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Puro Border

Publisher's Weekly
Norteño co-editor Bobby Byrd, a poet, describes the border as a place where “anti-heroes” flourish in a “sort of anti-place, like a vacuum in the collective unconsciousness.” Nearly 50 writers, photographers and illustrators from both sides of the border use portraits, statistics and poetry to mold a complicated, multidimensional likeness of the area. The editors set the stage with a measured rallying cry—“We are restless. We are angry.” Yet in chapters like “Everything is Going to be Different” and “May Our Daughters Come Home,” contributors express a tremendous range of emotions. This is, in some ways, a project about love, as is plain when Luis Alberto Urrea reveals his true feelings about “Tijuana Wonderland.”

It is also an activist’s book, as when Maria Jiménez says that part of her work is “increasing public awareness that we are an abused community,” or in the included lists of murdered women of Juárez or statistics about labor costs in Mexico. There is tremendously humorous riffing on stereotypes, such as Roberto Castillo Udiarte’s “Johnny Tecate Crosses the Border Looking Sort of Muslim.”

Yet many writers place La Frontera deep within the personal: Crosthwaite calls the border his girlfriend: “There are girlfriends we are boastful about and there are girlfriends we guard like an expensive secret. This one I have locked away in my heart.” From “Ropa Usada” to “Towers of Crap,” it is exactly this kind of nuanced exploration of contrasts that animates this collection. It brings Mexican-American relations to a human scale with pride and without sentimentality.
Library Journal
In this startling collection of writings from both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border, freelance journalists, newspaper reporters, a few academics, and an assortment of other writers and artists take a harsh look at life, inequality, and injustice on the border. Thirty individual selections range from poetic verse to a chilling list of nearly 300 women of Juarez murdered since 1993. Another details the tragic murder of the young woman employed by a maquiladora--a U.S.-owned manufacturing firm operating in Mexico that pays substandard wages--and the unusual lawsuit brought by the girl's parents against the U.S. corporation. The death of a drug king in the border community of Ojinaga reads like a movie script, while an account of a used clothing store shows its lasting impact on the Southwest Texas border. Cinco Puntos pursues an active agenda on border studies, and this anthology, introduced and coedited by publisher Bobby Byrd, stands out among the recent crop of books on the subject.

It should be required for collections focusing on border issues and the growing tensions in U.S.-Mexican relations.
Reforma
Puro Border is a mixture of corridos (ballads), newspaper articles, photographs, short stories, statistical information, and poetry depicting all aspects of border life. This work draws a multidimensional portrait of border life, from broad strokes to intricate details. On one hand is the chilling reality of the unofficial list of women murdered in the border town of Juarez or the struggle of Esther Chavez to bring justice for these women and the attitudes of government officials towards them (“Juarez Center Fights for Forgotten Women”).

In “¿Quién Está Manejando la Plaza?” (“Who’s in Charge?”), facets of drug life are explored: drug lords (La Plaza) and narcocorridos (ballads about drug smugglers); as well as a tragic border incident in “Soldiers of Misfortune”. Immigration is thoroughly explored in “Everything is Going to be Different”, included are a pollero dictionary (pollero: someone who makes a living smuggling undocumented persons – pollos – into the U.S.), tales of border crossings, immigration policy, and Julian Cardon’s photo essay.

While this book uncovers the disturbing quality of border life it also looks at the humorous as some writers display a genuine love (sometimes hate) relationship with it. For example, there is the humorous take on stereotypes by Roberto Castillo Udiarte, “Johnny Tecate Crosses the Border Looking Sort of Muslim”. Also quite moving was Luis Alberto Urrea’s “Tijuana Wonderland”, a loving remembrance of growing up on the border and an excellent work of prose.

A U.S./Mexico Border Partial Reading List, as well as information about each contributor is included. Highly recommended.
Western American Literature
As a book catalogued under both Latin American studies and cultural studies, Puro Border encompasses much more than traditional texts. It is a haunting and empowering work that represents the U.S.-Mexican border unlike any other book in its field.

Editors Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, John William Byrd, and Bobby Byrd have marvelously combined different voices from all sides of the border to tell stories and histories that attempt to capture the conflicted and beautiful essence of the border we have estranged ourselves from through censorship, neglect, and culture.

Some of these voices include those of Leslie Marmon Silko, Cecilia Ballí, Francisco Vásquez Mendoza, Julián Herbert, and Roberto Castillo Udiarte. These authors write in opposition to one another, covering issues of illegal immigration, government and border politics, the life of coyotes, drug lords, maquiladoras, gender clashes, the wilderness, and the often ignored border atrocities.
Review of Texas Books
An Indelible Border Picture

Wearied and offended by the traditional media’s treatment of the border between the U.S. and Mexico, these three editors strive by their selections to present a more fleshed out portrait of the area, its peoples, and its realities. In his sensitive introduction, Bobby Byrd compares the Mexican border as an alley through which the poor people must pass in order to enter the rich man’s house to work. As more poor people come to work, fences are erected with guards. Drugs, contraband, and people are smuggled, but the media give the world only sound bites and headlines. This collaborative effort of forty writers and artists from both sides gives an in-depth look at what is occurring with hope that Mexico and U.S. policy makers will understand the border issues more clearly.

The voices from Mexico describe the humiliation of border crossings, legal and illegal. The latter stories are replete with fear, despair, danger and death. According to the editors, the laws intending to protect the people from smuggling, corruption, and crime tend to affect them adversely. The demeaning wages and conditions of maquiladoras are recounted. Other stories honor the sights, sounds, and smells of the Americans who grew up on the border or have chosen to live there for the cultural diversity. The essays and memoirs are enhanced by documented statistics on water, immigration, drug trafficking, and the economy. Together with the photographs and drawings, the book is a pastiche of dispatches, snapshots, and graffiti.

As the U.S. faces continued complicated relations with Mexico, this book is essential for those who seek more knowledge about the border. Puro Border should be in all public and university libraries in the state, other border states, and D.C.
The Plain Dealer
A gritty look at life on U.S. Mexican border

The border between Mexico and the United States draws together disparate groups even as it separates them. It’s a perpetual political argument, a source of problems and a symbol of achievement. Puro Border is a collection of writings that seek to give readers a fuller view of the people who work, live and die on both sides of the border. Put together by novelist Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, poet Bobby Byrd and editor John William Byrd, the book pulls from documents, books and newspaper in magazine articles to illuminate a troubled and varied culture. Drugs, food and clothing, water, power struggles and cast systems are among the subjects of this intriguing book with the consciousness-raising agenda.

Among the most powerful sections is “The Dead Women of Juarez,” which features several articles about more than 300 killings, dating from 1993 through 2002, that have taken place in the Mexican factory town of Juarez. Some tales are slightly softer. Cecilia Balli’s store, “Ropa Usada” (“Used Clothes”), describes Jim Johnson, a businessman who employed hundreds of workers in his El Paso, Texas, warehouse. Other writers describe life in the desert. Crosthwaite’s epilogue, “I Don’t Talk About Her and She Doesn’t Talk About Me,” is an extended metaphor comparing the border to an ex-wife.

Mostly, “Puro Border” hits readers with attitude, which is summed up by Byrd: “The government of the U.S. and Mexico continue to make laws and policies that adversely affect our lives. They continue to ignore who we are and what we need…. We are restless. We are angry.”

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