Living on the Edge of America
At Home on the Texas-Mexico Border
5.5 x 8.5, 200 pp.
Pub Date: 06/01/1992
Wardlaw Books
  cloth
Price:        $29.95 s

978-0-89096-505-4

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Living on the Edge of America

At Home on the Texas-Mexico Border

By Robert Lee Maril

On the southern edge of America a diverse group of people lead ordinary lives in rather extraordinary circumstances. Mexican Americans, Anglos, and Mexican nationals meet there, in the subtropical beauty of the Rio Grande Valley and amid conditions of extreme poverty and social inequality, and create a distinctive blend of cultures, languages, and attitudes toward life. The stories that emerge are stories of individual victories, daily standoffs, and brutalizing defeats.

Writer-sociologist Robert Lee Maril tells some of these stories, observed and absorbed during the thirteen years he lived and taught in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. In those years, he grew used to the limpid heat, the smell of possum sweating in the moonlight outside his bedroom window, the young men studying to become gasoline mechanics, and the young women walking across the stage as the first in their families to graduate from college. The stories he tells are vivid and affecting, filled with palm fronds groaning in a burning wind, bulging pink gecko eyes under the porch light, Mando’s karate academy, professors who study rocks and flies, and the small but important victories of junior high students whose families do not speak English. They are stories that recognize the forces at work in people’s lives which are beyond their control, but also the qualities of courage, humor, resignation, and sometimes despair that translate those forces in the crucibles of individual lives into unique experiences.

The warm, personal accounts that make up this book give a vivid impression of what it is to live in one of the poorest but most intriguing regions of the United States, a region that has much to teach about America’s present and future.

ROBERT LEE MARIL, who holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Washington University, worked in the Valley first as a reading teacher for migrant farm workers, then as a college teacher and researcher. He also served as a consultant to a health agency for low-income women before he and his wife, Andrea, started a tricultural junior high and high school in Brownsville. He now teaches at Oklahoma State University. He is the author of Cannibals and Condos, and Texas Shrimpers, both published by Texas A&M University Press, and of Poorest of Americans.

What Readers Are Saying:

“In Living on the Edge of America, Robert Lee Maril defines those borders that limit and divide us. The people he so knowingly and lovingly describes live not only on the edge of America but live on the edge in America. Yet, their story is our story, the story of all Americans who once lived on the edge but have slowly been drawn to the center of the melting pot. The limits and borders shimmer like a mirage beneath the Valley sun, visible only from a distance.”--Robert Flynn

“In Living on the Edge of America, Robert Lee Maril defines those borders that limit and divide us. The people he so knowingly and lovingly describes live not only on the edge of America but live on the edge in America. Yet, their story is our story, the story of all Americans who once lived on the edge but have slowly been drawn to the center of the melting pot. The limits and borders shimmer like a mirage beneath the Valley sun, visible only from a distance.” --Robert Flynn

“The first-person narratives here recount pivotal incidents in his daily life among [Mexican Americans], such as winning the confidence of the tough guys he teaches or becoming the only white on the only black basketball team in the area. We learn something about local customs, about the educational problems facing educators and administrators in the trade school and community college that employed him, about his neighbors in Brownsville, and about the Anglo elite. Irrepressibly humorous, well able to make a memorable character sketch, Maril does not let the squalor and occupational hopelessness he sees blind him to the tropical beauty of their setting. Yet his analytic skills complement those storytelling gifts, so that Maril the author remains somewhat detached from Maril the narrator, who is good-hearted but less than perfect politically and perhaps a bit boastful. If these narratives weren’t true, they’d be commendable short stories.” --Booklist

“His caring attitude, sense of humor,and educated insight make this an important contribution to understanding the Valley.” --Review of Texas Books

“This well-written and exceptionally readable volume is a balanced, informative, sometimes humorous, and often poignant presentation of the lives of a group of people from three different, yet connected cultures in one of the most beautiful and poorest areas in America—the Rio Grande Valley. . . . one can learn a great deal about the lives of these valley residents and other people who inhabit poverty-stricken areas of the United States. An important secondary aspect of this volume is that it offers tremendous insights into the successes and failures of our nation’s education system at all levels. In that regard, this is an especially worthwhile resource for educators.” --Antioch Review

Living on the Edge of America is a splendid book about the lower Rio Grande Valley, about those who live there, and about Maril’s learning to live there.” --Western American Literature

“The author successfully avoids stereotyping and is particularly concerned with presenting a full picture of Valley women and their societal importance. The work provides insight into the border dwellers and may provide some badly needed balance to journalistic accounts. The picture is at the same time both reassuring and unsettling.” --International Migration Review (no. 4)

“ . . . offers rich and universal insights on the role of education throughout American society.” --Southern Historian

“ . . . an engaging artistic venture, part novel, part ethnography.” --Journal of the West

“. . . In general, Maril gives readers an understanding of valley culture while focusing on certain individuals. This volume is written in an easy-to-read fashion and is a collection of vignettes. . . . What is unique about this study is that the reader moves almost to a personal level with Maril’s border region friends. Alone, this study offers an opportunity for the reader who seeks cultural sensitivity. . . . Maril’s study brings to life the Mexican-descent people researched by DeLeon, Stewart and Navarro.” --Journal of American Ethnic History

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