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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Black Rocks, Brown Clouds and the Borderlands: Air Quality and the Making of the Big Bend


This paper concerns the making of a place, specifically the Big Bend region of the Texas-Mexico border. As an entry point, it examines the unexpected phenomenon of air pollution in this rural region and the ways in which this environmental impetus has spurred actions, at various scales, to preserve the Big Bend’s “character” and economy. The mobilizations over Big Bend air quality at several scales can be seen as moves to preserve the construction of this region as a pristine, rural pocket of the American West, rather than as part of the urbanized, tainted U.S.-Mexico borderlands. However, geographic and economic realities act to pull the Big Bend more deeply into the borderlands. In this way, issues of air pollution become part of the struggle to construct this region as unique, clean and precious in the face of some uncomfortable geographic realities.

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