Well-written reports of news good and bad from the tortilla curtain.
The twin cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, are divided along political lines: where once a simple fence marked the international boundary between them, in the mid-1990s a thick steel wall arose—an emblem of the almost-militaristic efforts now underway to stem the flow of illegal drugs and illegal immigrants. But they still share much in common, according to journalist Davidson (Convictions of the Heart, not reviewed). Crime and poverty are endemic, repression common, and, thanks to a long history of wildcat toxic-waste dumping on both sides of the border, the incidence of various cancers, birth defects, lupus, and other maladies is appallingly high. In all of these matters Nogales is no better or worse than most cities along the border, and the author is quick to point out the paradoxically hellish aspects of the boundary where the world’s richest country confronts its poor neighbor. But it is also populated by activists and ordinary people who are trying to make life a little better on both sides of the line, and this episodic narrative concentrates on their efforts to educate homeless children, reduce drug abuse, and provide safe drinking water for poor neighborhoods. Davidson is no Pollyanna: she calls evil where she sees it, and her account is an eye-opening refutation of those who insist that all that Mexico needs is a little more NAFTA-leveraged free marketeering. But, unlike many critics of the free-trade agreement, she sees merit in the maquiladora system, whereby American manufacturers rely on inexpensive Mexican labor to assemble raw materials into such things as computer keyboards and tennis shoes—so long, that is, as those manufacturers pay their workers a living wage.
Useful reading for anyone interested in bi-national politics and grassroots organizing.