-cultural coexistence.