The border between the United States and Mexico, which spans approximately 3 million miles of land between the two nations, has been a topic of political, economic, and migratory tension which has been heightened significantly in the age of globalization. Historically, it has also represented and facilitated a myriad of significant transnational exchanges containing not only migrants, capital, goods, and labor, but concepts of identity and culture as well.


Many Mexican-Americans who reside in the United States identify as Chicano or Chicana. This chosen identifier and its cultural, political, and social significance has developed over time as the result of how Mexican-Americans experienced life in the United States. Chicanos have found that their national identity tends to take on an ambiguous form—north of the border, they are considered Mexican, but South of the border they find it difficult to incorporate themselves into the Mexican national identity due to their geographical and cultural “otherness”. Therefore, the Chicano identity has formed in a liminal space in which neither nation which is built into the Chicano identity actually identifies with it in return. While Chicanos live north of the border, the border seems in many ways to be inextricably linked to Chicano identity. This project seeks to historically locate the transnational exchanges inherently embedded into the Chicano identity, arguing that these exchanges can be found when scholars look at the border not simply in terms of its modern geographical and political significance, but as a circuit via which identity and culture are brought into and out of each nation, respectively.


Performing this study involves looking at a multiplicity of factors, guided by two central research questions:

  • How can taking a transnational approach to history inform scholars about migrant identity and culture—what do they bring with them, what do they add to their chosen destination?
  • What can history tell us about the Chicano people and their built and imagined communities?


In addition to these questions, there are several moments in the history of the border which create valuable starting points when approaching this project and the research required for it. These mainly consist of events that have facilitated an influx of migration across the border. When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, the other side of the border symbolized safety for thousands of Mexican migrants.[1] As was a common global trend, World War I and World War II created a need for labor in participatory nations. For the United States, much of this labor came from Mexican migrants. For Mexican migrants, the need for labor in America created an opportunity to seek prosperity and job security. Along this trend, the Bracero Program drew migrant labor from Mexico into the U.S. in mass, amounting to approximately 5 million migrants.[2] Finally, in 1965, the Border Industrialization Program was launched. This was an attempt to industrialize the border, resulting in hundreds of emerging enterprises on the border which are subsidized by U.S. firms.[3] The industrialization of the border has facilitated further migration since.


These transnational moments in history incorporated more identities, more voices, and more communities into what it means to be Chicano. That is, what it means to have a liminal identity embedded within a transnational and migratory past. Exploring these moments of movement and exchange, tracing who these people were and where they went, and tracing how Chicano identity changes in structure and form along with transnational exchanges (via literature, political activism, etc.) may yield valuable insight into who these people are, how they relate to their home and concepts of homeland, and how they participate in their wider communities as a whole.


[2] Ibid.

[3] Anna-Stina Ericson, ‘An Analysis of Mexico’s border industrialization program’ in Monthly Labor Review Vol. 93, No. 5 (May 1970), p. 33.


Ideas of culture, identity, and borders