Academic journal article Social Justice

The Unbearable Ambiguity of the Border

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Unbearable Ambiguity of the Border

Article excerpt

Introduction

AT THE 2001 CONFERENCE OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR CHICANA AND Chicano Studies (NACCS), Isabel Garcia, a lawyer for Coalicion de Derechos Humanos in the city of Tucson, Arizona, gave a compelling account of INS abuses along the U.S.-Mexican border. The clarity of her analysis and the strength of her commitment reminded me of Maria Jimenez, whom I had met in 1988 at another NACCS conference. At the time, Jimenez was in the process of launching the Immigration and Law Enforcement Monitoring Project of the American Friends Service Committee. Ever since, this project has documented abuses by INS officials. As I reflected on the parallels between the two women, I realized that despite their remarkable insights and longstanding efforts, as indispensable as invaluable, the abuses continue practically unabated. Moreover, in spite of additional research and documentation conducted by other scholars and activists, the problem escalates, dwarfing our efforts to solve it. In this article, I broaden the scope of analy ses of the abuses to account for the contextual dimension that fosters and sustains them. My hope is that an integral understanding of the abuses within their context can alert us to better strategies to combat them. Below I will provide ethnographic reflections to illustrate that the abuses do not happen only in reference to INS practices. The abuses are influenced by geopolitical and economic developments such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the maquiladora industry, demographic growth of the Latino population, and xenophobia. More specific to the topic here, the abuses also concern the complex roles that local residents play in these abuses and, ultimately, the dislocated condition of the region itself. I explore this condition in terms of the ambiguous character of border living, which entails the contradictory impacts of multiple and dynamic delineations -- apparently as dumbfounding as readily transcended or reinforced.

Crime and Punishment: Cooperation in El Paso

Justino Samudio is a zestful man. In his early forties, he is probably the most active and enthusiastic reference librarian in the local branch of Texas State University. He knows the sources you ought to consult for your research, and he eagerly contributes some opinions of his own to your analysis. For his excellent help, you must pay with "your ear," as Milan Kundera would put it. Before you know it, you have learned that he is from Colorado, half Spanish and half Apache, has many sisters, likes expensive bikes, pens, and shirts, is a local patron for unknown local painters, loves Ciudad Juarez's nightlife, and knows the best places to buy antiques. If your consultation is conducted in Spanish, he will explain his heavy "Spaniard" intonations and expressions, alluding to three weeks he spent in Barcelona some years ago. If you will allow it and he is not too busy, he will proudly give you a tour of the new library building. Along the way, you will hear a detailed description of the collections donated to t he library, which are found in its main conference room, the room where Texas Governor Ann Richards and Chihuahua Governor Fernando Baeza held an official meeting in 1991 to discuss the impending passage of NAFTA.

Samudio's description of the collection has a great finale. After casually enumerating famous donors and the large financial value of the donations, he will just as casually walk you out onto the room's terrace for a scenic view of Ciudad Juarez's shantytowns. From your vantage point on the fifth floor of the library, you will clearly see -- no more than 800 feet away, beyond a highway, train rails, and the cement banks of the river -- an irregular topographic and residential landscape. The panoramic view is so magnificent and the landscape so dramatic that you will be stunned at the sight of the dusty brown hills that are dotted with houses dispersed irregularly among paved and unpaved roads. …

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