Posted: 8/31/23

TAMIU Prof 's Newest Book Focuses on the Stories of Laredoans


Dr. Mehnaaz Momen
Dr. Mehnaaz Momen  


Dr. Mehnaaz Momen, professor of Public Administration at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), presented her latest publication, Listening to Laredo: A Border City in a Globalized Age on Tuesday, Sept. 12  at the Laredo Center for the Arts.  The book's focus is on the voices and people of Laredo.

In her book, Dr. Momen traces Laredo’s history while examining the city's ever-changing economic and cultural infrastructure. Through a critical examination, she focuses on the existing interdependence on a sister city across a national boundary and the resilience of a border community that thrives amidst the ever-present challenges of a national narrative centered along the U.S. – México border.

Momen, who initially moved to Laredo in 2002 after receiving a job offer from TAMIU, was enthralled by the city's historic feel and rich heritage but could not fully make sense of its urban growth.

“All the theories I learned in my Urban Studies program felt inadequate for the then-second-fastest growing city with its core of Spanish plazas, which remained underutilized, and the growing warehouses that surrounded the city. There were no delineable suburbs, and yet there was a striking north/south divide,” said Momen.

For Momen, living in a border city offers a myriad of challenges, particularly for those who hold preconceived notions of existing cultural stereotypes.

“I want my readers to see Laredo from the eyes of the people who live there by choice. We always hear about the dangers of the border, but the border is fragile, the border is beautiful, and the border is evolving. The border is full of possibilities, especially because it is always a little wild. For the people who live on the border, it was historically an abstract notion that had legal and political restrictions --  but did not obstruct cultural and economic exchanges,” Momen explained.   

She continued, “It is the global trade and the politics surrounding the border wall that has turned the border into a concrete obstruction that has significantly curtailed economic and social flows between the two sides of the river. This hasn’t made the border safer; rather, it is stripping away the unique features of border areas,” said Momen.    

The narrative of Momen’s publication focuses on collected oral histories from Laredoans, focusing on the implications of daily life along the U.S. – México border. 

“When Laredo emerged as the largest inland port of the nation, global trade eclipsed all other frames of viewing the border. In the literary and cultural spheres, as well as in academia, the border has seldom been defined by the people who live in that space,” she reiterated.

Understanding the perspective of the stories of people who live here was a key tenant and feature of her publication, which celebrates the narratives of individuals who call Laredo home.

“It was fascinating how the different aspects of [Laredoans] stories were connected organically, which allowed me to weave a comprehensive story of Laredo. (I believe) this is one of the main contributions of my work, namely, to bring out the voices from the border to define the problems and possibilities of border cities,”  Momen observed.

For Momen, reclaiming the unique characteristics of border life is a paramount theme interwoven through the narratives of those who’ve spent their life fully immersed in the bicultural experience of border life.

“The identity of the city needs to be reclaimed from near-sighted personifications of strictly commercial or political.  Laredo deserves to be viewed in its totality and how it really is—a historic city, a border city, a global city. The question is which of the narratives is most treasured by its people and how they can be in the forefront of claiming that identity for their city and for themselves?” Momen emphasized. 

In addition to the Laredo event, several others are planned for Listening to Laredo: A Border City in a Globalized Age throughout Texas, including stops at Bookwoman in Austin, TX on Sept. 17 at 4 p.m., The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio, TX on Sept. 23 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., the 6th Annual International Conference on Border Studies at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, TX, and at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, TX on Nov. 11 – 12.

A previously recorded author talk was recently digitally broadcasted and is available at https://www.facebook.com/NuestraPalabra/videos/867805488034597.

Momen holds a Master of Science from the University of Dhaka and a Master of Public Administration from Dalhousie University. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy from Cleveland State University. Her research interests include citizenship, immigration policy, urban theory, public space, political satire, and marginality.

She is the author of The Paradox of Citizenship in American Politics: Ideals and Reality and Political Satire, Postmodern Reality, and The Trump Presidency: Who Are We Laughing At?

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