Deep Background: Border History as Drugs History

Points readers who enjoyed Michelle Garcia’s post on the “Myths of Mexico” a couple of weeks ago may be interested in her new documentary short, “Against Mexico: the Making of Heroes and Enemies.” Presented by Latino Public Broadcasting and now available on PBS website, the twelve-minute film looks at the historical relationship between the US and Mexico going back to the 19th century.  Not sure you’ve got twelve minutes? Well, here’s the trailer:

Reasonable people (and maybe also a few readers who found Points while looking for more information on “The Stoned Ages”) may wonder what the hell this film is doing on a blog devoted to drugs and alcohol history.  I mean, it’s about international relations, immigration, culture wars, labor history, but come on– where are the drugs??  Well, guess what?  Drugs and alcohol history are not always about what The Wire so trenchantly refers to as “dope on the damn table.”

Last week’s commentators on Ken Burns’s Prohibition (here, here, and here), along with our recurring cast of international correspondents consistently demonstrate the degree to which the substances about which we are so enthusiastic and/or hot and bothered are frequently just window dressing– titillating tidbits that decorate the foreground of a political economy that stretches so wide and deep (and backwards in time) that it’s impossible to keep it all in focus.  Bringing that historical perspective to bear on policy questions is one of the main things we’ve hoped to do with this blog.  Whether we can take that further, and actually bring a consideration of history into public debate during, say, an election year remains to be seen.  (We did try with Michelle Bachman, as you’ll recall; Herman Cain, you’re next!)

Can This Candidate Be Historicized?

In the meantime, here’s a suggestion for how you folks at home can help to historicize one aspect of the debate over drug policy: assign your friends, family, or students to watch “Against Mexico” and then task them with explaining how the history depicted in the film–the economic relationships, the policies, the attitudes–is at work in the next big mainstream media screed they read about narcotraffickers and the War on Drugs.  Their answers might not be very coherent– “history is what hurts,” after all, as Frederic Jameson tells us.  But you’ll have started them looking past the pretty colors and the bright smooth shapes of the substances towards the bigger and more complicated workings of power– with history as your lens.

Dark Roots-- and Deep

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2 thoughts on “Deep Background: Border History as Drugs History

  1. I absolutely agree with the attempt, as has been emphasised, of bringing historical perspectives to bear upon policy decisions. ‘To forget history is treachery’ and certainly not without reason. If not solutions, it could perhaphs aid in better understanding of an issue-all the more relevant when it is sensitive and its course unpredictable at times.

  2. I’ve had some good classes assigning part (or all) of Part II of Curtis Marez’s “Drug Wars” on these issues. It’s complex reading for undergrads but it seems to get across, especially once we use Marez’s analysis to watch and discuss historic and current drug war movies/news.

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