Few people realize how deeply ingrained Mexico and its border with the U.S. are in American culture.
Consider the television advertising that Taco Bell has used for decades that capitalizes on the border, the Spanish language, and all things Mexican.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Taco Bell got mileage out of the slogan: “Make a Run forthe Border.” The slogan played on the well-worn theme of criminals running from the law and crossing the border into Mexico.
There’s excitement and danger buried in the slogan, as well the wide-spread notion of Mexico as a lawless place.
Consider another Taco Bell advertisement that featured a Chihuahua with large, dark eyes saying, “Yo quiero Taco Bell,” (I want Taco Bell). The ad generated millions of smiles as well as many millions of dollars in profit, using Mexico’s most famous dog breed as a prop.
That’s just a start. Mexico and its border with the U.S. have figured prominently in popular song. As a young boy growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I listened to the songs of Marty Robbins.
These included his ballad, “El Paso,” which tells the story of a cowboy who falls in love with a señorita he meets in Rosa’s Cantina. He becomes jealous when another cowboy makes a play for her and shoots the man.
The cowboy makes a run “to the badlands of New Mexico,” but his love for the girl is so strong that he returns to El Paso, only to be killed by a posse hunting him.
There’s also the Marty Robbin’s song, “Streets of Loredo,” about a young cowboy running from the law, but he’s been shot and is dying. The song, written by country-western singer/song writer Buck Owens, is a cowboy’s lament at his fate, though he knows he’s “done wrong.”
The border has figured prominently in more contemporary songs, such as Steve Miller’s hit of the 1970s titled, “Take the Money and Run.” It’s about a young couple who decide commit a robbery.
The lyrics read: “They headed down to, ooh, old El Paso/That’s where they ran into a great big hassle/Billy Joe shot a man while robbing his castle/Bobbie Sue took the money and run.”
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And where did they go? “They headed down south and they’re still running today/Singin’ go on take the money and run.”
Mexico and the border have also figured prominently in literature. Most readers are familiar with Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy, as well as his “No Country for Old Men,” which was made into a successful movie.
But the border has generated other great literary novels. One my favorites is The Power and the Glory, by British writer Graham Greene. The book grew out of two years in the late 1930s when Greene lived in Mexico.
The story is of a Catholic priest being hunted down by the authorities. The book is a psychological suspense and is considered Greene’s best. It’s based on real events from the 1920s when the Mexican revolutionary president tried to eradicate Roman Catholicism from the country.
Another of my favorites is The Old Gringo, written by Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, about an elderly American man who travels to Mexico and joins Pancho Villa’s army and fights in the Mexican Revolution. In the end, he loses his life.
The book is the fictional version of the last days of the American journalist, author, and soldier, Ambrose Bierce, who fought in the Civil War and also worked as an editor and essayist based in San Francisco.
In Fuentes’s novel, the Bierce character muses that he joined the revolution, expecting to die from gunshots, because it’s better than “falling down a stair case.”
Hmmm. I have to think about that.