The Eloquence of Maps

By Elizabeth Bukey:

Dr. Machado, who organized our pilgrimage to the border, is fond of telling students how important maps are. They can help us understand why wars were fought, the value of certain locations, and, often, tell us something about the mapmaker’s worldview. Certainly the map I found on a postcard in San Antonio speaks volumes about how Texans see the world, and the borderlands in particular:

A Texan Map of the United StatesAs you can see, Texas has swallowed up most of the United States and Northern Mexico, with the other continental states relegated to insignificance. (Alaska and Hawaii don’t appear; Puerto Rico and the other territories have certainly not been considered at all.) This self-centered worldview is not really that unusual in the U.S.: New Yorkers certainly are guilty of thinking the world revolves around us.

I was more struck by the way the borderlands are completely missing. Brownsville is, after all, a fairly large city, but it’s cut off. South Texas has been erased. The countries with the highest poverty rates in the Texas are gone. The “no-man’s land” between the Mexican border and the internal Border Patrol checkpoints has been left off this map, just as it has stayed hidden from most of the people in this country. The borderlands, it seems, do not exist in the “Texan’s Map of the United States,” just as they do not exist in the “American” imagination.

When our group visited a curandera this week, I was told I had problems with my eyes. I don’t know about my physical eyesight, but I certainly have realized how blind I have been to the reality of the border. I hope that your eyes—like mine—are starting to open.

Healing a Community in Fear

by Elizabeth Bukey:

Yesterday afternoon we met two women who both work on healing in the Brownsville community: one a curandera and the other a medical doctor. An outsider, particularly an Anglo Seattleite outsider like me, might think that Maria and Marsha would be very different: a faith healer and an MD, a trance medium and a pediatrician. Instead, I was struck by the similar themes in our two visits.

Both women have a deep love for the community in which they work: the poor, Mexican-American, often undocumented population in this borderland. Both women connect spirit and health: Maria, deeply rooted in Catholic religion, is a medium for the spirit of a 19th-century healer; Marsha brings her background in theology to her work as a doctor. Both are affected by interacting with the illness affecting this community: Maria is exhausted after working and has to expel the bad energy she has received; Marsha spoke several times of the deep rage she feels over the injustice of the border, and needing an outlet for this rage “besides four-letter words.”

Most strikingly, though, was the way both women address the fear of the people here. People often come to Maria and other curanderas to heal illnesses which to me sound like symptoms of a community under enormous stress: overwhelming fright, panic, nervousness, upset stomachs, and many others. Marsha told us of the high level of fear affecting this community, affecting people who are effectively trapped here between the U.S.-Mexico border and the border patrol checkpoints 70 miles north of it. Wouldn’t you get sick if you were afraid to drive, afraid of being separated from your family, afraid of losing your job, afraid your children will have no future?

Buying Into the Alamo

What’s the big deal with the Alamo? Walking through the “shrine” and museum on Thursday was interesting enough, but I found myself puzzled at the depth of feeling this small site seemed to arouse in the dominant Texas psyche. A handful of men died in a failed attempt to hold the old mission, and…? I felt like I was missing something. So yesterday I went back.

When I entered the gift shop, it all started to make sense.

Playing in the corner was a trailer for Alamo: The Price of Freedom, an IMAX movie which reenacts the battle of the “heroic commander” against the “arrogant dictator.” In case, like me, you are not familiar with the dominant narrative of the Alamo, this trailer is a helpful overview. (Mexican Texans who supported the rebellion, only to be killed and robbed of their lands by their Anglo “countrymen” are unsurprisingly absent.) You can certainly buy pretty much anything with “Remember the Alamo” on it. You can also buy replica guns, knives, and other “hero” gear, including, of course, toy guns and knives for the kids.

My favorite thing, though, was the fundraising brochure:

Alamo fundraising brochure

“When Travis called for reinforcements, you were who he had in mind.” That was it: “buying” the Alamo is creating identity. Not only does visiting the Alamo rehearse the dominant narrative of Texas independence, it sells the opportunity to become part of the narrative. By revering the “shrine,” and by literally “buying into” the heroism of the Alamo defenders, people not only justify the past, but use the past to build an identity. Specifically, the Alamo reinforces an identity that glorifies violence, rebellion, and, of course, the victory of “freedom-loving” Anglo Texans over “tyrannical” Mexicans.

I’m from Seattle: I didn’t grow up with the narrative of the heroic Alamo defense. But Washington is, of course, another border. Now I wonder: what other one-sided narratives of history I have been sold, and what I have bought  into?

Borderland Bloggers

(from January 5 )

Over Christmas break in the mountains of North Carolina, waiting in the car for my mom to come out of the post office, a headline of a newspaper in one of those sidewalk newspaper boxes caught my eye:  “Shogun Raid: 12 Deported.”  If you know me, you know that “raid” and “deported” would have caught my eyes, but only North Carolina mountain locals will know the significance of “Shogun:” a Chinese buffet restaurant, a local favorite.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had shown up one day in December to Shogun, and 12 men and women never made it back home to their families like normal after a workday; instead they were arrested and deported.

The headline and the local news article broke the ice for a powerful conversation among family members when we reached that day’s destination: our family’s favorite Mexican restaurant.  We touched on everything from immigration, to capitalism, to neocolonialism, to justice, to community organizations, to taxation, yada yada.

As our conversation came to a close, my family member offered me an important suggestion:  “Ya know, Jenn, you’re really passionate about all this, and you’re gaining some specialized knowledge, but what about the rest of us?  Why should I care? Make it concrete for me.  How does this relate to me what and where I am in my life?”

Well, as 10 of us from Union Theological Seminary traveled yesterday to San Antonio, TX and will travel to the Texas-Mexico border in the next few days, we’ve taken this advice and request to heart.  On this “Bodies, Borders, and a Blog” site, we will share stories, experiences, analysis, reflections, and images that give the Borderlands a concrete story, shape, faces, and reality.  Out of this, the importance of the Borderlands can begin to emerge for each of us, given our individual conditions and commitments.

Union Theological Seminary Borderlands Trip 2012 Group

We understand the “Borderlands” in at least two ways: The Borderlands as a geographical region with an important history, geopolitical context, and ongoing crisis. And the Borderlands as an experience of individuals and communities with their identities threatened and in flux.

Like you, we don’t know what to expect in the 10 days ahead, as we journey in these Borderlands. We’ve read some books, even taken a related class within the confines of a Union Theological Seminary classroom, and all of us come with experiences and interests relating to the border, human rights, identity, justice, and faith communities. We travel with open eyes, ears, hearts, and minds, and we invite you to join us, this January 4-14, to see what might connect with you and emerge for you given how, what, and where you are.

Urban Centers: Immigration and the New Frontier

How can it be that such virulent and harsh attitudes and treatment of newly arriving economic and political refugees/immigrants exist in a country that was founded by immigrants, who once felt free to occupy and take possessions of lands without reservations? Even more egregious and hypocritical is that our country, individuals and corporate entities continue to invade or cross into international and local sovereign borders without requesting permission and without the legal status to do so, but simply because of our might. Lets take a critical view of the perspective of President Barack Obama towards Pakistan, one that sounds eerily similar to that of former President Bush.

 President Obama has been asked if he believed that it was okay to ignore the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan in the pursuit of terrorists. To this he replied that if the intelligence was there and the security of the state was threatened, he considers it permissible to cross Pakistani borders without going through the UN or Pakistani government. This view seems to have the same logic of our former President George W. Bush with his doctrine of pre-emptive strike. I would submit that both of these positions of illegal border crossings can only be taken from a position of power. In other words the violation of sovereign borders seems to be a violation only for the powerless or those with lesser military might. As the saying goes: “Mas puede la razon del poder que el poder de la razon”(More powerful is the reason of power than the power of reason).

Our collective history as a nation indicates that every time a perceived lack of space has been an issue since early in the colonial period, expansionism has been sought and accomplished through varied means. During the mid 19th century with the theological and ideological underpinnings of “manifest destiny” the great expansion into western lands was completed and heralded as a triumph of civilization and God’s blessing. Obviously the carnage and human suffering that were caused were ignored or may have been simply considered collateral damage.

It seems to me that for over thirty years now we have entered a new expansionistic phase in our country; one led by the well-to-do, developers, their supporting political friends and higher educational institutions. This new expansionist agenda promises development, prosperity and modernization to the “underdeveloped urban centers” throughout our country. It is not surprising that real estate advertisements for Sunset Park, Brooklyn seeks “new pioneers.” Just like their predecessors  ideologues of expansionism during the mid 19th century, these new pioneers do not feel the need to respect the property of the urban dwellers, because like the expansionist before them they see the working class urbanites just like the earlier pioneers viewed the native peoples before them as ignorant and powerless roadblocks to progress. They also expand and try to move into urban territories, because like Bush and Obama they have the power to do so. The displacement of so many working class and poor people from
their homes and urban territories after they have sustained these geographical areas when urban centers were at one time considered undesirable is simply as immoral as what was done to the indigenous peoples.

My only hope is in the power of the powerless, in their ability to cross borders with or without permission. Can they be stopped? I doubt it. Can they be harassed? Yes! Can we ever suggest a moral equivalency between crossing a border for the safety and well being of your family with that of crossing of borders for oil and economic development profits? Only if we have become as immoral as a society that we can no longer distinguish evil from good. I think we need to reframe the whole discussion on immigration reform by admitting that border crossings are happening on all sides and that some crossings have greater moral standing than others. Urban dwellers might need to build a wall to keep all the greedy developers from trespassing into our territories.