Border Cuates tells the story of U.S.-Mexican twin cities from the founding of Paso del Norte around 1649 to the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. Milo Kearny and Anthony Knopp, historians who teach at institutions in Brownsville, Texas, attempt to narrate the often separate histories of Brownsville, Matamoros, the Laredos, El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, the Nogales twins, Calexico and Mexicali, San Diego, Tijuana, et alia. Because they restrict themselves to secondary border literature, though, the authors ultimately fail to relate local themes and regional histories to national and global trends. This produces a book that contains too many confusing details and is difficult to comprehend.

Some of the regional accounts are worth reading nevertheless. The book is especially strong on the history of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. For example, the authors’ description of post-World War II criminality in Matamoros is enlightening, and their sketch of the Civil War era, when Brownsville prospered from its links with leaders of the Democratic Party and the Confederacy, is well written. In addition, the book contains many entertaining anecdotes: Sarah Bourginnis, the red-headed prostitute who ran the Gila River brothel across from the pantless Indians of Yuma, or the likes of Laurel and Hardy performing at the Agua Caliente Hotel in Tijuana.

The reliance on regional sources, however, is an oversight. It is not a problem when the work is treating lesser towns outside the international orbit, like Roma or Mier, or local themes, such as the founding of Tecate, California. But larger topics require an expanded scope and a more extensive documentary base. How can one discuss the role of south Texas capitalists in the rise of Porfirio Díaz without consulting John Hart’s Revolutionary Mexico? Where are works by Ward Albro and Lowell Blaisdell when the Floresmagonistas and the Baja Revolution are discussed? Can one talk of Francisco Villa’s fury at Columbus without citing the ideas of Friedrich Katz? The bibliography is simply too limited for a study of this complexity.

Finally, even though the authors may have employed a literary device for explanatory purposes, the constant and recurring use of familial metaphors to describe border communities is a bit too cute, and is an inaccurate form of historical analysis. So the Indian Father and the Mexican Mother begat a young family—the border towns of the eighteenth century. After the Mexican-American War, the Indian Father was replaced by an Anglo Father, and Mother Mexico gave birth to “baby towns” that belatedly twinned with their border sisters. The Mexican Revolution was the “fire in the family store.” After 1945, the twin sisters, a product of a dysfunctional family that included “quarreling parents,” underwent a period of “parental rapprochement” (post-1964 maquiladoras) resulting in a “family reunion” in the form of NAFTA. To say the least, the behavior of communities is not always analogous to individuals and families, in spite of the storytelling skills of Border Cuates.