cover image Cutting for Sign

Cutting for Sign

William Langewiesche. Pantheon Books, $23 (247pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41113-0

Combining trenchant observations with an understated style, Langewiesche, a correspondent for the Atlantic , limns people and places on the troubled U.S.-Mexico border. Traveling from affluent San Diego, Calif., to poverty-ridden Brownsville, Tex., the author zig-zags across the frontier, describing border guards and human rights monitors, maquila managers (business technicians) and labor organizers and the frustration and foreboding among them all. In the ranching town of Marfa, Tex., he describes the long-running power struggle between Anglos and Mexicans and the position of an outsider, famed sculptor Donald Judd, who has established a nonprofit foundation and provides medical benefits for Mexican laborers: the ranchers consider him a subversive; the Mexicans call him a fool. In Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Langewiesche finds ``one tough border town,'' corrupted by drugs. The book's title comes from customs agents who ``cut for sign,'' looking for evidence (a tire track, a footprint) of illegal entry. They may be skilled, but, as the author observes: ``There are 400 million crossings of the border every year, and the future belongs to free trade.'' The border, he concludes, is a ``word game'' and ``more intricate than a simple boundary line.'' Mexico's problems, he notes, have become ours. (Jan.)