Land of Necessity

Consumer Culture in the United States–Mexico Borderlands

Land of Necessity

Book Pages: 440 Illustrations: 110 illustrations Published: June 2009

American Studies, History > U.S. History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

Published in cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.

In Land of Necessity, historians and anthropologists unravel the interplay of the national and transnational and of scarcity and abundance in the region split by the 1,969-mile boundary line dividing Mexico and the United States. This richly illustrated volume, with more than 100 images including maps, photographs, and advertisements, explores the convergence of broad demographic, economic, political, cultural, and transnational developments resulting in various forms of consumer culture in the borderlands. Though its importance is uncontestable, the role of necessity in consumer culture has rarely been explored. Indeed, it has been argued that where necessity reigns, consumer culture is anemic. This volume demonstrates otherwise. In doing so, it sheds new light on the history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, while also opening up similar terrain for scholarly inquiry into consumer culture.

The volume opens with two chapters that detail the historical trajectories of consumer culture and the borderlands. In the subsequent chapters, contributors take up subjects including smuggling, tourist districts and resorts, purchasing power, and living standards. Others address home décor, housing, urban development, and commercial real estate, while still others consider the circulation of cinematic images, contraband, used cars, and clothing. Several contributors discuss the movement of people across borders, within cities, and in retail spaces. In the two afterwords, scholars reflect on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as a particular site of trade in labor, land, leisure, and commodities, while also musing about consumer culture as a place of complex political and economic negotiations. Through its focus on the borderlands, this volume provides valuable insight into the historical and contemporary aspects of the big “isms” shaping modern life: capitalism, nationalism, transnationalism, globalism, and, without a doubt, consumerism.

Contributors. Josef Barton, Peter S. Cahn, Howard Campbell, Lawrence Culver, Amy S. Greenberg, Josiah McC. Heyman, Sarah Hill, Alexis McCrossen, Robert Perez, Laura Isabel Serna, Rachel St. John, Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Evan R. Ward


“[D]eserves to take its place as one of the best collections on consumer culture and certainly the best scholarly contribution on consumer culture in the US-Mexico borderlands.” — Leslie Sklair, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

“In Land of Necessity editor Alexis McCrossen has pulled together a collection of compelling chapters using consumption to reinterpret the United States – Mexico borderlands region in meaningful new ways. . . . In addition, McCrossen weaves a riveting photographic essay with extended commentary throughout the volume.” — Andrae Marak, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Taken together, the essays in Land of Necessity highlight a central contradiction: namely, that the transnational fluidity associated with innovations in consumption was accompanied by growing political efforts to solidify the U.S.-Mexìco boundary over the past century. With this paradox at the forefront, the volume's contributors leave behind worn accounts of cultural hybridity and shed new light on the history of consumer fantasies, material strategies, and commercial networks in one of the world's major frontier regions.” — Eduardo Elena, EIAL

“This volume edited by Alexis McCrossen offers one of the most unique approaches to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to date. . . . [C]hapters of original research and Tenorio-Trillo’s concluding reflection make this volume well worth buying and assigning. It reminds us that the borderlands are more than the sum of two supposed parts.” — Dina Berger, American Historical Review

“Land of Necessity is a useful read for those interested in understanding the social and economic origins of life on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and to way in which early historical patterns of development paved the way for contemporary life and social relations.” — Linda Allegro, The Latin Americanist

Land of Necessity offers a tantalizing variety of perspectives on consumerism and the circulation of merchandise in the US-Mexico borderlands. . . . Focusing on transnational consumer culture, as Land of Necessity so ably does, is an approach that will no doubt provide further insightful riches to be distributed, contemplated, and shared.” — Andrew Grant Wood, Canadian Journal of History

“[S]tudents of the US-Mexico borderlands and people interested in the problems posed by globalization (which is connecting asymmetrical markets together around the world) will fin a lot to ponder in this collection. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — M. J. Van de Logt, Choice

“This collection of essays by historians and anthropologists significantly deepens our knowledge about the cultural and commercial exchanges connecting the United States and Mexico. It will influence borderlands scholars, who will see the region anew through the prism of consumer culture, and historians of consumption, who rarely look to the borderlands for insight into national trends.” — Geraldo Lujan Cadava, Journal of American History

“With its many illustrations and diverse essays, Land of Necessity is an excellent collection that sheds light on how the Mexican-United States border has created a unique culture of consumerism that has been impacted by wider trends in trade, politics, migration, and marketing in both countries.” — Peter Dedek, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“I do not know of any other single volume devoted to the history of consumption along the U.S.-Mexico border. Alexis McCrossen has identified a very important area of inquiry that has been pursued only in scattered and fragmentary ways until now, and she has assembled an ambitious, well thought out, engagingly written, and remarkably well integrated collection.” — Andres Reséndez, author of Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800–1850

“This collection of cutting-edge essays reminds us that the U.S.-Mexico borderland is also a consumer marketplace and that consumption is motivated as much by necessity as desire. Land of Necessity makes a powerful case that this border matters for understanding consumer capitalism, not just immigration.” — Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of mass Consumption in Postwar America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alexis McCrossen is Associate Professor of History at Southern Methodist University. She is the author of Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction: Land of Necessity / Alexis McCrossen
Part I. Histories of Nations, Borderlands, and Consumers
Drawing Boundaries between Markets, Nations, and Peoples, 1650-1940 / Alexis McCrossen
Disrupting Boundaries: Consumer Capitalism and Culture in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1940-2008 / Alexis McCrossen
Part II. National and Transnational Circuits of Consumption
Domesticating the Border: Manifest Destiny and the "Comforts of Life" in the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Commission and Gadsden Purchase, 1848-1854 / Amy S. Greenberg
Selling the Border: Trading Land, Attracting Tourists, and Marketing American Consumption on the Baja California Border, 1900-1934 / Rachel St. John
Cinema on the U.S.-Mexico Border: American Motion Pictures and Mexican Audiences, 1896-1930 / Laura isabel Serna
Promoting the Pacific Borderlands: Leisure and Labor in Southern California, 1870-1950 / Lawrence Culver
Finding Mexico's Great Show Window: A Tale of Two Borderlands, 1960-1975 / Evan R. Ward
Part III. Consumption in National and Transnational Spaces
At the Edge of the Storm: Northern Mexico's Rural Peoples in a New Regime of Consumption, 1880-1940 / Josef Barton
Confined to the Margins: The Origins and Nature of the Underground Economy and Smuggling among the Native People of the Borderlands / Robert Perez
Using and Sharing: Direct Selling in the Borderlands / Peter S. Cahn
El Dompe, Los Yonkes and Las Segundas: Consumption's Other Side in El Paso—Ciudad Juárez / Sarah Hill
The Study of Borderland Consumption: Potentials and Precautions / Howard Campbell and Josiah McC. Heyman
On La Frontera and Cultures of Consumption: An Essay of Images / Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4475-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4460-5
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