Television journalism in the 1960s produced poor coverage of the Chicano Movement, while advertisers and writers proliferated harmful stereotypes of Mexican-Americans. By the late 1960s, frustrated Chicano filmmakers began using independent documentary film to contest television’s failures in representation, subverting journalistic conventions that upheld state violence “in the service of whiteness.”[1] Chulas Fronteras (1979) and Frontierland/Fronterilandia (1995) are documentaries about borderland culture that contest policies of violent exclusion through alternative representation of political and cultural realities.

Chulas Fronteras was produced in an era of restricted migrant mobility; the Bracero program’s termination reduced access to legal employment, while 1976 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act limited pathways to citizenship with per-country quotas. Director Les Blank denaturalizes the border as a militarized political boundary by constructing the borderland as a continuous cultural space and humanizing the producers of culture and labor within.

Frontierland/Fronterilandia was produced while policies like Operations Blockade and Gatekeeper made migration less visible, mobilizing border patrol to divert migrants towards dangerous, remote areas. The film’s exploration of mestizo borderland culture’s prevalence across North America and beyond highlights the hypocrisy of a border that is porous for Latino/a cultural products and influence, but violently restrictive for the human beings who create this culture.


[1] Chon Noriega, Shot in America (Minneapolis: U. of Minneapolis, 2000) 111.