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Two Publics in a Mexican Border City


Two Publics in a Mexican Border City

Tijuana is the largest of Mexico’s northern border cities, and although it has struggled during the United States’ dramatic escalation of border enforcement, it nonetheless remains deeply connected with California by one of the largest, busiest international ports of entry in the world. In Passing, Rihan Yeh probes the border’s role in shaping Mexican senses of self and collectivity. Drawing on extensive fieldwork, Yeh examines a range of ethnographic evidence: public demonstrations, internet forums, popular music, dinner table discussions, police encounters, workplace banter, intensely personal interviews, and more.  Through these everyday exchanges, she shows how the promise of passage and the threat of prohibition shape Tijuana’s communal sense of “we” and throw into relief long-standing divisions of class and citizenship in Mexico.
Out of the nitty-gritty of quotidian talk and interaction in Tijuana, Yeh captures the dynamics of desire and denial that permeate public spheres in our age of transnational crossings and fortified borders. Original and accessible, Passing is a timely work in light of current fierce debates over immigration, Latin American citizenship, and the US-Mexico border.

304 pages | 6 halftones, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Latin American Studies

Sociology: Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations


"Yeh offers an ethnographic approach, observing public events and spaces as well as relying on profound and deep interviews in homes and in a maquiladora. She meticulously offers readers an intimate look at life where people are divided between those who can legally cross into the US and those who cannot. One strength of the book is how the author engages with colonia residents and Tijuana country club members to understand their world, a multi-faceted border city that is home to political elites, newcomers, and deportees from the US. . . . Engaging and accessible book. Highly recommended."


“A profound meditation on the existential, geopolitical, and metaphysical implications of the United States–Mexico border, Passing is a work of startling originality and literary verve. For Yeh, the practice of border crossing is a singular, fetishized imperative of our time. The border makes concrete a terrible, modern duality: being at once a line of impregnable difference and a promise of passage, it has the awful power to make, and also to nullify, the integrity of selfhood, status, race, nation, empire.”

Jean Comaroff, coauthor of The Truth About Crime: Sovereignty, Knowledge, Social Order

Passing is a rich ethnography of social lives in Tijuana, the Mexico–United States border city, which are profoundly complicated and fractured by global capitalism, class relations, and nationalism. Yeh writes with a creative and poetic combination of rigor and playfulness; her narrative voice is intimate and personal and yet avoids sentimentality. Her work is also imbued with a deep sense of sobriety that powerfully captures the everyday precariousness of people on the border, for whom ‘passing’ shapes their mode of being.”

Miyako Inoue, Stanford University

Table of Contents

Note on Translations, Transcriptions, and Pseudonyms


I: Passage/Prohibition
1: The Line
2: Inés’s “I”
The Assembly Plant
3: The Place Where Anything Can Happen
4: “They Say” in the Country Club

II: Prohibition/Passage
5: Clase Media and Pueblo before the Law
The Visa Interview
6: Passes
7: The Street Is a River
8: The Stone

Appendix: Interview Excerpts from Chapter 2



Society for Cultural Anthropology: Gregory Bateson Book Prize
Honorable Mention

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