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The Secret Life of the Mexican Border

by Luis Alberto Urrea

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-48419-4
Publisher: Anchor

 Urrea returns to the setting of his well-received first book, Across the Wire (not reviewed), for another look at the impact of NAFTA on the lives of those who live in the direst poverty on the US-Mexico border. Urrea was born in Tijuana, the son of a Mexican police official and an American mother. As he wryly observes, ``The border runs down the middle of me.'' Fluently bilingual, he is unusually well equipped to write about the town of his birth and the border area it bestrides. Although he readily admits that there are many parts of Tijuana that are not characterized by the squalor of which he writes, he is drawn once again to the lowest of the low, the basureros, the families living in cardboard boxes and makeshift shacks near the city's huge garbage dump, surviving by picking through the rubbish found there each day. The portrait of daily life that emerges is not without its familiar contours--readers of Alex Kotlowitz and Jonathan Kozol will recognize the plight of children raised in such circumstances. But there is little in the day-to-day experiences of Americans that compares to the sheer grinding misery of the lives that Urrea depicts. Yet, as his book repeatedly demonstrates, the people of the dump possess a dignity and independence that is admirable. The work of the garbage-pickers is governed by clear rules, and as the book's final chapter makes overwhelmingly clear, this is a community in the best sense, quick to give a helping hand and solicitous of its constituents. Written in no small part as a response to California's Proposition 187 and the false hopes stirred by NAFTA, the book is a stinging and impassioned answer to the anti-immigration wave cresting in American politics today.