Arte Público Press

Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence


edited by Sergio Troncoso & Sarah Cortez, foreword by Rolando Hinojosa

A fascinating collection of personal essays by Mexicans and Americans about how drug violence has changed life along the border.

ISBN: 978-1-55885-752-0
Category: New Titles, Non-Fiction/Reference
Published: March 30, 2013
Bind: Trade Paperback
Pages: 224

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In his essay lamenting the loss of the Tijuana of his youth, Richard Mora remembers festive nights on Avenida Revolución, where tourists mingled with locals at bars. Now, the tourists are gone, as are the indigenous street vendors who sold handmade crafts along the wide boulevard. Instead, the streets are filled with army checkpoints and soldiers armed with assault rifles. “Multiple truths abound and so I am left to craft my own truth from the media accounts—the hooded soldiers, like the little green plastic soldiers I once kept in a cardboard shoe box, are heroes or villains, victims or victimizers, depending on the hour of the day,” he writes.

With a foreword by renowned novelist Rolando Hinojosa and comprised of personal essays about the impact of drug violence on life and culture along the U.S.-Mexico border, the anthology combines writings by residents of both countries. Mexican authors Liliana Blum, Lolita Bosch, Diego Osorno and María Socorro Tabuenca write riveting, first-hand accounts about the clashes between the drug cartels and citizens’ attempts to resist the criminals. American authors focus on how the corruption and bloodshed have affected the bi-national and bi-cultural existence of families and individuals. Celestino Fernández and Jessie K. Finch write about the violence’s effect on musicians, and María Cristina Cigarroa shares her poignant memories of life in her grandparents’ home—now abandoned—in Nuevo Laredo.

In their introduction, editors Sarah Cortez and Sergio Troncoso write that this anthology was “born of a vision to bear witness to how this violence has shattered life on the border, to remember the past, but also to point to the possibilities of a better future.“ The personal essays in this collection humanize the news stories and are a must-read for anyone interested in how this fragile way of life—between two cultures, languages and countries—has been undermined by the drug trade and the crime that accompanies it, with ramifications far beyond the border region.

Winner of the 2014 International Latino Book Award in the Best Spanish or Bilingual Latino Focused Nonfiction Book category; Winner of the 2013 Southwest Book Award; Finalist for the 2013 Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award – Adult Nonfiction Anthology

“Eye-opening collection of essays details struggles of Mexican and American citizens affected by drug cartels along the Mexican-American border. Oscillating between gruesome and hopeful, the collection…is imbued with optimism.”
Publishers Weekly

“What has been lost is not a political boundary line between the United States and Mexico, but a 60-mile-wide cultural area above and below that the line; the issues raised by the voices [in this collection] reflect how and why that border has become a zone of fear, violence and bloody murder. A tough but eye-opening read.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Eschewing nostalgia and romanticism, these essays are less about offering short-sighted solutions and more about imagining long-term efforts to reclaim the vibrant border culture in service to the two nations that share it.”
—Buzzfeed Books

SERGIO TRONCOSO is the author of Crossing Borders (Arte Público Press, 2011), From this Wicked Patch of Dust (University of Arizona Press, 2011),The Nature of Truth (Arte Público Press, 2014) and The Last Tortilla and Other Stories (University of Arizona Press, 1999), which won the Premio Aztlán and the Southwest Book Award. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College and two graduate degrees, in international relations and philosophy, from Yale University. He won a Fulbright scholarship to Mexico and was inducted into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Alumni Hall of Fame. He lives and works in New York City.

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A defining characteristic in SARAH CORTEZ’s writing is the influence of Houston, Texas. Cortez feels deeply proud of being a Houstonian and the “anything goes” attitude she finds in the city, which, to her, reflects an important component of both the entrepreneurial and artistic atmosphere of the city. Cortez’s most recent works include a mixed-genre memoir, Walking Home: Growing Up Hispanic in Houston (Texas Review Press, 2012), and an essay collection she edited with Sergio Troncoso, Our Lost Border: Essays on Life amid the Narco-Violence (Arte Público Press, March 2013).

Many of the collections she has edited reflect the Latino experience, including Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery (Arte Público Press, 2009), You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens (Arte Público Press, 2011), and Windows into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives (Arte Público, 2007), an anthology of short memoirs written by young men and women reflecting the diversity of growing up Latino in the U.S. This anthology was awarded the 2008 Skipping Stones Honor Award for being “an exceptional book promoting understanding of diverse cultures.” Hit List was praised by Mystery Scene Magazine for its “genre-busting stories, some of them tender, some of them brutal, all of them offering an intriguing Latino slant.” She also edited Urban-Speak: Poetry of the City (University of Houston, CMAS, 2001) and Indian Country Noir (Akashic, 2010).

Various people unknowingly made contributions to her love of writing. As a child her mother would hand-make books for her by creating stories with large pictures, few words, and a unique binding sewn with white thread. Cortez recalls not yet being in kindergarten, but falling in love with the creations that were carefully crafted for her. Another particular memory that stands out for Cortez is her correspondence with a relative. Although her aunt was busy with her own family and teaching career, she always responded to all of Cortez’s letters. During one of Cortez’s rare trips to visit her, she was shown a special box where all her letters were kept tied up in a satin ribbon. She remembers feeling overwhelmed as she realized that her writing was important to someone.

Throughout her various careers (e.g. high school teacher, tax accountant, and employee benefits consultant), she carried the dream of being a writer. In the late 1980s Cortez took several courses at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Department, and became fascinated by the short story. She focused on writing in that form, getting many pieces published in literary journals, until 1992, when she switched genres and began writing poetry.

Cortez’s writing has gone on to win numerous awards. In 1999 she was awarded the PEN Texas Literary award in poetry and other juried designations. Her poetry collection, How to Undress A Cop (Arte Público, 2000), brings the world of street policing to the reader in a way that poet-reviewer Ed Hirsh describes as “nervy, quick-hitting, street-smart, sexual”. Cortez was a semi-finalist in the 2000 Fourteenth Annual Louisiana Literature Prize for Poetry and was awarded the position of Visiting Scholar in the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican American Studies from 1999-2001.

Her first poem about police life is a humorous piece entitled, “Rosie Working Plain Clothes”. Many of her later poems touch on the darker matters in that line of work. In these poems, Cortez hopes to spark understanding in civilians about the paradoxes police officers deal with on a daily basis. She finds that law, justice, and mercy are all imperfect and that police officers work with these imperfections daily, trying to not get suffocated by them as they return to their home lives.

Cortez has been a police officer since 1993. She is co-editor of the crime literary journal, Lineup: Poems on Crime, and serves as the national treasurer for the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. She lives and works in Houston as a freelance editor and writer. Her writing brings her French, Comanche, Spanish, and Mexican blood to the page.

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