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Moreover, many of the lost battles of history—the Alamo and Vietnam in particular—are replayed on the border to conclusions that restore confidence in the "American way. At the same time, these border narratives shape "proper" identification with a singular and exceptional moral hero who might register anywhere from maverick to vigilante. These stories delineate opposing values and ideas—for instance, the proper from the improper and the citizen from the unwanted guest or "alien.
The southern frontier is one of the most emotionally charged zones of the United States, second only to its historical predecessor and partner, the western frontier. The border has become the symbol of a strong and fortified nation that is protected on all sides from invasion and infiltration of harmful or unwanted people, ideas, and things.
Though spanning many different genres, border films share a preoccupation with mobility, border patrol, immigration restrictions, and the control of various kinds of traffic into the country; they trace policy mood swings and shape cultural agenda. Many of the films that take place on or near the borderlands express "American" anxieties, messianic prophecies, and fears about porous boundaries and the integration of the hemisphere through political intervention, economic globalization, and transnational migration.
Hollywood and major independent films are not alone in the fascination and fixation on the border region, but the U. The Mexican film industry has as long a history of depicting the border region to similarly nationalist ends, yet Hollywood rarely has taken notice.
In her analysis of the rich genealogy of Mexican border cinema, Norma Iglesias notes that the border did not appear as an actual place in Mexican cinema until the s, prior to which it was merely a verbal construction—something characters talked about as a point of reference in the development of the plot.
By the s, during the boom of the Mexican Western, the border emerged as a geographic location and space of action. Some notable films of this era are El terror de la frontera and Pistoleros de la frontera , both of which are set in small border towns that harbor thieves in hiding.
As in U. Westerns, the border is depicted as a place of escape at the far reaches of the nation that is often beyond the limits of the law. Alex Saragoza has argued that the border in Mexican film tends to represent "self-absorption, introspection, and distrust of the outside" in a manner not unexpected from an embattled nation after suffering years of colonialism and U.
By the s, Mexican border films deal with the various sociocultural and familial effects of northern migration: for example, the migration and subsequent estrangement of members of families, the figuring of the United States or el norte , the north, as a source of economic and political freedom, or the fantasy about success in the U. Herrera-Sobek notes that many Mexican films about undocumented immigration use corridos , Mexican ballads, as source material. The corrido acts as "hypertext" or as an intertextual source of information that introduces themes and historical events and frames narrative meaning.
Iglesias describes another border formation that emerged during the s where the border is not just a film set but establishes a whole set of industrial conditions as the site of production of a flourishing film industry. Mirroring the generic efficiency of the Hollywood studio system, filmmakers often used border sets multiple times for similar narratives. Many famous producers used their own properties for filming various types of border narratives, from immigration genre dramas to action and border narcotraficante films.
The latter border subgenre became an industry commonplace, leading to the well-known "crossover" film, El Mariachi , the production of which followed the industrial patterns of Mexican border filmmaking, including using sets belonging to friends and family members. There are a number of border films that fall outside of the established generic patterns of the border film industry, but that use the border as a sign of future promise.
For example, Mujeres insumisas narrates the story of a group of Mexican women who escape to Los Angeles in search of liberation from gender oppression. The documentary Al otro lado deals with immigrants' dreams of success in the U. There is a major difference in perspective and narrative topoi between Mexican and Hollywood films about northern migration. This difference leads the more critical Mexican border stories away from their border provenance and into U.
Norma Iglesias notes that this displacement from the border had become more prevalent by the s, so that the genre engaged the "problems of being Mexican in the United States," and "the problems of confrontation between Mexican and American culture," rather than life on the border or the difficulties of crossing over. Some Mexican border films are part of what Herrera-Sobek calls "border aesthetics," the activist aesthetics devoted to politically transformative depictions of the border region, representations that depart from and critically reconstruct the normative and phobic images of the borderlands and border crossers in the northern imaginary.
Hollywood has perpetrated the image of banditry along the border through misuse of history, misrepresentation of socioeconomic conditions, neutralization of poliatical tensions, and other such sleights of hand that create and perpetuate a false mythology of the borderlands and its inhabitants. The bandit is not only one of the most abiding stereotypes of Mexicans in Hollywood history, but also the symbolic center and cardinal icon of the borderland narrative.
The bandit has roots in nineteenth-century dime novels and early silent greaser films or films with plots structured around Mexican villains such as Tony the Greaser , Broncho Billy and the Greaser , The Greaser's Revenge , and the very last film to contain the term "greaser" in its title, Guns and Greasers The greaser film played on the association of Latinos and criminality, often portraying a roving Mexican outlaw whose main occupations consisted of every vice imaginable: lust, greed, thievery, treachery, rapaciousness, deceit, gambling, and murder.
After the end of World War I, the term "greaser" was eliminated in films, partly due to the demand for Hollywood films in the Latin American market where commercial viability foreclosed on overtly derogatory depictions of Latinos and partly due to a shift in villainry to "the Kaiser and the Hun. The denigrating term "greaser" was popular just after the U. It originates from Anglo perceptions that the Mexicans' skin color was either the result of applying grease to the skin or was deemed similar to the color of grease.
The former meaning derived from a practice whereby Mexican laborers in the Southwest applied grease to their backs to facilitate the transport of hides and cargo. In both instances, greaser indicates a dark-skinned outlaw or bandit who is unhygienic, filthy, and unsavory, with a marked proclivity for violence and criminality.
These attitudes were reflected in anti-Hispano legislation; for instance, California's anti-vagrancy act was also called the "Greaser Act" and was designed to target "all persons who are commonly known as 'Greasers' or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood. Like the greaser, the bandit represents the darker urges repressed in civilized society and is perceived as a psychopath who lacks a moral compass or an empathic connection to others. His bad behavior is evident in his physical composition—the aesthetic counterpart to his irrational violence, dishonesty, and illegal dealings is an unkempt appearance marked by greasy hair and missing teeth.
The bandit demands moral retribution from the Anglo characters; he is a "demented, despicable creature who must be punished for his brutal behavior. According to Rosa Linda Fregoso, the border was inscribed across these women's bodies; that is, native Mexicanas, Tejanas, and Californias were coded as foreign and degenerate against depictions of civilized Anglo-American women.
BANDITS ON THE BORDER: The Last Frontier in the Search for Somali Unity, by Nene Mburu
The natives of the Southwest were depicted as inferior and as harlots and bandits, often to justify colonial expansion and the expropriation of their land and property through war and theft. The greaser and the bandit emerged after the tremendous loss of land and rights for natives of the Southwest following the Mexican-American War. Indeed, there was a rise in banditry among the displaced who took up arms against Anglo aggressors. This scenario recalls Eric Hobsbawm's distinction between the bandit and the social bandit; the latter emerges from the underclass or peasantry and engages the tactics of banditry as social rebellion.
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However, Mike Davis exposes a different angle to the official story about the Mexican bandit along the California-Mexico border. He draws a lineage of violence along the border into California from the wars of conquest of and Anglo gangs of the s to contemporary U. He refers specifically to Blood Meridian , Cormac McCarthy's unrelentingly macabre account of the violence of Glanton and his gang, an account that offers a realist depiction of racially motivated violence in the Anglo conquest of California. The violence perpetrated by Native Americans and Mexican "bandits" was often misrepresented as unprovoked, malicious, and excessive, rather than what Davis describes as acts of defense of land and property, self-protection, and sometimes retaliation.
After the turn of the nineteenth century, perhaps the most infamous Mexican bandit and screen legend is Francisco "Pancho" Villa, a historical character framed either as a villain or a hero of the Mexican revolution. The diverse uses of the title "Border Bandits" reveal the tensions and contradictions along the border region regarding the meaning and attribution of banditry.
For example, Border Bandits is the title of a B-grade Western from about a group of outlaws who escape to the "other" side of the border and the marshal who must bring them back into the domain of law and order in the North. Border Bandits is also the title of an acclaimed documentary by writer-producer Kirby Warnock about a group of Texas Rangers who committed mass murder of Tejanos based on their own lawless sense of justice. As mentioned earlier, Mexican natives of Texas were often mislabeled "bandits" by Anglo civilians and Texas Rangers to justify stealing the Mexicans' land. Without the use of the racially stigmatizing bandit label, it would have been much harder for Anglos to obtain Texas land titles and wrest control of the state.
More recently, Joseph Nevins used the term "border bandit" to refer to those who attack and rob undocumented immigrants as they make the journey across the border; Nevins notes that these bandits are part of the violent repercussions of the Clinton administration's attempt to crack down on the border with Operation Gatekeeper. In an atmosphere of increased policing, migrants become more vulnerable targets of crime since they are viewed as having no legal recourse against their perpetrators.
The Mexican bandit continues to live on in Hollywood through various incarnations and across multiple genres, many of which intersect with the border film, including Westerns, drug trafficking films, urban gang films, and immigrant genre films. The bandit rarely remains unpunished or unchallenged by his antagonist, the character who represents the law—most typically the Texas Ranger, border patrol agent, or DEA Drug Enforcement Agency agent.
The play by Porter Emerson Browne, The Bad Man , transferred to the screen in , told the story of a Mexican bandit; the film was remade in , but this time the bandit was brought to justice by his antithesis, the Texas Ranger. The Texas Rangers are considered the moral saviors of Texas when in reality they were often driven by racially and ethnically phobic motivations and the desire to secure more land for Anglo Texans. In his infamous history of the Texas Rangers, Walter Prescott Webb lionizes the Rangers as a natural response to the "conflict of civilizations," referring to the Rangers' position against the renegade Anglo, Indian, and Mexican bandit.
The foreword to the edition of the Texas Rangers originally published in , written during the escalation of the Vietnam War by then president and fellow Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, is a testament to the nationalist purpose of the tome. Later, Hollywood would unify the three types of villains described by Webb—renegade Anglos, Indians, and Mexican bandits—into the arms- and contraband-peddling "comancheros" in the Western, The Comancheros , set in the s Texas borderlands.
John Wayne sets things straight as the morally crusading Texas Ranger battling against this tripartite threat in a manner that justifies the role and purpose of the Rangers for contemporary audiences. For Webb, the Ranger's moral position is clear: he is "a man standing alone between society and its enemies" and "it has been his duty to meet the outlaw breed of three races, the Indian warrior, Mexican bandit, and American desperado, on the enemy's ground and deliver each safely within the jail door or the cemetery gate.
Barker, Rupert Richardson, and others, Anglo violence in Texas and along the border was justified as part of the process of nation-building. He examines border ballads or corridos as oral histories that unearth the repressed history of the experience of the Anglo invasion of the Southwest. In his book he offers the "official history" of the Rangers as a counterpoint to the subjugated histories of the natives on the frontier:. The Rangers have been pictured as a fearless, almost superhuman breed of men, capable of incredible feats.
It may take a company of militia to quell a riot, but one Ranger was said to be enough for one mob.
Kirby Warnock's 'Border Bandits' raids the Alamo with the ugly truth of 1915 Texas
Evildoers, especially the Mexican ones, were said to quail at the mere mention of the name. To the Ranger is given the credit for ending lawlessness and disorder along the Rio Grande. Paredes contradicts this characterization and attributes the intensification of border violence and unrest to the lawlessness propagated by the Rangers, which deepened the racial divide in the borderlands. The Rangers inspired Mexican distrust of the United States while enabling the consolidation of border communities and the creation of more spirited social bandits.
The Ranger was called a rinche in Spanish, which quickly became an umbrella term for all "Americans armed and mounted and looking for Mexicans to kill. He claims, contrary to purported Ranger heroism, that the Ranger always carries an extra gun so that when he kills an unarmed Mexican he can deposit it with the body, that the Ranger prefers to kill armed Mexicans when they are sleeping or have their backs to him, that the Ranger prefers to hide behind U. Paredes gives credence to only one part of the Ranger mythos, the Ranger dictum to "shoot first, ask questions later," which confirms the existence of the rampant injustice of indiscriminate murder through racial profiling.
These official histories often remain uncontested as the only extant records of the period since many Tejano and Native American records were destroyed or delegitimated. Writer: Frank H. Young original screenplay. Gone Viking IV. Share this Rating Title: Border Bandits 7. Use the HTML below. You must be a registered user to use the IMDb rating plugin.
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Border Bandits Hollywood on the Southern Frontier By Camilla Fojas
Genres: Western. Language: English.
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