Don't Close the Borderlands

“We have a tradition of migration, a tradition of long walks” —Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera

Borderlands/La Frontera

Zoe: It started before ballots were cast on a somber day in November, before the stroke of a pen on a piece of paper which banned travel to seven different countries. It began with the arrival of immigrants, political refugees who fled a country they no longer believed in, coming to North America and taking land that was not theirs to take. It began with the first white man who decreed this country into existence, as if there were not hundreds of Indigenous nations already existing. In 1776, an America was born in which being American meant having white skin and being male. But, more so than anything, what has been thought of as true since our conception as a country is that by being an American you are free in speech, in religion, in assembly, and most importantly, in movement, whether that is across the country or across the world. The definition of who is American has expanded through fights led by members of one or more disenfranchised groups. They sought, and continue to seek, to be recognized as equal, even as laws have encouraged racial profiling and disenfranchisement of marginalized communities, laws which have only pushed people of color to the fringes of society.

Ruben: Having been born with full legal citizenship, yet denied cultural citizenship, has forced me into a borderland “where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.” The distinction, American but hyphenated, suspended me between the United States and El Salvador. My ability to cross borders, wielding the blue and gold of my American passport, molded me to my core. I’m the awkward brown boy from a Southern Californian suburb, but I’m also the brown boy with the terrible Spanish accent who tried desperately to fit in on his grandparents’ farm in San Vicente. On my flights home, packed alongside souvenirs, semita, and fresh cheese, I brought a new worldview that understood that the United States’ standard of living is a luxury, and that we aren’t the only country that exists or matters. Up until last week, my worldview, rooted in a transnational understanding of the world, was respected for its biculturalism. But today, I worry about what it means to be an American whose heart partially lives out of this country’s borders.

Z: Borderlands were slowly being demolished with every ballot cast from the hands of those who fought to be recognized as American, as equal. Walls were torn down with the election of every person who wasn’t a straight, white man by every person who was of one or more marginalized communities. Bridges were built as we worked towards the multicultural democracy that didn’t attempt to erase our individual identities in a dangerous melting-pot analogy. Today, we live in a nation that has gone almost 100 years backwards, actively pushing women, immigrants, and people of color into the shadows, stripping them of their American identity without consent, ripping away their liberty from behind a desk that was created to protect the American people. When did I stop being considered American? When did I stop being free? I thought we were taking steps in the right direction toward a better future on the horizon, a future where no American would feel like they existed in a borderland in which their equality and their liberty weren’t completely guaranteed.

R: Growing up, I was told that accepting others, regardless of differences, was expected of me. America was built by, and is now for, the former slave, the immigrant, the Native. When I came to Harvard and felt too poor or too brown, I remembered my Salvadoran cousins’ calloused palms against my soft skin. I remembered when, as we fed his family’s cows in El Salvador, my cousin told me that Harvard was the only university he’d ever heard of. I stopped worrying about wealth and whiteness because I had the perspective of a world outside these borders. There is strength in living in a borderland, and, while it is painful—what Anzaldúa calls una herida abierta—it can also be a source of strength. The problem is that the current administration is attempting to curb the way we’re allowed to explore our borderlands and our multiculturalism. By trying to move the United States into a state of isolation, we begin to lose the benefits of being a nation sustained by immigrants.

R+Z: The issue with what has already proven to be a clumsy and inhumane immigration policy is that it erases the sense of progress that marginalized people in this country had been lulled into believing. Starting with a Muslim ban, and changes to DACA that seem imminent, we’ve seen a resistance to migration based in blanketed, overgeneralized fear that has never proven productive. This is just one instance of this administration threatening to reject our place in this country. The subtlety of this truth, of the lie that we don’t belong, is gone. People will say to our faces that our immigrant narratives, our lives on the borderlands, and our melanin are now worth questioning. But, as a friend put it as we conceptualized this article, “this is central to who we are as people.”

As Latinx Americans, we must resist as a way of ensuring our humanity. That has been clear to us for years. The bigger issue lies with anyone who has not lived in a borderland. If you’re able to exist in this country without wondering if it’s yours, stand up. There is no room for apathy when lives are at stake and when families are being torn apart. If you’ve been a person who has been able to afford the luxury of apathy, speak up now. Support those who can’t. It’s on you to understand the power of our borderlands, and to help others realize that our histories of immigration are what make America great.

Ruben E. Reyes, Jr. 19, a Crimson editorial chair, is a History & Literature concentrator living in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz 19, a Crimson editorial executive, is a Social Studies concentrator living in Mather House. Their column appears on alternate Mondays.

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