Border Dilemmas

Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848–1912

Border Dilemmas

Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 9 illustrations, 1 map Published: January 2011

Author: Anthony P. Mora

American Studies, Chicanx and Latinx Studies, History > U.S. History

The U.S.-Mexican War officially ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which called for Mexico to surrender more than one-third of its land. The treaty offered Mexicans living in the conquered territory a choice between staying there or returning to Mexico by moving south of the newly drawn borderline. In this fascinating history, Anthony Mora analyzes contrasting responses to the treaty’s provisions. The town of Las Cruces was built north of the border by Mexicans who decided to take their chances in the United States. La Mesilla was established just south of the border by men and women who did not want to live in a country that had waged war against the Mexican republic; nevertheless, it was incorporated into the United States in 1854, when the border was redrawn once again. Mora traces the trajectory of each town from its founding until New Mexico became a U.S. state in 1912. La Mesilla thrived initially, but then fell into decay and was surpassed by Las Cruces as a pro-U.S. regional discourse developed. Border Dilemmas explains how two towns, less than five miles apart, were deeply divided by conflicting ideas about the relations between race and nation, and how these ideas continue to inform discussion about what it means to “be Mexican” in the United States.


“In all, this study makes a sizable contribution to our understanding of the diversity and complexity of borderlands identities…. Mora’s work is a must for anyone interested in borderlands history and the interplay of race and nationalism in colonial frontiers.” — Janne Lahti, Canadian Journal of History

“Mora’s work ... provides a theoretical platform for understanding the issues of changing identity of Mexican Americans outside of New Mexico.” — F. Arturo Rosales, Hispanic American Historical Review

Border Dilemmas by Anthony Mora is an excellent study about everyday life and identity formation in the New Mexico border region at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries…. [T]his is a strong book, and one that merits attention.” — María E. Montoya, Western Historical Quarterly

Border Dilemmas deserves high praise for insightfully moving beyond many recent studies, which stress the deconstruction of identity, toward an understanding of how ethnic groups and nations have idealistically constructed positive identities to unite people on on a more egalitarian basis.” — John R. Chávez, New Mexico Historical Review

“Although it is thick with detail and information, the book is easy to read and informative. It presents important information, not only for those interested in the history of New Mexico, the Southwest, or even of the United States, but also for anyone interested in multiculturalism, the nature of the modern State and the social construction of race and identity. The book is ideal for the general reader, as well as for use in courses in social history, gender studies, race and ethnicity and international politics.” — Ronald J. Angel, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Anthony Mora has written a thoughtful extended essay on the racialization of citizenship and the demarcation of distinct communities in the context of the U.S.-Mexico border region.” — Cynthia Radding, American Historical Review

“Besides cutting new trails toward the subject of southern New Mexico and religion along the border, Border Dilemmas offers a sophisticated and clearly written use of cultural theory and a wealth of Spanish-language sources to bolster its central arguments about the retention of Mexican identity and affiliation. The book deserves wide readership among historians of the United States, the American West, and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.”
— Pablo Mitchell, Journal of American History

“Mora’s Border Dilemmas is a valuable contribution that sheds considerable light on historic and contemporary New Mexico through the examination of Spanish as well as English sources; presenting a more complex portrait by providing elements of the Mexican population in New Mexico with a voice in shaping their identity. The conversation over New Mexican identity in Mora’s study is largely bicultural, and scholars should be encouraged by this path-breaking study to expand their research into the perspective of the Indian people in New Mexico.” — Ron Briley, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“Anthony Mora provides a sophisticated analysis of two border towns… to illustrate his primary contention that the meaning of “Mexican” was more complicated than historians have previously believed…. A well-written book with a strong command of the historiography of the region, imperialism, and theory, Border Dilemmas will be useful in classes and provide specialists in the history of race, nationality, and New Mexico much to debate.” — Linda C. Noel, Pacific Historical Review

“Anthony Mora’s Border Dilemmas offers a nuanced account of the relationship between racial, regional and national identities in nineteenth-century New Mexico…. [This book] serves as an important reminder of the complexities underlying the nationbuilding process along the US–Mexico border in the nineteenth century.” — S. Deborah Kang, Social History

"This work is an excellent contribution to research into the racially-charged ideological processes that relate to Mexican residents in the territories acquired by the United States in the nineteenth century.... [It] is an excellent text to further explain the phenomenon of Fantasy Heritage in New Mexico, as well as add to the discussion of identity for Mexican Americans since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848."  — Laura E. Belmonte, Ameriquests

Border Dilemmas occupies a singular place in the literature on the West. It chronicles cultural relations and the generation of difference along the U.S.-Mexican border at the very moment when both American and Mexican national identities were being forged. Until now, no one has documented the nitty-gritty of this process and the ways that ethnic Mexicans on both sides of the border grappled with the production of local identities anchored in competitive national imaginaries.” — Ramón A. Gutiérrez, co-editor of Mexicans in California: Transformations and Challenges


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anthony Mora is Assistant Professor of History, American Culture, and Latina/o Studies at the University of Michigan.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Local Borders: Mexicans' Uncertain Role in the United States 1

1. Preoccupied America: Competing Ideas about Race and Nation in the United States and Mexico, 1821–1851 23

2. "Yankilandia" and "Prairie-Dog Villages": Making Sense of Race and Nation at the Local Level, 1850–1875 66

3. "Enemigos de la Iglesia Católica y por consiguiente de los ciudadanos Mexicanos": Race, Nation, and the Meaning of Sacred Place 103

4. "Las mujeres Americanas están en todo": Gender, Race, and Regeneration, 1848–1912 135

5. "It Must Never Be Forgotten This Is New and Not Old Mexico": Local Space in Euro-American Knowledge and Practice, 1880–1912 172

6. "New Mexico for New Mexicans!": Race and the Redefinition of Regional Identity for Mexicans, 1880–1912 223

Epilogue. "Neath the Star Spangled Banner": Multiculturalism and the Taxonomic State 274

Notes 291

Bibliography 345

Index 367
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4797-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4783-5
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