Depending on who you are and how you feel about immigration and cultural change, the image on this page is either no big deal, mildly provocative, or highly controversial. The original painting on which it’s based, American Gothic, by Grant Wood, is one of the most famous in the world. Over time, it has become a visual cliché people turn to whenever they want to comment on some new aspect of the American experience (or when they just want to make a joke, as we did on the January 2002 cover of TEXAS MONTHLY, which showed Willie Nelson and Kinky Friedman in the pose, with Kinky as the woman). One new aspect of the American experience that we generally shy away from discussing is the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States (1.7 million of them in Texas). Though these 11 million people (the vast majority of whom are from Mexico) have become fixtures in our world, they continue to live “in the shadows” and out of the frame, tenuous members of a society that year by year they have a greater stake in. No matter how you feel about illegal immigration, you have to concede that this is no way to build a better tomorrow.
On the following pages you’ll find a collection of stories that brings the subject out of the shadows. A roundtable conversation gathers together state lawmakers and experts on all sides of the issue for a productive and reasonable debate about immigration policy. Feature stories explore the history of migration and the border in South Texas, the political challenges surrounding reform, and the simple (but often embarrassing) questions many people have about how undocumented immigration really works. A photo essay presents a range of faces and perspectives from all over the state. And a personal essay looks at the issue from the other side of the journey. There’s no easy consensus on this subject, which is why it’s time to start talking.