The Border

A BorderI lived my first six years in Texas, much of that time in working class, ethnically mixed neighborhoods. Although we lived in the central part of the state, our neighborhoods were more like those of the border. Spanish, English, and what would become “Spanglish” were the languages of the street, the clothing of the people, and the tastes of the kitchens.

Borders are by nature porous, meandering, and often, contested. They do not lend themselves to fences and fortifications; rather, they resist permanence, undermining certitude and hegemony. Often, as in the American Southwest, they are places of vision and violence. Such borders are dangerous and creative, deadly and beautiful. On the border languages, genes, and cultures mix. The arts of the border are hybrid, visionary, and sometimes tumultuous.

Some borders are invisible, arbitrary points mapped on paper without reference to the lay of the land. Others reflect topography, utilizing rivers and lakes, mountains and sea. The borders of the southwest are all of these. Historically, they have been in constant flux, largely open, and unimaginably rich in human and species interaction. Their histories are mythic, The Dreaming shimmering in the heat.

There are other borders in the Americas, delineating political divisions and ecotones. Some predate the arrival of Europeans. Others defined zones of contact and conflict between Native people and Europeans, Spanish speakers and English speakers; these boundaries have been drawn, erased, and redrawn countless times. Even now the  boundaries between Native America and the dominant culture remain murky and contested. For those of mixed Native and European heritage, and there are many, even embodied identities may be disputed, their voices ignored or silenced.

Periodically people attempt to close borders, frantically sticking metaphorical fingers into the innumerable holes that unsettle imagined solidity. They do so without understanding that the flow of creatures and people across the border is the breath of the region. To seal the pores of the body is to assure the death of the patient, as does the presence of too many holes which destroys structural integrity. The borderlands are a body, alive and endangered.

The same may be said of identity, the sense of self negotiated across the boundaries of skin and culture. In part we understand ourselves in relationship to others, in part in opposition to them. We are this and not that, or, alternatively, we are both this and that. The latter, larger view is visionary, dramatically expanding our understanding of identity while challenging our capacity to hold the entirety of the vision within self. Vision invites us to live our lives on the border, in the fecundity and apparent chaos of life there, and to breath into the complexity of being. Perhaps we only discover our true natures when we are at the border and then, only if we remember to breathe.

Those who open to visionary experience, healing, and knowledge also cross many borders. They journey to other worlds, physical, emotional, and mythic, and join communities of fellow travelers, some becoming stewards of the border. To care for the border is an act of courage and vision, a task fraught with challenge. We are called to be stewards of these wild, complex places. As you look over the vastness of the border, what do you see? What are you called to be or do?

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3 thoughts on “The Border

  1. Michael: I didn’t know of this part of your story. Living on the border gives one an appreciation of what I call “liminal spaces”– living where one acquires an appreciation and capacity to see both sides at the same time. It allows a perspective of “both/and” and an appreciation of what one sees beyond the immediate surface of things.

  2. I was never a fan of borders or fences except for safety (the dogs would agree) but to put up walls to keep people out is almost just as bad as the invisible walls people put up to keep emotion at bay, sooner or later the walls decay, come down and fall into disrepair, when we truly see what anothers existence is through the cracks do we see that we are all one, we all have feelings and we all just long to live free in the light☺️ Excellent post.

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