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Porous Borders

Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

By Julian Lim

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 halftones, 1 maps, 3 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3549-1
    Published: December 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3550-7
    Published: October 2017

David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History

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Awards & distinctions

2019 Association for Asian American Studies Award for Best Book in History

2018 David J. Weber-William P. Clements Prize, Western History Association

Honorable Mention, Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award, Immigration and Ethnic History Society

With the railroad’s arrival in the late nineteenth century, immigrants of all colors rushed to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, transforming the region into a booming international hub of economic and human activity. Following the stream of Mexican, Chinese, and African American migration, Julian Lim presents a fresh study of the multiracial intersections of the borderlands, where diverse peoples crossed multiple boundaries in search of new economic opportunities and social relations. However, as these migrants came together in ways that blurred and confounded elite expectations of racial order, both the United States and Mexico resorted to increasingly exclusionary immigration policies in order to make the multiracial populations of the borderlands less visible within the body politic, and to remove them from the boundaries of national identity altogether.

Using a variety of English- and Spanish-language primary sources from both sides of the border, Lim reveals how a borderlands region that has traditionally been defined by Mexican-Anglo relations was in fact shaped by a diverse population that came together dynamically through work and play, in the streets and in homes, through war and marriage, and in the very act of crossing the border.

Published with support provided by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

About the Author

Julian Lim is assistant professor of history at Arizona State University.
For more information about Julian Lim, visit the Author Page.


"Lim's ability to weave an analytical narrative from an array of disparate sources in local, state, and national archives in Mexico as well as the United States makes Porous Borders a model for transnational history and the historian's craft."--H-Net

"Lim's history of multiracial migration in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands isn't just a well-executed piece of academic scholarship. In addition, it is also a clear warning regarding the dangers of naively embracing multiracialism as a panacea for America's contemporary racial woes."--Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

“This book’s deft intersection of multiple ethnic and national histories makes Lim’s work indispensable to scholars in many fields, particularly borderlands and Asian American history, US-Mexico relations, and migration studies.”--Choice

“A significant contribution to the historiography of comparative immigration and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. It is well grounded in existing scholarship, interprets primary material adeptly, and, along with other recent works published in English, cites Mexican scholarship and sources to comprehend better the transnational subject and region.”--Journal of Southern History

“With lucid prose and binational archival depth, Julian Lim illuminates a key era and location in borderlands history. Starting with the cartographic expedition of 1848, Lim traces the construction of the El Paso–Juarez area as a political and economic engine of empire and border control and the ways that its multiracial, mixed-race denizens contested this process. Full of previously untold stories, this book stands to remap our understanding of the border.”--Rachel Ida Buff, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

“What makes this study original is its substantive inclusion of Chinese, Black, and Mexicano histories within a single frame. Lim’s innovative treatment of this material will push immigration and race historians to consider longer chronologies and dynamics at play in the borderlands.”--Kelly Lytle Hernández, author of City of Inmates