Indians in the Landscape of America
sighed Dean, “the end of Texas, the end of America, we don’t know no more.” . . . Laredo
was a sinister town that morning. All kinds of cab-drivers and border rats wandered around,
looking for opportunities. There weren’t many; it was too late. It was the bottom and dregs
of America where all the heavy villains sink, where disoriented people have to be near a
specific elsewhere they can slip into unnoticed. . . . Just beyond, you could feel the enormous
presence of whole great Mexico and almost smell the billion tortillas frying and smoking in
the night. We had no idea what Mexico would really be like. . . . We felt awful and sad. But
everything changed when we crossed the mysterious bridge over the river and our wheels
rolled on official Mexican soil, though it wasn’t anything but a carway for border inspection.
Just across the street Mexico began. We looked with wonder. To our amazement it looked
exactly like Mexico. . . . fellows in straw hats and white pants were lounging by the dozen
against battered pocky storefronts. . . .
Old men sat on chairs in the night and looked like Oriental junkies and oracles. . . .
These people were unmistakably Indians and were not at all like the Pedros and Pan-
chos of silly civilized American lore— they had high cheekbones, and slanted eyes, and soft
ways; they were not fools, they were not clowns; they were great, grave Indians and they
were the source of mankind and the fathers of it. Jack Kerouac, On the Road
What enables Jack Kerouac’s protagonist, Sal Paradise, to visualize the
southwestern landscape of Laredo, Texas, as sinister and
teeming with rats seeking out criminal opportunities but also anxious to slip
away, undetected, across the border, presumably to a forgiving Mexico? Mean-
while, the “enormous presence” of the Mexican landscape enters through the
senses as well, anticipating the arrival of Sal and his iconic sidekick Dean
Moriarty with the smell and feel of its racial difference, the billion fried torti-
llas, hovering across the bridge like atmosphere, enticing them to come and
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