Border Crossings

It is by now a truism to say that the border between the United States and Mexico encompasses a third nation, one that shares in both societies but that forms its own culture. That may well be, but the border represents different things to different people. For some Anglos, it is a glimpse of Third World exoticism out the back door. For others, it is a safety hatch, an entrance into a land of mescal, sun, and the long goodbye. For some Mexicans, it stands as a hateful reminder of lost territory. For still others, it is an obstacle to be overcome in reaching the land of milk and honey. For writer William Langewiesche, however, the border represents a great rift, a chasm separating two inimical nations that alternately despise and ignore each other: in his view, it stands as the most visible symbol of political division in the present world. "Only here," he writes, "do the first and third worlds meet face-to-face, with no second world in between."

In Cutting for Sign, his first book, Langewiesche recounts a composite journey along the frontier, observing and reporting what he sees along the way. That journey has been made many times before, most recently by writers Tom Miller (On the Border) and Alan Weisman (La Frontera), but Langewiesche finds new twists that keep his book from treading on theirs, particularly in his attention to political issues. He starts off literally in medias res,...

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