The Missions Initiative seeks to renew historic connections among sites in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico to protect important cultural resources and to generate regional economic opportunities. A brief overview the of socio-economic history of La Frontera highlights the need for creative alternatives for member communities.
Immigrants and migrant workers have maintained a presence along the U.S.-Mexico border since its establishment in 1848-54. At the time of the Mexican Revolution (1910), the U.S. restricted the entry of many immigrant groups, but Mexican and U.S. citizens crossed the border freely. During World War II, labor demands caused active recruitment from Mexico to replace U.S. workers serving in the military and in defense-related industries. Around 1966, Mexican border cities such as Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana began growing rapidly as U.S. manufacturing plants (maquiladoras) moved in. Currently that system is again in transition as operations are being lured overseas by cheaper labor pools and fewer legal and environmental restrictions. Meanwhile, the need for competitive agricultural and domestic labor in the United States has not subsided.
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has resulted in a freer flow of goods throughout the Americas, but often without the development of infrastructure necessary to cope with population increases in border communities. Current U.S. immigration restrictions have encouraged the illegal smuggling of workers across the border that often results in abuse and death. Many Mexican villages in the north have lost significant numbers of adult males, who migrate north to secure support for their families. Consequently, these Mexican settlements are often mainly populated by women, children and the aged. Such demographics affect family structures and community interaction, creating an unstable social base for the people and economics of La Frontera . Clearly economic alternatives are needed in the border region. Both Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism, as described in this report, offer a new frontera industry. Programs such as the Missions Initiative can play an important part in recasting the U.S.-Mexico border as a region of international cooperation and mutual assistance rather than one of contention and distrust.