All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands

All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands

All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands

All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands

Synopsis

After a decade of chasing stories around the globe, intrepid travel writer Stephanie Elizondo Griest followed the magnetic pull home--only to discover that her native South Texas had been radically transformed in her absence. Ravaged by drug wars and barricaded by an eighteen-foot steel wall, her ancestral land had become the nation's foremost crossing ground for undocumented workers, many of whom perished along the way. The frequency of these tragedies seemed like a terrible coincidence, before Elizondo Griest moved to the New York / Canada borderlands. Once she began to meet Mohawks from the Akwesasne Nation, however, she recognized striking parallels to life on the southern border. Having lost their land through devious treaties, their mother tongues at English-only schools, and their traditional occupations through capitalist ventures, Tejanos and Mohawks alike struggle under the legacy of colonialism. Toxic industries surround their neighborhoods while the U.S. Border Patrol militarizes them. Combating these forces are legions of artists and activists devoted to preserving their indigenous cultures. Complex belief systems, meanwhile, conjure miracles. In All the Agents and Saints, Elizondo Griest weaves seven years of stories into a meditation on the existential impact of international borderlines by illuminating the spaces in between and the people who live there.

Excerpt

We all know the rules. cross an international borderline without the proper papers and—unless luck or privilege protects you—get arrested, imprisoned, and expelled. But what happens when an international borderline crosses over you, slicing your ancestral land in two? Division-by-force has been the confusing fate of peoples the world over. This book explores its living legacy among two: the Akwesasne Mohawks, whose territory was split between Canada and the United States by a series of treaties signed between 1783 and 1850, and the Tejanos of South Texas, who were severed from their native Mexico by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848.

Were I not myself a Tejana who had recently spent a year near Akwesasne, I would find this pairing odd. More than 2,000 miles stand between our communities, and—with the exception of Catholicism—our cultures hold little of that ground in common. Mohawks traditionally subsisted on hunting, farming, and fishing in one of the coldest regions of the United States, whereas my forefathers tended cattle in one of the hottest. They are matriarchal; we tend toward machismo. We are fanatical about football; Mohawks don’t just revere lacrosse, they invented it.

We also experience our respective borders quite differently. Many Mohawks refuse to acknowledge the lines at all. They are a sovereign people who employ their own police force and operate their own library, museum, media, school, and court. They look not to Washington or Ottawa for governance but to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, of which they have been members for centuries. Many vote in tribal elections but not federal, state, or provincial ones because they view those systems as foreign (and even hostile) to their own. I know one Mohawk who regularly switches residency from one side of the border to the other whenever one government happens to offer better benefits, but most live near the homesteads their families have held for generations.

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