Texas Mexican Border History in George Washington Gómez

Border-Based Postmodernism in Instrucciones para cruzar la frontera


This chapter is guided by an investigation of claims such as the assertion that Tijuana is

the “laboratory” of postmodernity, a construction which frames the city not as a site of local

border culture but an axis of U.S.-led developmentalism.1 As Diana Palaversich notes, “[e]l

concepto más difundido de Tijuana como laboratorio de postmodernidad se origina con Néstor

García Canclini” (“[t]he most widespread account of Tijuana as a laboratory of postmodernity

originates with Néstor García Canclini” [173]). Further, she writes, “[e]ste concepto de la ciudad

y la frontera híbrida y multicultural, que Canclini de hecho toma prestado del perfomista

mexicano-chicano Guillermo Gómez Peña, se ha llegado a aceptar con poquísimos excepiones

como la interpretación definitiva de la frontera en el mundo académico internacional” (“[t]his

concept of the city and the border as hybrid and multicultural, which in fact Canclini borrows

from Mexican-American performance artist Guillermo Gómez Peña, has come to be accepted

with very few exceptions as the definitive interpretation of the border across the international

academic world” [173]). According to the cultural logic of postmodernism, the site-specificity of

borders, in this particular case, the border city of Tijuana, is fundamentally metaphorized and dehistoricized.

Consequently, the way in which national institutions condition and control the

everyday life of Tijuanenses is obscured by an imaginary which privileges abstract borders.

This chapter argues that Instrucciones para cruzar la frontera provides a counternarrative

to this postmodern logic, one which reveals how the nativist ethos of 1848 is reformulated

and concretized in the present-day as state control over the juridical, discursive, and

cultural domains of contemporary life in Tijuana. Luis Humberto Crosthwaite uses postmodern

literary techniques such as metafiction, double encoding and parody, but he adapts these

postmodern devices by combining them with emergent Mexican and border-based expression,

particularly narcoliteratura and the related popular musical genre, the narcocorrido. The

chapter’s reading of Crosthwaite’s use of parody and double encoding draws on Linda

Hutcheon’s account of literary postmodernism. Hutcheon contends that “even the most selfconscious

and parodic of contemporary works do not try to escape, but indeed foreground, the

historical, social, ideological contexts in which they have existed and continue to exist” (24, 25).

Further, this version of postmodernism is enacted by what Hutcheon terms “double encoding”

where the “forms of aesthetic practice and theory both install and subvert prevailing norms”

(222). In this logic of double encoding—the inclusive logic of both/and replacing the exclusive

logic of either/or—postmodernism is both “intensively self-reflexive and parodic,” and at the

same time it “attempts to root itself in that which both reflexivity and parody appear to shortcircuit:

the historical world” (x).

Yet Instrucciones combines established postmodern strategies such as parody and double

encoding with narcocorridos and narcoliteratura as a mode of investigating how the local

border of Tijuana is both policed as a territorial divider and simultaneously de-territorialized.

According to Palaversich, narcoliteratura is “narrativa que trata a los narcos” (“narrative which

features narcotraffickers”), foregrounding a process wherein traffickers “han logrado trasladarse

del margen al centro de la cultura mexicana” (“have managed to move from the margins to the

center of Mexican culture” [7]). Beyond the emergent literary genre of narcoliteratura, this

process has also become the object of critical study by journalists and anthropologists. Further,

she adds, “en el transcurso de un decenio hemos sido testigo no solo de la normalización

(mainstreaming) del tópico narco, sino también de su consagración y mitificación: lo narco es

trendy, es commercial; en fin, se vende” (“in the last decade we have witnessed not only the

normalization (mainstreaming) of the narco topic, but of its consecration and mythification:

narco is trendy, commercial; in short, it sells” [7]).2 Similarly, Mark Cameron Edberg notes that

while narcocorridos, “featuring drug traffickers as protagonists” and “highly popular in the

border region and elsewhere,” can be viewed as “narratives of resistance,” they are also “coconstructed

by market forces, a significant contradiction to any interpretation that focuses on

narcocorridos solely as populist or resistance narratives” (1, 2). In Instrucciones, narcocorridos

initially seem to indicate the total marketization and abstraction of the border but ultimately

foreground its site-specificity.

By incorporating these border-based contemporary and commercialized forms,

Instrucciones emphasizes both the territoriality and historicization of the U.S.-Mexico border in

a postmodern context where the border-as-abstraction is seemingly a foregone conclusion. In

fact, as is demonstrated below, the combination of border-based and postmodern techniques

initially, and surprisingly, presents metaphorical versions of the border. However, this

metaphorization is not the result of unresolved contradiction within the text, but instead mediates

the construction and naturalization of postmodern spatial epistemologies. Furthermore, the

chapter shows how Crosthwaite illuminates the conceptual gaps of metaphorizing the border as a

means of highlighting its fundamentally anti-metaphorical status. Consequently, by adapting

these aesthetic strategies in his border text Crosthwaite foregrounds the deviation from—and

critique of—the late capitalist myth of universal mobility across abstract borders. Notably, the

origins of the historiographic and literary paradigms underpinning the discursive representations

of Tijuana are locatable in both U.S. and Mexican critical work, which must be explicated before

analyzing Instrucciones.

The Dominant Narrative of Postmodernism: Revisiting Northern Paradigms in the South


While a number of theorists individually focused on the importance of space in the era of

postmodernism, Fredric Jameson’s landmark study, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of

Late Capitalism (1991), organized these individual theories into a larger narrative that continues

to serve as a reference point for contemporary analyses of postmodernism. Jameson claimed that

the set of aesthetic practices included under the term postmodernism are fundamentally

interconnected with the transnational expansion of capitalism. The central thesis in this study is

that the “fundamental object” of postmodernism is “the world space of multinational capital”

(54). According to this view, the proliferation of the “world capitalist system” had so radically

altered human perception that any notion of history dissolved in a world of massification and

simulacra. “Distance in general,” writes Jameson, “(including ‘critical distance’ in particular) has

very precisely been abolished in the new space of postmodernism” (48). The postmodern

conception of space, therefore, is undergirded by the idea of a world system integrated by

multinational capitalism. Thus, even as, paradoxically, spatial differences (including borders) are

erased, “in the age of the satellite and optical fibre,” observes Perry Anderson, “the spatial

commands [the] imaginary as never before.” Further, Anderson writes, “the electronic

unification of the earth, instituting the simultaneity of events across the globe as daily spectacle,

has lodged a vicarious geography in the recesses of every consciousness” (56).

This articulation of time and space, however, becomes untenable when situated in the

context of the U.S.-Mexico border city of Tijuana. Significantly, the idea of the border as a space

conducive to the transgression of limits, rather than as a material barrier, is not restricted to

intellectuals from the north but has also emerged from scholars claiming to write from, and

therefore represent, the border. In the context of postmodern theory on the border, the most

salient example of this issue is the work of the self-dubbed Chica-lango writer Guillermo Gómez

Peña. Born in Mexico City (whose inhabitants are colloquially termed chilangos) and educated

in the U.S., Gómez Peña incited severe commentary for his aesthetic representations of and

critical attitude toward the U.S.-Mexico border. In his 1993 work Warrior For Gringostroika,

Gómez Peña’s position (“the border perspective, the only one I know”) was that he spoke for the

border by claiming metaphysical allegiance to it: “I live smack in the fissure between two worlds

. . . [a] fractured reality” where “there cohabit two histories, languages, cosmologies” (16, 37).

Yet it was not so much the mystical idea of one’s universe ordered by the fractured reality of the

border which alarmed critics but Gómez Peña’s unabashed metaphorization of the U.S.-Mexico

border territory. In a well-known and much-maligned passage, Gómez Peña writes, “we witness

the borderization of the world, byproduct of the ‘deterritorialization’ of vast human sectors. The

borders either expand or are shot full of holes . . . The South rises and melts, while the North

descends dangerously with its economic and military pincers” (39). In this regard, the sitespecificity

of the U.S.-Mexico border is evacuated by a theoretical construction which posits the

border as universal and therefore homogenous. As a result, Tijuana and San Diego are not

divided by a physical barrier but in the “new cartography” are “San Diejuana” (43).

Consequently, Gómez Peña’s work, while border-based in name, evades site-specificity by

claiming that in the era of late capital space is entirely “melted.”

In an effort to challenge the abstraction of space typified by the ‘90s work of Gómez

Peña, critics from the South Bank offered new models for analyzing the U.S.-Mexico border. As

shown in Chapter Two, the work of Humberto Félix Berumen actively challenges the U.S.

mythologizing of Tijuana as a space of lawlessness. In this chapter, the argument draws from

Debra Castillo and María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba, in particular, their emphasis on “more

positioned and polyphonic border theories” (32). This “more positioned” critical stance entails a

“rethinking of border theory from within the border area” (4). Moreover, unlike Gómez Peña’s

universal and metaphorical border, Castillo and Córdoba persistently emphasize its materiality.

As they write, “[t]he U.S.-Mexican ‘border’ popularized by Gómez Peña displaces the actual

physical border and all it contains.” Further, they assert, Gómez Peña’s work has “led audiences

to think that the border represented by this artist is truly ‘the’ U.S.-Mexican border.” More

importantly, Castillo and Córdoba clarify that “local Mexican artists reject his vision with the

comment that his border in no way corresponds to theirs” (12). The critical perspective offered

by Castillo and Córdoba is useful in emphasizing that a rigorous account of the border must be

site-specific, conscious of border representations from north and south of the line, and must

consistently foreground a local perspective. In this regard, as a native Tijuanense writing from

2011, Luis Humberto Crosthwaite’s Instrucciones para cruzar la frontera can offer a more

accurate vision of the Tijuana border in the era of late capital.

In Instrucciones, Luis Humberto Crosthwaite undermines the normative postmodern

conception of de-historicized and de-territorialized space by portraying a site-specific and

historically contextualized Tijuana not only through double encoding, parody and pastiche but

also through the anti-realist strategy of “baring the device” central to postmodern form, which

makes visible the hidden narrative machinery of fiction. In this way, to use Bran Nicol’s

terminology, the text “foreground[s] the machinery which perpetuates the illusion of fiction”

(37). Furthermore, Nicol’s observes, metafiction “expose[s] postmodernity for what it is:

effectively just as constructed, mediated and discursive as the reality we are presented with in the

world of fiction” (16). In addition to the anti-realist strategy of baring the device, Crosthwaite

includes a second de-realization strategy via his incorporation of the metafictional techniques of

the intrusive narrator and exaggerated author-reader duels. As a result, throughout the text,

Crosthwaite insistently calls attention to the world represented in his fiction as constructed. By

doing so, the text illustrates how the Tijuana border is less the exclusive space of a U.S.-led

postmodernity than one defined by the peripheral modernities of Tijuanenses.

In order to clarify how Crosthwaite’s text foregrounds the site-specificity of the Tijuana

border, Instrucciones must be situated in the context of the historical process of nation-building,

and the legacy of U.S. expansionism, formalized in 1848. As a way to showcase border-based

aesthetic forms, Crosthwaite’s version of postmodernism investigates the ways in which the

composition of the border as a government-regulated geographical divider, most associated with

19th century nationalism, is still in place in the present moment. The chapter illustrates that a

prevailing sense of nationalism, albeit reconfigured as national security in the era of

postmodernity, undergirds the border in the present day. This can occur even when the nationstate

is not the primary form of social organization. Following Benedict Anderson, the nation is

understood here as an imagined community which disguises race, gender and class hierarchies as

horizontal relationships.3 While the version of the nation portrayed in the text exists less as a

material object than as an intangible concept, it nevertheless affects tangible change through the

government institutions of social control. In Instrucciones, these institutions are marked by the

use of “double encoding.” On the one hand, Crosthwaite explicitly names institutions such as

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and its border agents tasked with enforcing the U.S.

sanctioned Operation Gatekeeper. On the other hand, these institutions appear in the text

indirectly through their officials, such as in the unnamed “comandante” who doles out murder

instructions to his underlings. Yet as shown, this refusal to specifically identify the institutional

locus of power indicates not the dissolution of the nation as an apparatus which orders social life

but the nation’s dispersed form of appearance in the era of late capital.

Structurally, Instrucciones is organized as a series of vignettes in which form is

constantly changing. The first part of the text is comprised of an introduction, a conclusion, and

eleven sections in between. The second is a “Bonus Track,” organized under the title “Misa

fronteriza” (Border Mass), which contains twelve subsections. The following sections will focus

on individual vignettes from Part One as well as “Misa fronteriza” in order to highlight the text’s

emphasis on site-specific borders. While the text is a composite of hybrid elements, its distinct

forms can be grouped into three formal categories. These take the form of the list, dialogues, and

standard paragraphs followed by indented lines. The categories, and compositional breakdown

indicated above, exist less as objective features of the text than this chapter’s own classificatory

approach. The goal in doing so is not to impose a framework but to suggest that however

fragmentary the text appears there is a consistent unifying element. Specifically, the theme that

unites the different sections is the way in which the experience of living in and crossing through

the border city of Tijuana is determined by the uneven struggle between the U.S. and Mexican

states to regulate and control the border as a national space. By organizing the text around a sitespecific,

rather than abstract border, Crosthwaite is able to come closer to a local account of what

border living means for Tijuana citizens. This attention to the daily lifeworld of Tijuanenses is

central to the text’s interrogation of the late capitalist paradigm of facile border-crossing.

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