The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 97, July 1993 - April, 1994

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Lacking a cohesive community spirit and wise political leadership, they suf-
fered for the most part from policies that benefited only the entrenched elites.
Given the uncertainty of life on the Rio Grande delta, those with capital, land,
or political prominence generally discouraged new ventures and kept others
out, even in times of plenty. Control of the Matamoros customs house by force
or by bribe was imperative for aspiring political and economic leaders on either
side of the border, and residents of both cities, especially Matamorenses, faced re-
peated armed invasions by competing local, regional, national, and internation-
al political factions. Meanwhile, the have-nots from either bank of the Rio
Grande lived in grinding poverty, with few alternatives: submission, rebellion, or
emigration, which resulted in frequent population turnovers or declines.
Although generally balanced, Boom and Bust may be too close to primary and
secondary sources that provide the establishment's perspective, resulting in a
somewhat gingerly treatment of racial/ethnic and class issues. In addition, some
of the eight "cycles" could have been merged and the extensive local detail re-
duced for a wider audience. Still, the research on Brownsville and Matamoros
needed to be brought together into one story. For this, the authors should be
commended. They have put together an invaluable, interestingly written source
book.
University of Texas at San Antonio GILBERTO HINOJOSA
Living on the Edge of Amenca: At Home on the Texas-Mexico Border. By Robert Lee
Maril. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992. Pp. xiv+18o.
Preface, acknowledgment, epilogue. $24.50.)
This book attempts to describe border culture along the Lower Rio Grande
Valley of Texas. Robert Lee Maril's diary-like style covers some thirteen years of
personal experiences as an outsider to the Valley's culture. In three sections, he
combines storytelling and participant observation to tell thirty-one short stories.
A sociologist by training, Maril explores the forces at work in peoples' lives that
keep many of them under the control of external factors in the borderlands.
While interesting on the level of storytelling, as social science the work is
sketchy, scattered, and hardly defines the dynamic aspects of Mexican American
culture. Maril needed to employ a wider, culturally relative view of South Texas
affairs. He needed to probe the common-sense coping systems of Texas-Mexico
culture. He should have viewed several institutions, not just his own teaching ex-
periences.
Maril begins his book with an introduction to the Valley as hot, humid, and
semitropical, and finds a crudeness in the cultural diversity around him. He
ends with a recent trip back to the region, where he discovers that the limpid
heat, smell of possum sweat, and impoverished environment are forever a part
of his heart. While this may be his perception, he does not adequately fill in the
basic continuities in human affairs over time. Many of the stories merely deal
with the problems Maril personally encountered while teaching at one private
school and two higher-education institutions. His efforts to provide alternatives

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 97, July 1993 - April, 1994. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117154/. Accessed October 20, 2014.