Cover image for The magic curtain: the Mexican-American border in fiction, film, and song
The magic curtain: the Mexican-American border in fiction, film, and song
Torrans, Thomas.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Fort Worth : Texas Christian University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
235 pages ; 24 cm
background -- end of an era -- Gateway of the underdog -- Romanticism and reality -- poetry -- Rhymes for rampant change -- arbiter of moral codes -- Mecca for the landless : life in the fields -- periphery of law and order -- Subculture of salvation -- prose -- Southern rim of the Western novel -- Through the looking glass of the hybrid culture -- Wading into the American dream -- Before the gringos came, and after : the romantic heritage -- quest for psychological reality -- individual as outcast in the new millennium.
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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS277 .T67 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Borderlands--especially the United States-Mexico borderland--have long served as backgrounds for depicting social instability, according to Thomas Torrans. And borders--or magic curtains--have readily been fashioned into exotic backdrops for films, novels, ballads, and tales in which characters shift easily from one culture to another. The protagonists are equally at home in both societies, or, at worst, at home in neither.

True border novels form a literature that deserves a category all its own. There is an uneven quality--a coarseness sometimes mixed with polish, running the gamut of emotion from the tragic to the comic.

One recent fictional attempt to exploit the border's historical aspects is Fandango by Ron McCoy (1984), while one of the older efforts is that of the early twentieth-century novelist Will Levington Comfort in Somewhere South in Sonora (1925). Border fiction is often just part of a larger whole and a number of books, whether fiction or nonfiction, seldom if ever cross the magical line between the two cultures. They remain, for the most part, fully centered in either Mexico or the United States, such as J. Frank Dobie's very Texan A Vaquero of the Brush Country or his personalized account of his equestrian travels in northern Mexico, first published as Tongues of the Monte and later as The Mexico I Like .

Film epitomizes the escape across the magic curtain. The Getaway (based on the novel by Jim Thompson) is exemplary. Carol and Doc (Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen) not only manage the great escape with a satchel full of stolen money, they do it by fleeing to the border after a long brush with death. Filmmakers have carved movies out of other novels. B. Traven's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Glendon Swarthout's They Came to Cordura are compelling looks at the vast and hard country that the border stitches together.

Fortunately, corridos --the voice of the people--are not dead. They exist far afield, from the ballads created around the life and work of California's César Chávez and the United Farm Workers of America movement to the older songs. Numerous ballads celebrate incidents befalling those running afoul of the law--from bandits to smugglers, large landholders, Texas Rangers, and, inevitably, cattle dealers and rustlers. Still others recount the derring-do of such once well-known figures as Juan Cortina (the "Red Robber of the Rio Grande") and Catarino Garza, dreamers of lost causes and proponents of independent border republics. Corridos also faithfully reflect the latest developments--technology and maquiladoras , for example.

Author Notes

Thomas Torrans, a retired journalist, was educated in history, anthropology and psychology at the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona. A former reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Torrans lives and writes in Fort Worth, Texas

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Border-crossing between Mexico and the US has been a creative and historical topic for centuries, with themes of escape, adventure, risk, change, and picaresque or intercultural encounters. Dividing the 14 chapters into three parts--background, poetry, prose--Torrans (a former journalist) uses primarily 20th-century examples to examine such films (some adapted from literature) as Treasure of the Sierra Madre, El Mariachi/Desperado, and Traffic. The author then skillfully studies several corridos (ballads or song-poems), notably those dedicated to Gregorio Cortez and to migrant workers. The strong section on prose offers excellent summaries and analyses of works by writers including Will Comfort, Larry McMurtry, Frank Goodwyn, Walter Nordoff, Rolando Hinojosa, Glendon Swarthout, Carlos Fuentes, Cormac McCarthy, B. Traven, and Clifford Irving. This title joins Torrans's earlier work Forging the Tortilla Curtain (CH, Jun'01) and complements Sonia Saldivar-Hull's Feminism on the Border (CH, Oct'00). Magic Curtain suggests many ideas for further scholarly research, yet it is written in a conversational style that will appeal especially to beginning undergraduate and general readers. Recommended for all libraries. M. V. Ekstrom St. John Fisher College

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Background
1. The End of an Erap. 1
2. Gateway of the Underdogp. 5
3. Romanticism and Realityp. 17
Part 2 The Poetry
4. Rhymes for Rampant Changep. 33
5. The Arbiter of Moral Codesp. 45
6. Mecca for the Landless: Life in the Fieldsp. 65
7. The Periphery of Law and Orderp. 91
8. Subculture of Salvationp. 107
Part 3 The Prose
9. Southern Rim of the Western Novelp. 129
10. Through the Looking Glass of the Hybrid Culturep. 145
11. Wading Into the American Dreamp. 159
12. Before the Gringos Came, and After: The Romantic Heritagep. 171
13. The Quest for Psychological Realityp. 183
14. The Individual as Outcast in the New Millenniump. 203
Afterwordp. 217
Notes on Sources, Readings and Filmsp. 219
Indexp. 229