Bordertown The Odyssey of an American Place Benjamin Heber Johnson, Jeffrey Gusky, Luis Alberto Urrea

The Lamar Series in Western History
Publication date:
30 Sep 2008
Yale University Press
224 pages: 216 x 241 x 20mm
148 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

An evocative portrayal of a remote place that offers a whole new way of looking at the U.S.–Mexico border

Mexico and America have met for eight generations on their shared border. In this compelling book, photographer Jeffrey Gusky and historian Benjamin Johnson capture this encounter through their mesmerizing portrayal of Roma, Texas.

European culture left its mark here, but it was brought by mixed-race, Spanish-speaking pioneers who practiced Muslim irrigation techniques and believed that they were descended from Jews. Triumphant American armies made this region part of the United States, but the descendants of those they conquered have fought in every American conflict from the Civil War to Iraq. Racial strife divided this land, but slaves gained freedom by fleeing south to Mexico and Hispanics reacquired wealth and power by buying out Anglos. Although today the area is one of the poorest in the United States, the fortune that founded Citibank was made here and the town has inspired such authors as John Steinbeck and Larry McMurtry.

In a time when the border is a source of controversy and division, Johnson’s unexpected stories and Gusky’s haunting photographs demonstrate how deeply the story of the border is also the story of America itself.

Benjamin Heber Johnson is associate professor, Department of History, Southern Methodist University. He is the author of Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans into Americans, published by Yale University Press. He lives in Dallas. Jeffrey Gusky is an emergency physician, a fine art photographer, and a documentary film producer. He is the author of a previous art photography book, Silent Places: Landscapes of Jewish Life & Loss in Eastern Europe. He lives in Dallas.

“This is micro-history at its best—illuminating a single community in ways that make life all along the border more vivid and palpable.”—David J. Weber, author of Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment

“Through words and images—brilliantly juxtaposed—this book profoundly challenges our sense of what it means to be American. Johnson and Gusky offer us a local history that is also the history of America—and they do so in an incredibly readable and humanized way.”—Samuel Truett, University of New Mexico

“A fascinating picture in words and photographs of Roma, Texas, a little town on the Rio Grande where history is alive and contested daily. Anybody who thinks a fence is the solution to immigration should read this instructive book.”—Don Graham, author of Kings of Texas: The 150-Year Saga of an American Ranching Empire

“Jeffrey Gusky's photographs and Benjamin Johnson's stories are haunting and elegiac.  At once stark and deeply felt, they are powerful and true.  These lands and their people are beautiful in their severe grace.”—From the foreword by Luis Alberto Urrea


“This compelling blend of photographs and text vividly reflects the longstanding fluidity of America’s border with Mexico and how Hispanic culture has long defined one American town. The book is an important contribution to borderland studies and to debates about securing our national boundaries.”—John Rohrbach, Amon Carter Museum

Bordertown is a significant look into a complex and important region of the country unknown to the general public."—Laura Wilson, author of Avedon at Work: In The American West

“Johnson’s ability as a storyteller makes this history book a valuable contribution to the understanding of the U.S.-Mexico border and its people.”—David Steinberg, Sunday Journal