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Rich history and untold stories fill the Visions of the Borderlands exhibit in the Special Collections of the University of Arizona Libraries. Curators Bob Diaz and Veronica Reyes-Escudero brought the Old West to life in this display, which focused on the myths and realities of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Diaz focused on the myths, Reyes-Escudero on the realities.

Reyes-Escudero grew up in a border town, so she loved exploring the history of villages similar to hers. While she researched the realities, she saw the diversity of ranchers who worked along the border. “There weren’t only Mexican ranchers,” Reyes-Escudero said. “African Americans and Asian Americans also worked on ranches.”

Reyes-Escudero called today’s concept of the border “one dimensional.” People need to open their minds to what the borderlands are—places where history has been made and is still being made today.

For Reyes-Escudero’s portion of the exhibit, she displayed photographs of the old border and ranch workers. The images did not show a big wall, like the one today. In places only a fence separated Mexico and the U.S.

The portraits of the ranchers depicted them working. Patricia Preciado Martin donated the photos of the ranchers, while the images of the old border were courtesy of the University of Arizona Special Collections. These photos helped Reyes-Escudero gather information for the exhibit.

Diaz worked on the myths section of the exhibit. One of the myths was that of the dude ranch, where ranchers allowed visitors to experience the life of a cowboy. To portray this idea, Diaz displayed brochures that described relaxing days spent riding horses in the desert. This was a myth because cowboys did not have a lot of free time. They worked hard mending fences, herding cattle and performing other tasks.

Books by Jennifer L. Jenkins and Daniel D. Arreola inspired the exhibit. Both works were published by the University of Arizona Press.

Jenkins’ book, Celluloid Pueblo, tells the story of a couple who moved to Arizona to document the beauty and diverse cultures of the borderlands. Their films show ranches, church missions and towns in the region.

Arreola discussed his book, Postcards from the Sonora Border, at the exhibit’s opening. “The event was a great success,” he said.

Arreola’s book reflects the realities part of the exhibit by illustrating actual changes in the borderlands over time.

Diaz is proud of the exhibit. “I was pleased because we all worked together,” she said. Her hope is that visitors will learn more about the borderlands and their rich history.

If you go:
Monday, January 23 to Friday, June 30
Bob Díaz & Verónica Reyes-Escudero
Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries, 
  • 1510 E. University Blvd.
  • Tucson, AZ 85721
  • 520-621-6423

This story was originally published in The Chronicle, a Dow Jones News Fund Diversity in Journalism Workshop publication. Nayomi Garcia is a senior from Rio Rico High School in Rio Rico, AZ. Visit their website here.