Animated series homes in on life at the border

Bordertown looks at the American dream through the changing lives of a Border Patrol agent and a Mexican immigrant.
Bordertown looks at the American dream through the changing lives of a Border Patrol agent and a Mexican immigrant.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

NEW YORK• • Bud Buckwald and Ernesto Gonzalez are neighbours. They live side by side in a small Southern California city perched along the border with Mexico: Mexifornia.

Bud is a disgruntled mid-level Border Patrol agent and Ernesto is a plucky Mexican immigrant who runs a successful landscaping business. Bud looks at the changing demographics of America and does not see a place for himself. His American dream is slipping away as Ernesto's is coming true.

"It's like the Mexican's become the Man," he likes to say. "And I've become the Mexican."

The two families provide the comedic backbone of Bordertown, a new animated series executive produced by Seth MacFarlane (Ted, 2012) that debuts on Fox on Jan 3.

With often brutal satire that mines racism, xenophobia, drug cartels, mega churches, corrupt mayors, the pope and the occasional UFO, it offers up the border town as a prototype of the new American city, a key laboratory for thinking through the national future.

"The border demands attention," said Lalo Alcaraz, one of the show's lead writers and a consulting producer, who thinks of Mexifornia as a new version of Springfield from The Simpsons. He grew up in San Diego as the son of immigrants, just north of Tijuana and United States border communities such as San Ysidro and Chula Vista.

"There are so many important stories here, which is why it makes for good television. You get all of the culture clashes: Americans and immigrants, Mexico and the US, and all of the mixtures that come with border life in general."

Bordertown arrives at an opportune, and sensitive, political moment, with immigration a flash point in the presidential race. If elected, Mr Donald J. Trump has promised to build a towering new border wall, has branded Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, and in August, deported Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a news conference.

Border talk is rarely just about the border itself. In both politics and popular culture, the border is a proxy for thinking about the role of Mexico in American life and for grappling with the ways Mexican immigrant culture and the American mainstream influence each other. It is both a scapegoat and a mirror: a place to project fears and anxieties about a changing nation, and a reflection of the identity-straddling, language-juggling multicultural nation that is already here.

Beneath all the media bluster, undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants continue to take enormous risks as they navigate the US Border Patrol, Mexican drug cartels and deportation policies. It is a reality of morgue statistics and family separations that was lost on a shameless Carl's Jr burger advertisement that appeared last September: a bikini-versus-bikini volleyball game that used the militarised border wall as a sexy Tex-Mex net.

No wonder the border has played a starring role in so much culture this past year. Novels such as John Vaillant's The Jaguar's Children and Don Winslow's The Cartel unfolded through the voice memos of migrants trapped in truck trailers and the bloody global business of cartel bosses. Songs from Alan Jackson (Mexico, Tequila, And Me), The Game (El Chapo) and Juan Gabriel (La Frontera, a choppy remake of his 1980s pop classic) were additions to the border jukebox. The Houston rapper and comedian Chingo Bling, whose real name is Pedro Herrera III, even did a spoof of Antidote by fellow Texan rhymer Travis Scott.

Herrera's neighbourhood gigolo does not pop bottles, he sips "purple Fabuloso" (the popular Mexican floor cleaner), eats menudo on Sundays and is on constant Border Patrol alert: "I hear the migra at the front door."

Like so many Mexican and Mexican-American artists, Herrera flips traditional border narratives. They are stories that push back against anti-immigrant sentiment and remind audiences that the border is also a vibrant, thriving region that millions of people call home.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Animated series homes in on life at the border'. Print Edition | Subscribe