Originally published in 1993, author William Langewiesche took an in-depth look at the United States-Mexico border. As is typical of Langewiesche’s work he immersed himself into his subject. He returned to an area in which he had worked as a bush pilot. This story touches on many hot button issues like illegal immigration and drugs, but the author goes much deeper and gives us a glimpse of the lives of many of those nameless people and tells their side. We learn of their desires to improve their lives and you might be appalled to read about their treatment on both sides of the border in Cutting for Sign.
“They say the border is everywhere. And they have a point: you can separate the two nations, but you cannot know one without the other. The border is a word game. It is also grimy, hot, and hostile. In most places it is ugly. The food is bad, the prices are high, and there are no good bookstores. The U.S. side is depressed by the filth and poverty in Mexico. The Mexican side is overrun by destitute peasants and roiled by American values. The border is crass. It is not the place to visit on your next vacation.”
I don’t sense any political agenda from the author, but it is interesting that not much has seemed to change in the twenty years since this book was published. I imagine that their struggles today are much the same on both sides of the border. We meet a flamboyant drug lord, a “do-gooder” trying to make a difference with Mexican factory workers, and an obstinate Mexican cowboy who rules his roost in the United States. All of this should give pause when pundits try to frame the immigration issue in simple terms. There is no simple solution, but Cutting For Sign is a well written story that puts a human side on the tale.
“He blames the government, then turns to it for solutions. He’s a good man, but like all of them he’s been living too long on subsidies.”
By the way you’ll have to read deep into the book to find out what “cutting for sign” means.