Border state: how one culture unites the inhabitants of the USA and Mexico

The existence of a state border does not interfere with culinary and cultural dialogue

No matter how many walls are built between countries, human nature cannot be deceived: if people of the same culture live on opposite sides of the border, no border posts can separate them. Around the World was convinced of this by driving along the border between the United States and Mexico.

Borderline: how one culture unites the people of the USA and Mexico

Texas —Nuevo Leon: in a plate and on a horse

“Great choice!” – the smiling waiter almost sings with a Southern accent. His white embroidered guayabera shirt shines so brightly in the sun that I involuntarily put on dark glasses. At one of the open-air restaurants on the San Antonio waterfront, my Texan friends Eric and Lestroy and I ordered cheese nachos, mole enchiladas, and beef fajitas. “It is worth trying Mexican food here,” continues the waiter and leaves, clicking the heels of his cowboy boots.

Border state: how one culture unites the people of the USA and Mexico

Apparently, the guy has Mexican roots, although here, in Texas, you can’t know for sure: dark-skinned Tejanos once so masterfully mixed with the descendants of Anglo-Saxon and German settlers that it’s possible to guess a person’s ethnicity by appearance impossible. But he was born apparently on the American side, because of the three dishes we ordered, only enchiladas are truly Mexican; the rest refer to  Tex-Mex cuisine, or Tex-Mex for short.

Residents of Mexico often wrinkle their noses at the sight of this food: they don consider it their own. But  it was Tex-Mex cuisine that became the “ambassador” of Mexican gastronomy in  the Old World – thanks to American westerns and  fast food.

Lestra winks slyly. She has been living in Texas for many years, and her childhood was spent in neighboring New Mexico, in the town of Las Cruces, near the border. A tall white-skinned blonde with blue eyes and Anglo-Saxon roots felt like a representative of a national minority there, but from domestic servants she adopted a love for Mexican culture and especially cuisine. Lestra is an indoor gardener and one of her regular customers is a restaurant owned by people from a neighboring country.

“I love Mexican food,” Lestra says as she follows the waiter with her eyes. “Of course, you have to travel across the border for authentic food, but the fusion cuisine here in Central and South Texas is worth a try. We have Tex-Mex versions of tortillas, burritos and enchiladas. They are a little different, but also delicious.”

According to Lestra, in Mexico they make tacos with soft tortillas, while Texans make crispy tacos. The cheeses used in their preparation are also different: there it is Chihuahua and Oaxaca, here it is Cheddar. On both sides of the border, high-quality beef is respected, since grazing allows. But for the Texas version of the barbecue, the meat is marinated in the sweetish sauce of the same name, and on the Mexican side, grilled beef without marinade, only with salt, is popular. But spicy chicken wings are popular here and there.

“The relationship between Texas and Mexico in the kitchen is a brilliant illustration of the meeting between Europe and the New World that happened many years ago,” said James Benavidez, an employee of the Institute of Texas Cultures at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “The Europeans brought pork, beef, chickens. There was bison and turkey meat, corn and nopal cactus. And now we see it all on one plate!”

Border state: how one culture unites the people of the USA and Mexico

However, the cultural dialogue between the two worlds, speaking English and Spanish, in Texas is not limited to gastronomy. And Lestra knows this firsthand: her father was a professional cowboy, participated in team-rouping (a type of cowboy competition when two riders tie a cow or a bull with a lasso). From him, she inherited a strong-willed character, a love of horseback riding and cowboy clothes. Lestra has boots for every occasion – from rough brown leather, or strict black, or “rocker” with an abundance of metal details, or bright with embroidery. She also chooses hats and jeans according to style and color. Here, at the border, the sombrero is not a souvenir at all, but an everyday accessory.

Border state: how one culture unites the inhabitants of the USA and Mexico

In neighboring Nuevo Leon, there are also cowboys – vaqueros (from the Spanish vaca – “cow”), and they have common ideological inspirers with Texas – Spanish vaqueros, from whom the first Anglo-Saxon settlers of Texas borrowed techniques livestock handling and costume. One of the expositions of the Museum of the Institute of Texas Cultures tells about this in detail.

Border State: How one culture unites the people of the USA and Mexico

“Scientists from the University of Texas often refer to the territory from American San Antonio to Mexican Monterrey as a single “Border Region” ,” says James Benavidez. “Many American families have relatives in Mexico, and vice versa. Therefore, both Americans and Mexicans travel regularly across the border.”


The phrase comes from the name of the Texas-Mexico Railroad, opened in 1875. The term was originally applied to the cuisine of South Texas, New Mexico, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. The cuisine includes Texan variations of Mexican dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, tamales, etc., as well as dishes that are not found in classic Mexican cuisine: nachos, fajitas, spicy chicken wings, chili con carne.

Border state: how one culture unites the people of the USA and Mexico

The first popularizer of Tex-Mex cuisine is considered to be William Gebhardt, an ethnic German who opened a Mexican-style diner in San Antonio, Texas in 1892, and then a company for the production of sauces and preserves. He also published a cookbook in 1908. Today, the concept of “tex-mex” refers to a whole culture: music (norteño, techano), language (spanglish – Mexican Spanish with elements of English), etc.

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Arizona —Sonora: Lechugueros and Cocopa

The border between the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, and its Arizona semi-namesake San Luis, without a passport, can be crossed by almost any Mexican city dweller. Those who have a permanent job have an American visa card for a period of 10 years. And instead of “go to the USA” here they say “go to the other side.” True, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a legal job there every year. One good thing – there is no language barrier: everywhere on the other side there is a Spanish-speaking Chicano – so, short for chico americano, they call ethnic Mexicans born in the USA.

We are sitting in the kitchen of my Mexican friend Leonardo, drinking hamaika – hibiscus with ice – and deciding when to go to American San Luis for shopping: now or in the evening. From Leonardo's house to the border – two blocks. On TV, the cable channel broadcasts live video from a camera installed near the border crossing so that people can see if there is a line. Today is Monday, which means students and lechugueros (so, from the Spanish word lechuga  – “salad”, they call Mexicans who are hired in the USA for agricultural work) should have left in the morning, but for some reason there are a lot of cars at lunchtime. There are fewer people at the crossing.

Border state: how one culture unites the people of the USA and Mexico

The block at the border fence resembles a layer cake. On the facades of the nearest houses there are signs of currency exchange offices, insurance companies and law firms; the pavement is full of food carts; glass cleaners and toy sellers scurry along the roadway (suddenly someone forgot to buy a gift for relatives), and refugees from Central and South America often sit right next to the fence waiting for permission to enter.

“I used to walk across this border every day,” Leonardo recalls. It seems to be a simple job & nbsp; – put lettuce leaves after washing into a dryer, and then & nbsp; into a container. But imagine doing this 8 hours a day, 6 days a week! I still can’t eat the damn salad!” he laughs.

Now a successful lawyer, Leonardo, like many residents of San Luis Rio Colorado, 192,000, travels across the border to a bank, shops or gas station (gasoline in the US is cheaper and better), pick up goods from a PO box (delivery to the US faster and again cheaper) or just in a casino in the nearest Indian reservation.

Tex-Mex-happiness is:

    work in the American San Diego, and treat your teeth in Los Algodones, Mexico;

    accelerate on the Austin-San Antonio highway up to 150 km per hour, then eat a great steak in any roadside restaurant;

    < p>put on tamales and gather all the relatives on both sides of the border for lunch;

    arrange a blind tasting of wines from two Californian valleys;

    buy crema de elote corn soup at the Mexican border and sip it slowly in the car while the border guards check your documents;

    do it in Tijuana photo of riding a donkey repainted as a zebra.

The town of Somerton, Arizona, where we are traveling, is overwhelmingly ethnic Hispanic, but is notable for the Indian reservation next door. The Cocopa is one of the smallest Native American peoples today, having inhabited the Colorado River Delta since ancient times. In addition to the thousand Arizona cocopas, another three hundred live in neighboring Mexico – Sonora and Baja California. But there are a total of about 500 native speakers of the same-named language, recognized by UNESCO as endangered.Borderline: how one culture unites the people of the US and Mexico

The coat of arms of the Arizona Cocopas flaunts on the facade of the casino: a dark-skinned Indian fishing in the river with a wooden spear. Apart from him, the only thing reminiscent of the Indians here is the colorful cocopah guard at the entrance – also swarthy, with a good-natured, wide, slightly puffy face, almond-shaped eyes and hair gathered in a small ponytail – and beaded jewelry in the window at the entrance. In addition to the casino, the reservation has a hotel, a golf course, and a small museum. It also has its own constitution and tribal council.

The Sonoran settlement of Pozas de Arviso cocopa, where we depart the next day, is located 10 kilometers from San Luis Rio Colorado. It has less than a hundred inhabitants. Mitsuko is one of the few representatives of Kokop who is fluent in their native language. There are no official reservations for Indians in Mexico. Here, the kokop does not have its own constitution or council of elders, but there are chiefs. The Sonoran Indian tribe was recently led by Aronia Wilson Tambo, the first female leader in the entire history of the kokopa that has come down to us.

“We Cocopas of Sonora, Baja California, and Arizona are one people,” says Mitsuko. “Here in Mexico, we try to preserve traditions, language, crafts, but it's not easy. We have our own museum, there are plans to create special educational programs, but everything is moving very slowly. Americans are more active in this regard. The casino is a fat plus, it gives jobs, allows you to earn money. It would be great if we could open a casino in our town.”

Border state: how one culture unites the inhabitants of the USA and Mexico

The border causes a lot of sadness to the Mexican Cocopas: in order to visit their relatives in Arizona, you have to get an American visa, but there are no concessions on a national basis for obtaining it. However, the Indians still communicate with each other. For many years in a row, on the first Sunday of March, Pozas de Arviso hosted the Kokopa Culture Festival, which brought together representatives of the people from all three states. They sang, danced, shared news, prepared national dishes… But after the leader changed, internal problems arose and holidays have not been held for several years now.

Loss of the North

The first Mexican Empire, created as a result of the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Spain in 1821, included, in addition to the territory of modern Mexico and several states of Central America, the entire land of the six current US states – California, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Utah and Arizona, and parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.

After 15 years, Texas declared independence, and in 1845 became part of the United States as the 28th state. This triggered the Mexican-American War, in which Mexico lost 55% (2.3 million km²) of its land. Under the terms of the Guadalupe Hidalgo peace treaty, in addition to Texas, the United States ceded the territories of modern California, Utah, Nevada, part of New Mexico and Arizona, small areas of modern Colorado and Wyoming. In 1853, under the Gadsden Treaty, the United States bought the remaining parts of Arizona and New Mexico for $10 million.

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California — Baja California: wine and norteño

But in California, the holiday will find you itself: where there is an ocean and wineries, fun is always in full swing. American California and Mexican Baja California are de facto one big family: Tijuana and San Diego have long been recognized as a single urban agglomeration. The influence of American California did not bypass Mexico: not so long ago they drank mostly beer and tequila, but in the last decade winemaking has been actively developed in Ensenada, and an analogue of the American Napa Valley has appeared – Valle de Guadalupe. Leonardo's sister Martita brought us to one of the local wineries.

Martita lives in the border town of Mexicali. On the other side is the town of Calexico. The names of both are syllabic abbreviations for “California” and “Mexico”, and this simple linguistic trick perfectly expresses the relationship between the two regions, living on the principle of communicating vessels.

Martita is also a lawyer, and also a patriot of Mexican wine. “Maybe someday I will open a winery,” she dreams. “But this requires serious investments. Land in Valle de Guadalupe becomes more expensive every year: American neighbors are investing more and more in the local terroir.” Therefore, for now, Martita decided to start a less expensive business – craft production of kombucha. This drink is known to us as kombucha. Californian fashionistas have learned to produce kombucha in a variety of fruit flavors. Business is booming.

Border state: how one culture unites the people of the USA and Mexico

The bright rays of the sun, which is about to set over the ocean, give the merlot an orange-brick tone in our glasses. Near the tables appear musicians. While they are tuning their instruments, I ask my companions what they will play – salsa? Leonardo and Martita laugh: “Salsa is Caribbean music, and here in the north we have our own – norteño.” I look closely at the musicians: hats with brims turned up at the sides, pointed leather boots with slightly beveled heels, white guayabers… Where have I seen this before? In San Antonio, 2,000 kilometers from here! From the very first bars it becomes clear: this music is not at all like the one that is stereotypically associated with Mexico. It really is in tune with country music.

We meet the morning where a tourist attraction has been made from the state border – in Tijuana. The expression “boundless ocean” here sounds like a paradox, because the border fence comes to the beach and rests on the water. The distance between the metal bars allows you to even stick your hand to the other side. Previously, Mexicans used this part of the border to meet with relatives who live in San Diego illegally. But now they're said to be on patrol.

Border state: how one culture unites the people of the USA and Mexico

Having devastated a cocktail of fresh seafood in a cafe nearby (in San Diego you need to look for such a delicacy), we come close to the fence. A man and a woman approach the fence from the other side. “Hello!” & nbsp; – we shout. Before us is a couple of English-speaking Californians, brown-haired with a blonde, twenty-year-olds, as if from a surf club advertisement. Curiosity is read on their faces.

“I’ve always wanted to see what’s on the other side,” says the girl with the purest Californian accent and barely noticeable embarrassment. -Mex, probably … And Frida Kahlo is generally my favorite artist! Jimmy, I think it's time for us to go to Mexico. Look how cool it is. Remember at the same time your Mexican great-grandmother, you secret Chicano!”

“Come, we'll show you another California,” says Leonardo.

“Another? “Martita jokingly retorts . —California alone!”

Cross the Line

Border state: how one culture unites the people of the US and Mexico

The length of the US-Mexico border is 3145 km. This border is considered the most frequently crossed in the world, with 1 million people passing through it legally every day. In the adjacent American counties and Mexican municipalities, a total of about 12 million people live. A metal barrier 5–8 m high has been installed on sections of the border with a length of more than 1,000 km, mainly near settlements. Automobile, rail, ferry and pedestrian crossings have been equipped in 48 places, some of which operate around the clock.


Material published in Vokrug Sveta #4 , April 2020, partially updated in August 2023

Maria Zhelikhovskaya

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