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UTSA scholars explore the identities of the Borderlands in new book

UTSA scholars explore the identities of the Borderlands in new book

William Dupont and Harriett Romo co-edited and published “Bridging Cultures: Reflections on the Heritage Identity of the Texas-Mexico Borderlands.”

JANUARY 28, 2022 — William Dupont, Conservation Society of San Antonio Endowed Professor in the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design, and Harriett Romo, professor emeritus of sociology in the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy, have brought their expertise together to explore the heritage identities of the Texas and Mexico borderlands.

The two scholars co-edited and published “Bridging Cultures: Reflections on the Heritage Identity of the Texas-Mexico Borderlands.” The new book focuses on the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo region and features essays by creative writers, historians, architects, educators, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and geographers that showcase the border’s history, its beliefs and customs, and what the future holds for it.

Contributors include John Phillip Santos, a distinguished scholar in Mestizo Cultural Studies in the UTSA Honors College; Patricia Sanchez, chair of the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies in the College of Education and Human Development; Dan Gelo, professor emeritus of anthropology in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts; UTSA alumni Gabriel Aguilar ’18 and Melinda Vargas, a former UTSA student.

“We wanted to focus attention on what's at risk if people don't recognize the importance of this cultural heritage.”

UTSA Today recently spoke with Dupont and Romo about the new book and why it is relevant to people nationwide.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

First off, can you tell me a little about the book? What are some topics it explores?

HR: We’re arguing that the borderlands are much broader than just one side of the border.

The book is an interdisciplinary approach to looking at what's going on in the borderlands, and we think that's necessary because you can't understand what's going on from a single disciplinary perspective. There's sociology, anthropology, history, the built environment—which is architecture and other kinds of built icons—and then the policies that affect what is going on at the border that help explain what's happening on the U.S. and Mexico sides.

WD: We tried to sum it up by focusing each contributing author on the same task, whatever their background was: Talk about the contemporary heritage value of the borderlands. With the exception of the concluding chapters that look ahead to the future, all of the work is about the contemporary value, as seen through the lens of each author's discipline.

The two of you have such great knowledge in each of your disciplines… how did the idea for this piece of work come about?

WD: We came up with an idea to do a symposium that would invite scholars from Mexico, as well as the U.S., to talk about the Borderlands region and the book grew out of it…There’s been a lot of scholarship on the topic.  Our book is looking at heritage to define what we have, what we can do about perpetuating it and why it is valued so that we know how to go forward.

HR: Some of our motivation was also because so much in the media is negative about the borderlands. Both of us have seen the rich history, the rich ecological areas—the people who are so warm and welcoming and live as if there are no borders. We wanted to focus attention on what's at risk if people don't recognize the importance of this cultural heritage.

With everything we see in the news and the political climate the last few years, why is it important to have something like this for someone to read?

WD: Nationally, the Borderlands of Texas and Mexico are so poorly understood. So, this book is written for a much bigger audience to help them understand the value of this place so that they can appreciate it and respect it.

For somebody like me who grew up in Connecticut and was previously working at a job for 11 years in Washington, D.C.—before taking work at UTSA—experiencing the border and the culture there was astonishing. I wasn’t prepared for the richness and the differences that I found there.

HR: The borderlands, which extend across the official international border, have much more in common with both sides of the international demarcation than perhaps the borderlands on the Mexican North have with the southern part of Mexico or the northeast US has with Texas Borderlands. So many people far from our borderlands don't understand the real richness and heritage here, that it affects people way beyond just living in that zone of international boundaries.

Why was it important to have many perspectives to tell the story of the borderlands? 

HR: You have academia divided into departments and disciplines; academics tend to stick to their discipline. And yet when you get a complex area like borderlands, you cannot explain it just through sociological issues or through the history of the land or artistic creation. All of these things are going on instantaneously and, over time, changing in different ways.

I think it can make a big impact on students who should really look at some of these issues across disciplinary boundaries.

Dupont and Romo will be signing copies of the book from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 30 at The Twig Book Store, 306 Pearl Parkway, San Antonio.

Ultimately, who should pick up this book and what do you hope they take away from it?

HR: I think it's written in a style that will be appealing to a general audience. We hope that maybe it'll be used in college classrooms and across different disciplines.

WD: I would like it to be read by people who are influential about things that are going on at the border and maybe would benefit from having a deeper understanding of what it is that they're talking about.

Valerie Bustamante Johnson

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
the official news source
of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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