De-politicizing border space


Every February, the city of Laredo commemorates George Washington's birthday with parades, a carnival, a jalapeno-eating contest, a colonial pageant and ball, a Princess Pocahontas presentation, and an Abrazo Children ceremony, among other events. In this article, I use the Washington's Birthday Celebration to examine how the embodied transposition of U.S. colonial histories and mythologies depoliticizes relations between Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. Drawing from Lefebvre's tripartite conceptualization of space production, I consider how this annual event shapes "what is perceived," "what is conceived," and "what is lived" in these North American port cities. Among multiple tangible and intangible products, festivities didactically teach spectators and participants what it means to possess United States citizenship, the specific geographic space in which they may exercise this national identity, and how to perform American values, American history, and the American ethos.

This essay is a think piece for the performance text "Brown Nipple: A Spectacular Look at Race, Class, and Citizenship, on the U.S.-Mexico Border."

Sometimes bridges perform as walls. Take for example the international bridges that connect Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico (see Figure 1). City planners constructed the first physical link between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo in 1889. Today, the port of Laredo boasts four international bridges with Mexico—International Bridges #1 and #2, the Columbia Bridge, and the World Trade Bridge—making Laredo NAFTA's mistress and home of the busiest Wal-Mart in the Americas (Díaz 2005; Duggan 1999; Millman and Gold 2001; Vogel 2006). In 1995, $15 billion in U.S. exports to Mexico and $17 billion in U.S. imports from Mexico flowed through the sister cities (Welcome 1996). In turn, Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas—a Border Industrialization Program and a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) darling—attracts hard-hitting power players battling for access to U.S. Interstate 35 (Moffett and Frazier 1985; Payne 1997). Recent kidnappings, assassinations of journalists, bystanders, law enforcement officers (one police chief was gunned down eight hours after taking office), and other acts of macabre violence evince the 2002 drug cartel power shifts in Sinaloa, Mexico (Relea 2005a, 2005b; Marshall 2005; Balli 2005; Colloff 2006). Laredo politicos are in denial; Mexican federal and municipal authorities are powerless. The physical links connecting these sister cities offer a particular border globalization—the seamless movement of goods, capital, and services alongside unequal economic development; centralization of power in the U.S./centralization of labor and resources in Mexico; the perpetual weakening or disregard of labor regulations and human rights; and a de facto militarized zone.

Photo: Elaine Peña
The view from Laredo, Texas: International Bridge
Photo: Elaine Peña

Now consider the symbolic bridge that is the Washington's Birthday Celebration (WBC), a commemorative month-long event particular to los dos Laredos. Highlights include the Society of Martha Washington presentation and ball, a Princess Pocahontas pageant, a trip to the state capitol, a jalapeño eating contest, a Señor Internacional gala, a Mr. South Texas luncheon, and the abrazo (embrace) children ceremony. To give a sense of the spectacle, bejeweled colonial gowns and Pocahontas costumes may cost between $5,000 and $50,000. Celebration officials' choice of George Washington and Pocahontas to epitomize American values and border life is representative of Laredo's selective disavowal of Mexican culture, which is the dominant component of the city's historical, cultural, political, and linguistic identity. Theoretically, the festival strengthens bi-national dialogue; it aims to build bridges between Mexican customs and American values. But this communication is limited to a few rituals, most notably the abrazo children ceremony. The rite features two "American" children from Laredo attired as George and Martha Washington and two "Mexican" children from Nuevo Laredo dressed in "traditional" clothing physically meeting in the middle of International Bridge #2 to exchange kisses, hugs, and gifts (see Figure 2). This symbolic act is evocative. Yet interconnected violence in each municipality reminds us that this sweet scenario/diplomatic tourist event elides a discussion of urgent and unattended issues affecting both communities. The annual event underwrites the maintenance of outward political, historical, and cultural interchanges between these North American port cities.

Photo: Elaine Peña
"American" abrazo children and their military escorts facing Mexican politicos in the middle of International Bridge
Photo: Elaine Peña

The production and maintenance of this symbolic border performance creates regenerative effects that are more insidious than any physical wall. Among multiple tangible and intangible products, the WBC didactically teaches spectators and participants what it means to possess United States citizenship, the specific geographic space in which they may exercise this national identity, and how to perform American values, American history, and American ethos. Further, the celebration impels xenophobic attitudes within the Mexican-American community in Laredo by setting the boundaries of self-identification: I am American, not Mexican. Historians and cultural critics have pointed out the obvious historical discrepancies and creative re-imaginings of the Washington's Birthday Celebration (Young 1998; Dennis 1997; Green 1999). Building on these studies, I focus on the temporal, spatial, and economic components of this performatic expression to examine how the strategic embodied transposition of U.S. colonial histories and mythologies de-politicize border space.

In what follows, I analyze the Washington's Birthday Celebration using Henri Lefebvre's conceptualization of the production of space as a dialectical relationship among "spatial practices"/what is perceived, "representations of space"/what is conceived, and "representational spaces"/what is lived (Lefebvre 1991, 33-9). Although I separate aspects of the commemorative festival into these three categories, the objective of this analysis is to emphasize "the unity of the productive process" (Lefebvre 1991, 42). Participation in pageants, balls, luncheons, comedy events, parades, and jalapeño eating contests are the spatial practices. These rituals strengthen the legitimacy of the event and fortify a disadvantaged tourist economy. Less visible is the space of festival planners and sponsors who conceive and shape the ideological foundation of the tourist event. Many of these behind-the-scenes players are politicians, businesspersons, and/or outstanding members of the community who not only work towards validating the historical, cultural, and fiscal significance of the revelry but also towards securing individual and familial status for future generations. Laredoans do not enact nor do they engineer the spectacular practices that shape the festival in everyday life. They do, however, live with the regenerative effects of the celebration year-round. Border residents reproduce and reinforce WBC hierarchies and categorizations through their daily practices—when and where one socializes, makes purchases, attends school, celebrates patriotic and cultural customs, etc. It is within these lived spaces, sites "redolent with symbolic and imaginary elements," that Laredoans self-police skin privilege, class, and citizenship boundaries (Lefebvre 1991, 41).

"Representations of [Border] Space": The Improved Order of the Red Men Yaqui Tribe #59 and the transposition of U.S. colonial history

Seven flags have flown over the physical space that is Laredo, Texas—Spain (1519-1821), France (1685-1690), Mexico (1821-1836), the Republic of Texas (1836-1845), the Republic of the Rio Grande (January 1840 to October 1840), the United States of America (1845-1861 and 1865-present), and the Confederate States of America (1861-1865). In addition to Porfirio Diaz's modernization project and his open-armed embrace of bi-national industrial and railroad development, post-1865 shifts in national identity and in the border economy excavated ideological space for power transfers based on physical appearance, class status, linguistic ability, kinship networks, and patriotic will.

In 1898, for example, a group of affluent, predominantly Anglo-American men (who either bought out or married into wealthy land-owning Mexican families) joined the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM)—a club modeled after the colonial fraternal society the Sons of Liberty. George W. Lindsay, a nationally recognized IORM member and chronicler, justified the origins and practice of appropriating American Indian culture in The Official History of the Improved Order of Red Men, published in 1897.

These early societies [Sons of Liberty and Tammany Societies] turned to the uncultivated field of Red Men's mysteries for their ceremonies and so-called secret work, and in the sublimity and grandeur of the unsullied characteristics of the primitive race, then more plentiful around them, found inspiration for the mystical lore deemed necessary in their gatherings, and suitable for the concealment of identity inseparable from the dangerous work in which they were engaged to found a new nation. (Lindsay 1897, 4)

Following this publication, Charles M. Barnes—"a newspaper man of San Antonio" and "District Deputy Great Sachem of the Great Council of Texas of the Improved Order of Red Men"—organized a Laredo chapter to cultivate pure American patriotism on the border (Wilcox. 1947). Select citizens adopted the revolutionary tactic of dressing up as Indians to "challenge" oppressive power structures, bolster their masculinity, and publicly perform their patriotic pride.

In February 1898, members of IORM Yaqui Tribe #59 disguised themselves as savage Indians (they strategically chose the northern Mexican tribe in solidarity with the region's roots). They performed in the burlesque play "One Night with the Red Men," staged a mock battle on City Hall, and reenacted the Boston Tea Party. The morning of February 21, the first day of the celebration, the front page of the Laredo Times read "Red Men Are Rustlers and Doing Grand Work in Laredo: They Will Awaken Patriotism on the Border and Make us Realize That we Live in the United States" (Wilcox 1947). That evening, IORM performers entertained a standing-room-only crowd with "truly Indian costumes, wild war hoops and lively dances" (ibid.). In addition, Mrs. L.S. Andrews, dressed as a "negro girl," treated the audience to a version of "Little Alabama Coon" (Green 1999, 5). Although the evening of burlesque proved to be "delightful," the early morning mock battle on City Hall was the highlight of the first Washington's Birthday Celebration. That morning the front-page headline, paraphrasing Julius Caesar's famous declaration "I came, I saw, I conquered," read "Veni Vidi Yaqui":

Laredo Surrenders to the Red Men. Triumphal Procession of the Victors Through the City. Exiting [sic] and Thrilling Incidents of the Grandest Celebration Ever Witnessed on the Border. The Whole City an Undulating Sea of Glory and Patriotism. (Wilcox 1947)

In the mythical space of appropriated social protest, palefaces-cum-red men triumphed over local authorities, thereby publicly justifying their physical and analytical superiority and asserting white hegemonic power on the border. As a peace offering, defeated officials presented the key to the city to Princess Pocahontas, portrayed by Naty Mathern—a woman whose virtues must have included "teaching kindness, love, charity, and loyalty to one's nation" (Degree 2006). After sundown, the triumphant IORM members raided a "replica of an illuminated British merchant ship" docked at Independence Plaza. Laredo historian Stan Green explains, "the unwary British sailors were attacked by 'swarms of canoes filled with painted savages' who overran the ship, hoisted up boxes labeled 'TEA,' broke them open, and threw the contents, all candy, overboard to the delight of watching youngsters" (Green 1999, 7). A brilliant fireworks display followed preparing the spectators for the final image of the performance—George Washington's likeness adorned with a halo and the words "GOOD NIGHT" set ablaze against the night sky (ibid.).

Today, spectators and participants no longer arrive via the National Lines of Railways of Mexico, the Missouri Pacific Lines, or the Texas-Mexican Railway Company. Laredoans do not stage a mock battle on City Hall. They do not raid illuminated ships holding candy-filled "TEA" boxes. They do not give out prizes to "the most natural looking Indian" (Green 1999, 11). The Laredo Chamber of Commerce and the Washington's Birthday Celebration Association (est. 1923) slowly replaced IORM's wild-west/frontier activities suited for ranchers and cowboys with refined social events that encouraged the union of business and tourism (Green 1999, 35). In fact, two major shifts in celebration planning occurred during the twentieth century. The advent of the Colonial Pageant in 1940 and the creation of the Princess Pocahontas Council in 1970 ushered in two distinct eras of the celebration. After tumultuous periods of regional and global warfare and economic strife, Father Dan Lansing, WBCA president (1940-1941), prepared the city for colonial-era glamour, international political and economic networking, as well as overt displays of power and status, when he organized the most important and wealthy women in Laredo to form the Society of Martha Washington.

Between 1940 and 1980, WBCA and its affiliates organized comparable social events such as Noche Mexicana (est. 1942), which featured the Mexican comedian Tin Tan among other entertainers, and the Mr. South Texas award luncheon (est. 1952), which brought governors, legislators, and oilmen together. Affiliate organizations also expanded the International Bridge Ceremony in the early '60s to include politicians from northern Mexico and the abrazo children ceremony in 1969. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) #12 created the Señor Internacional ceremony in 1977 to honor outstanding society members on both sides of the border. Accounts of this era suggest the annual celebration not only offered diversion but time and space to make or break business deals (Green 1999; Thompson 1986).

Although Pocahontas had always been a key figure in the festivities, middle-class Mexican-American women decided to use her Native American background to introduce their daughters into society. In 1983, these women organized the first Princess Pocahontas pageant—a ritual that continues to act as a gateway into the upper echelons of Laredo society. It was during this second shift in programming that WBCA organizers made a concerted effort to make activities more inclusive. Abe Wilson, 1979 WBCA president, acknowledged that the festival had become "too restricted to social events. We needed to get more activities for people in general, more than just the parade, carnival, and fireworks" (quoted in Green 1999, 118). As well, a period of economic growth, despite the 1981 peso devaluation, propagated by the maquiladora industries and increased trade with Mexico supported the expansion of the annual celebration (Green 1999, 121). The Jalapeño festival (est. 1979), which draws mostly working-class crowds, and the culinary event "Taste of los dos Laredos" (est. 1980) are just some of the activities that simultaneously broadened the festival's consumer base and created implicit divisions between high-class and low-class events. WBC association rituals have changed but the hyper-patriotic vision of the first IORM members continues to "Americanize" the border. Three "performatic" events in particular—the Colonial presentation, the Princess Pocahontas pageant, and the abrazo children ceremony—instantiate the intra-community skin privilege, class, and citizenship-based hierarchies that shape the Washington's Birthday Celebration, cultural production on the border, and socio-political bi-national relations.

Spatial practices: Abrazos, "Indian" poses, and impressive curtsies

The bi-national success of the abrazo children ritual/International Bridge Ceremony has fluctuated throughout the century, particularly after September 11, 2001. In 2004, for example, Nuevo Laredoan Rogelio Rojas Cordova portrayed the father of Mexican independence Padre Miguel Hidalgo. In addition to hugging American attendees, Hidalgo offered Robert Summers—then WBCA president—a banner of la Virgen de Guadalupe in exchange for a U.S. flag. The photo of their embrace, featured in the Laredo Morning Times, gave proof of both countries' shared ideals and reinforced their common moral ground. As Master of Ceremonies Ignacio Urrabazo Jr., president and CEO of International Bank of Commerce, proclaimed, "the significance of this ceremony is that two great countries that fought for their independence and two great cities that have established long relationships and strong values meet again at this bridge ceremony" (Cortez 2004). El Mañana, Nuevo Laredo's newspaper, covered the same event but reported the less attractive elements of the ceremony: "Desorganización casi total y ausencia de reconocidos personajes de Laredo, restaron lucidez a la ceremonia anual del 'Abrazo Internacional de las Fiestas de George Washington,' afectadas además por estrictas medidas de seguridad" (Lucio 2004). Border patrol did not allow invited Mexican politicos and spectators to cross the border or to partake in Laredo's bi-national celebration without official documentation.

During the 2006 abrazo children celebration, I found that an equally problematic issue—particular to los dos Laredos—made its mark on the tradition. Walking towards International Bridge #2, I fortuitously joined distinguished politicians and invited guests (all dressed in "business attire") as they walked from one of the city's most elegant and oldest hotels towards the ceremony. Family and friends of the local organization known as "Laredo's Missing" were waiting for us before we stepped onto the bridge (see Figure 3). Holding signs embossed with faces of the dozens of Laredoans who have been abducted in Nuevo Laredo in the past two years, they reminded ceremony attendees that their children were absent;abrazos, smiling politicians, empty monologues, and flag-waving would not bring their loved ones back.

Photo: Elaine Peña
Laredo’s Missing Silent Protest, 7:20 am
Photo: Elaine Peña

Because this was only the third demonstration in WBCA history, many spectators seemed unsure of how to handle the situation. In 1968, politicized Laredoans protested the presence of Texas governor John Connally because he did not accept a meeting with farm worker rights activist Cesar Chavez. The same group addressed hunger and poverty issues at the 1969 Society of Martha Washington ball, suggesting "Let Them Eat Cake" (Green 1999, 251-2).

In 2006, only a few WBCA participants crossed the street to meet the protestors. Equally alarming was the fact that once we reached the bridge, the meet-and-greet elements of the patriotic ritual upstaged the tension (see Figure 4). The human rights activists, positioned a block away from the bridge, did not witness the collective denial. Moreover, they had disappeared by the time politicos walked back to the hotel. During the ceremony, Laredo's mayor Betty Flores did not speak of the issue. She devoted most of her speech to thanking contributors and recounting her tenure as a public official. Flores, who addresses border violence in more "appropriate" venues, often uses "blame the victim" rhetoric to justify why the kidnappings are not a municipal issue. The missing and murdered, she suggested on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," are personally connected to the drug cartels (Flores 2005; Daffern 2006).

Photo: Elaine Peña
7:35 am: Commerce, patriotism, and all of the right people
Photo: Elaine Peña

The ceremony, which lasts less than an hour, is anticlimactic. It commences when both countries' representatives, led by their abrazo children, begin to walk towards the center of the bridge. U.S. guests include a fife and drum corps, a tired looking George Washington, Texas politicos, and media personnel. The Virginia-based fife and drum corps, continuing the eighteenth-century tradition of leading troops into battle against the British army, adds an authentic colonial touch to the ceremony. Once gathered, key political and religious figures speak to the crowd in English and Spanish, officials and children exchange hugs and kisses, and marching bands take turns playing El Himno Nacional (Mexico's national anthem) and the Star-Spangled Banner. Both parties then unceremoniously return to their sides of the bridge. For those returning to Laredo, a brief but efficient interrogation, a performance in and of itself, awaits us before federal officers let us back into the country. Although not part of the original IORM vision, the spatial practices that give substance to this WBCA event teach Laredoans how to perform their American heritage, and teach Nuevo Laredoans the limits of diplomacy; they exhibit the ways in which symbolic bi-national dialogue may also reinforce geographic boundaries.

Photo: Elaine Peña
Princess Pocahontas and Chief Standing Bear on stage at the 2006 Princess Pocahontas pageant—"Voices of the Heart: A History of Our People"
Photo: Elaine Peña

Photo: Elaine Peña Debutantes on stage at the 2006 Society of Martha Washington presentation of "An Evening of Reminiscence and Celebration"
Photo: Elaine Peña

Analyzing the gendered performance of wealth and social status exhibited during Pocahontas and the Society of Martha Washington pageants provides us with a lens onto how spatial practices maintain IORM's initial border vision (see Figures 5 and 6). Within the space of these cultural performances/tourist events, excessive displays of wealth and status blur the racialized boundaries among Anglo-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Mexicans. Using "Indian" poses and impressive curtsies, debutantes continue the IORM performance-based strategy of appropriating colonial history and culture to produce authentic American space.

In 2006, after ten years of self-exile, I returned to Laredo to witness the two events that ground the Washington's Birthday Celebration. Getting my hair cut before the colonial pageant, I overheard two Spanglish-speaking, working-class, west side beauticians discuss the Martas as being "high-class," the cost of los vestidos preciosos, and how all of the tickets are selectively pre-sold. This is true. In fact, I asked my mother, who sometimes juggled three jobs to support her four children, to camp out at the local mall's WBCA booth to secure tickets for the Martha and Pocahontas presentations. They informed her that they could not sell any colonial pageant tickets because they "did not have any [for her]" but that she could buy Pocahontas tickets. A week later, with persistence and white politeness, I purchased one colonial pageant ticket from a Lexus-driving socialite in the Starbucks parking lot located in North Laredo.

Since 1940, when the Society of Martha Washington inaugurated their formal presentation, participants and planners have shaped Laredo's elite race- and class-based hierarchies for generations. An advertisement in the 2006 program, for instance, showcases debutantes Martha Wyers and Meaghan Farrell's shared society heritage; the glossy full-page announcement features images of charter member Mrs. Horace C. Hall and her descendents—Martha Hall Riklin, Mary B. Hall Wyers, Melle Hall Farrell, Molly Hall Alegria, and Margaret Hall Alarcon (Washington's 109th 2006: 152). Aspiring participants lacking familial connections must petition and have unwavering support from an influential sponsor. These "new society" debutantes portray extra colonial figures such as Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren and not the thirteen colonies represented by "old society" granddaughters and great-granddaughters. Colonial pageant themes, often shifting between historical/philosophical premises and mythological imaginings, allow organizers to strengthen intra-elite group hierarchies. The inspiration for the 1987 presentation "Columbia, The Gem of the Ocean" for example, was "pure fantasy."

There is an ancient lore that says in order to bring good luck a gemstone must be freely given, never coveted, and never taken by fraud or force. George Washington gave to America a truly precious stone; for he, along with the founders of this nation, took the wilderness of a new land, cut and polished it until it shone with brilliance, and created Columbia, the gem of the ocean. (90th Washington's 1987, 62)

That year all of the participants represented precious jewels. But in 1958, local daughters portrayed "courage, truth justice, hope, charity, Christianity, tolerance, fortitude, wisdom, and liberty" while non-locals represented foreign nations—"England, France, Ireland, Poland, Spain, Italy, Holland, and U.S. Armed Forces" (61st Washington's 1958, 31). Themes often reinforce intra-group divisions and the impenetrability of the society. The Pocahontas Council, in contrast, caters to Laredo's middle class, which has expanded in the past forty years due to increased border trade and industry. Although participants, particularly "Princess Pocahontas," are chosen primarily based on their social capital, each Laredo high school selects a representative. Competition for the top spot is often fierce. leaving contenders in an all-or-nothing situation. Even after the selection process, intra-societal lines are drawn based on education, wealth, and lifestyle. Many inductees, regardless of their WBCA affiliation, strategize to meet the monetary investment necessary to participate. Instead of hiring the Pocahontas Council's traditional seamstress, one resourceful mother researched Native American culture, special-ordered the beads from New York herself, and, with the help of her housekeeper, completed all of the labor. She spent a mere $5,000 on her daughter's entire costume—headdress, boots, cape, and dress. As well, colonial pageant debutantes sometimes "build on" previously used dresses but they must be careful not to make it apparent. Wearing an old dress could have grave consequences for future generations.

The pageants themselves are monotonous as performative events. Spectators spend the majority of these events listening to organizers recognize laudable company—Texas legislators, local politicians, law enforcement officers, church officials, scholars, prominent business executives, and Society/Council members. Guests sometimes account for more than half of the audience. Then, one by one, participants make their grand entrances amidst thunderous applause from family, friends, and benefactors. They execute meticulously rehearsed gestures to the sound of their particular character's history layered over a live orchestra in the colonial context or a nature soundscape peppered with tribal drumming. Although the female participants carry the show in each of the pageants—that is, their adorned bodies are the focal point of the spectacle—they lack voice onstage. This is particularly evident during the Colonial presentation where narrators, often well-connected society members, speak for all of the participants. In contrast, Princess Pocahontas and fellow princesses—"Crystal Rainbow" (Chicksaw Tribe), "Desert Gem" (Zuni Tribe), and "Magical Dancer" (Yakima Tribe)—lip-synch to the sound of their own pre-recorded voices. They merge the strange time lapse with exaggerated Native American poses and choreographed dancing. Sustained applause signals the grand finale of each pageant. It is only at this point in the performance that debutantes gain full acceptance into border society.

Washington's Birthday Celebration events create a space where fantasy masks the realities of life on the border. As one WBCA staff member recently commented, "When you see their gowns, the beading on their dresses, it doesn't feel like Laredo." For approximately one month of the year, the city puts its deepest fears to rest, saves them away under layers of excess. Laredoans, however, live with the residuum of the commemorative event; they continually negotiate the phenotypic, class, and citizenship-based hierarchies legitimized during the celebration.

Social boundaries in Laredo are clearly marked, not by physical objects, but by the movement of people—when, how, and why individuals use certain spaces in the city. Whether one chooses to speak English, Spanish, or Spanglish also factors into the complex equation. As well, citizenship, or lack thereof, shapes people's daily rounds. Indeed, these details would affect the production of city space and border relations with or without the Washington's Birthday Celebration. But the celebration does exist. It plays a suggestive role in shaping the collective imaginary of border residents because it inundates the city with images, texts, and soundscapes that encourage everyday binary categorizations such as citizen/non-citizen, high-class/low-class, güera/o (light-skinned)/prieta/o (dark-skinned), powerful/powerless. WBC actors and their familiars, particularly those who participate in the most glamorous events—the Señor Internacional ceremony, the Society of Martha Washington Colonial ball and pageant, and the Princess Pocahontas presentation—acquire social capital that places them above common citizens and non-citizens. These intangible categorizations are an inherent part of the Washington's Birthday Celebration and everyday life on the border.

Elaine Peña received her Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University. Her research interests include critical ethnography; performance theory; political economy; theories of space production; diasporic religious studies; and race, gender, and citizenship in the Americas. She recently edited Ethno-Techno: Writings on performance, activism, and pedagogy (Routledge 2005). In addition to conducting research and teaching during her tenure as a postdoctoral research associate, she is writing and directing "Brown Nipple: A spectacular look at class, race, and citizenship on the U.S.-Mexico Border." Born in Laredo, Texas, Peña is a U.S. citizen by one mile.


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