Nearly everyone knows the location and legends of Ciudad Juárez. The tabloids have proclaimed it capital of the sensational geography of cheap vice, quick divorce, and quack medicine; Hollywood has filmed the history of the city’s hero, Pancho Villa, and his buried treasures, ice cream cravings, and Robin Hood handouts. But Oscar J. Martínez brushes aside this pseudo-geography of grocery-store newspapers and popular history of drive-in movies to examine the economic development of Juárez since 1848. Going beyond the Mexican and American national repositories, he did exhaustive research on both sides of the border in local archives, interviewing, and searching newspapers. His history of this border town is an understated drama.
The panorama of isolation giving way to the railroads, El Paso’s growth, the Norteño revolution, prohibition, bust and boom of depression and war, and prosperity built on binational manufacturing ventures is framed by the continual arrival of migrants from the interior, the city’s marginal relationship to Mexico’s national economy, and Juárez’ ever-increasing dependence on El Paso. Since 1960, Ciudad Juárez has boomed as never before. Recent Mexican policies have been adopted to bring the city into the national economy. The author carefully analyzes the 1961 Programa Nacional Fronterizo, the 1965 Border Industrialization Program, and the 1971 program to admit goods duty free. “Ironically,” he concludes, “the border Mexicanization campaign has led to unprecedented levels of foreign dependency” (p. 147).
What emerges from Martínez’ cogent evaluation is that the border divides Juárez and El Paso politically, but binds them together into a socioeconomic whole of tourists, commuters, Chicanos, illegal aliens, and factory workers. The author’s determination to shun the melodramatic has resulted in a clinical report. Mexicans appear as statistical shadows in charts and tables. This is understandable since he must provide a corrective to honky-tonk history such as Ovid Demaris’ Paso del Mundo.
As difficult as it may be to imagine a volume about Ciudad Juárez that mentions Pancho Villa only eight times in 170 pages, Martínez has written one, and it is excellent.