What's a Border to Do?

Mar 30, 2020

Credit Wikimedia Commons

“Border Radio” is a riot of a book, covering not only great memories of a time when radio seemingly had more color, more sheer flavor than now, but also an appreciation of the grand irony in real life, no joke writers needed. The border across into Mexico was not just an escape for bandits in western movies. The border was also more than an escape from troubles in the US with a chance to continue or expand whatever had drawn the ire of authorities north of the border. The border was a way to reach across the line of division to work together as combined communities.

Along the way we are given accounts of paired border communities which think of themselves as an entity, divided only by a river and the politics of a line on the map. It is the people who don’t live in those paired communities who tend to believe in large differences, even hostile possibilities

The paired communities themselves come together for mutual financial, social and civic goals. We can ask the purpose of any boundary. Certainly, there is always the need to determine services such as water, sewers, roads and so forth, as well as who pays and how - along with the distribution of services. Those are practical concerns.

We have borders between nations, states, counties, city and country. As a thought exercise, for any group of 1,000 people, tourists, settlers, refugees, workers, retirees, what is the real difference between crossing a national border or a state border? New Yorkers populate much of Florida as retirees or move to Arizona to live. As US citizens no one questions their legitimacy.

1,000 immigrants from other countries, as in the past, are not just workers looking to take jobs, they are new shop keepers, farmers, and yes, workers as well as 1,000 new consumers. New contributors, whose legitimacy is questioned. Are they so different from any of “our” ancestors?

In a similar way, small towns contribute greatly to large cities. New York City’s population, 37% of NYC, is foreign born and more than half of all children are born to immigrant mothers. All of us know people from our own lives who’ve moved to New York City and many who’ve come from there or moved back. All of which implies that only a minority of NYC residents are born and bred there.

The rest of us in the middle of the country are like a river constantly bringing fresh soil to alluvial farmland.  The cities return that gift with crops of creativity, culture and just plain aliveness we all share. Without “flyover country” from which to draw, NYC and other cities would dry up. It isn’t really the city, but the people who are the draw. People come from everywhere. People on borders are constantly crossing back and forth.

It might be nice to have a map of some of the cities the book talks about. A few illustrations make it obvious we are talking about areas which straddle the border between the US and Mexico. If it were not for the border, they would certainly be single cities. Within the US are there are many such city pairs on opposite sides of state borders, forming overall bi-state metropolitan areas. Border radio came to cities for bi-national reasons.

Del Rio is on the US side and Ciudad Acuña is on the Mexican side in the eastern course of the Rio Grande just after the river takes its final large turn south, headed for the gulf. This is the site of the first major border station, XER, started by Dr. Brinkley, forever known as the goat-gland doctor.

Eagle Pass is on the US side while Piedras Negras in on the Mexican side. They are located a mere 56 miles south of, and downriver of, Del Rio / Ciudad Acuña. When this bi-national small metro area knew XER was being built to their north, they got together to make sure they were not left behind.

Laredo, Texas in the US and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas in Mexico are another pair, downriver again of Eagle Pass / Piedras Negras by maybe a hundred miles. This is where Norman Baker landed, selling cancer cures and his own story of being a hounded populist standing up for the “little people.”

Despite the borders between them, these city pairs often work together as cooperating units, bridging the gap between countries.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR’s Radio Reader’s Book Club

Reference Links:

Del Rio, Texas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Del_Rio,_Texas
Ciudad Acuña, Cuahuila: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciudad_Acu%C3%B1a

Eagle Pass, Texas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_Pass,_Texas
Piedras Negras, Cuahuila: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piedras_Negras,_Coahuila

Laredo, Texas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laredo,_Texas
Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuevo_Laredo