The Border Is…

On the last night of our second travel seminar, after traveling from Douglas/Agua Prieta to El Paso and then to Big BendNational Park (and lots of places in between) we had to finish the statement “The Border Is…” Below is what I made/wrote and I think I’m going to let it speak for itself about what the second travel seminar/comparative borderlands trip meant to me and taught me.

(on back of envelope) The Border is bound up in my identity – somewhere. If only for the fact that I am a citizen of the country that built it. The Border is still new to me. The Border feels like a cousin or even a long-lost sibling that I have recently been introduced to – a contradictory and confused and mean and violent and racist one. I did not grow up with the Border. The Border is not my home. But isn’t my home built on the backs of the Border, of the people who cross it, of the people who leave their homes to make it their home? The Border is so many things – it is the physical: the wall in Nogales – its metals, rust color, its coldness at night and its hotness in the day. The Border is the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. The Border is the bridge between El Paso and Juarez. But the Border is also a thing that cannot be seen, but felt. It is in rhetoric, in speeches, in interactions, inside individuals and communities. So much of the Border is about fear. I think of my own misguide, immature, reactionary fear – mostly fueled by family and friends’ disbelief that I was actually going to be going to the Border. The Border’s creation is about fear of distance and fear of closeness. The Border requires “blessed rage.” The Border is something and somewhere I feel I need to know.
At the vigil for Jose Antonio in Nogales, I thought a lot about what the Border is. That was probably because I was touching it, standing on it, looking and listening across it, and leaving a candle to melt into its base. Being there felt right and it felt wrong. I stood at the wall in the dark and could not understand the Spanish being spoken and sung on the other side, though I tried. I held a banner demanding justice and came in too late on chants for the same thing. I thought about wanting a sticker, which felt petty, felt privileged. I looked at the wall and I wanted to cry angry frustrated tears because what, how, why could any of it happen: the deaths in the dessert, U.S. policy, U.S. rhetoric, the fear, the racism, how could a 16 year old boy be shot and killed? The border outrages, upsets, confuses and disgusts me. It is a place that manufactures, and is manufactured. The Border is a site of beauty and resilience, for others. But is it for me?
(written on the strip across the center of the envelope): The Border is people and history. Senseless, yet filled with meaning. Violence, ugly, beautiful, everywhere and yet place specific. Land, laws, questions, change, an edge, an opening, the end, beginning, monumental and yet every-day.
(on the back of the Big Bend National Park postcard): The Border is this picture, too. The river, just water, dividing two bodies of land. A rock throw’s distance. A wade or swim or boat ride across. This picture, along with the experience of crossing at Boquillas makes me think of both what the border is and what it could be. But even this border is tricky, violent, watchful. The virtual passport checking machines when we crossed back in. The Border is rife with these false sense of comfort – comfort, safety, for some, for those that are U.S. citizens, or look like what U.S. citizens are expected to look like (white). The Border wall makes these people think they are “safe” (that’s the idea, right?). And at the Boquillas river crossing, I felt this false sense of freedom – feeling my body traverse the boundary only through the feel of the water’s current tugging at the resilience of my things and the rocks’ sharpness poking at my toes. But then I got to the machine, pulled out my little blue book of U.S. citizen privilege – my ticket into a cordial conversation with a Border Patrol officer in El Paso via telephone. The machine – with its false glass (a Border Patrol officer could see me, and I only saw a screen that read “Processing”). And I’m still processing how the Boquillas Crossing felt different. But, there, I felt like I saw something new about what the border is. The border is about two countries, places, lands, and always about people. The singing as we crossed and conversations with the Boquillas residents – how they were able to cross us into their country and back through a boat ride across the river. I know it’s not this simple, not this romanticized, but the border could be, should be, just about water.
– Jennifer Ruymann
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