Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Borders, Barriers, and Humanity

In Borderlands/ La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua sensitively presents the theme of “border” as a human creation which serves as a means of subjugation and division. Sometimes, the victims of this institution are the most innocent and vulnerable of both related societies. The general emergence from this depiction is the ubiquity of human-made and enforced barriers. As with all barriers, the United States/Mexican border is designed to keep some people in and some people out, for better or for worse.
This idea is augmented by another type of barrier: language. Anzaldua’s text is similarly divided; some of it is written in English and some of it is written in Spanish. This brings to the forefront of the reader’s mind a question that we have been thoughtfully considering since the beginning of this course: does this strategy serve to alienate the two languages or unite them? It is a difficult, but essential, consideration.
It can be argued that Anzaldua’s work integrates Spanish and English rather seamlessly, allowing a bi-lingual reader a richer, many-layered understanding of her story. The anecdotes, poems, and even regular text often flow from English to Spanish and back again in an attempt to incorporate meanings from both cultures. A reader that is able to understand both languages takes on the part of interpreter, translator, or liaison.
But what of a reader who only understands English? The story can be read from this point of view as well, of course, but much of the deeper values will be lost or overlooked. There is a disconnect between this reader and the author. Reading the text could almost border (no pun intended) upon a frustrating endeavor, forcing the reader’s ignorance of another language, and consequently their culture, to quickly become apparent. I will be the first to admit that I often needed to pick up my Spanish-English dictionary when a particular line in her text just wouldn’t register.
And, it would only be fair to also look at the text through the eyes of a reader who only understands Spanish (although, I would imagine that the book was also printed in Anzaldua’s mother tongue). This version, anyway, would most nearly become a collection of poems and quotes with an occasional word or two jumbled in the English text. The level of understanding significantly lower, the Spanish-only literate reader would share the same fate as the young boy on page 4 who, though legally able to cross the border, was unable to communicate to patrol guards that he had the paperwork necessary to prove his situation. Miscommunication and lost meaning.
As I had previously considered a minor in Spanish, I had heard of these issues many times before. It is unbelievable what people will do to cross that border: hide among chicken trucks, crawl through rat-infested underground tunnels, even have themselves sewn into the seats of the car to elude border patrols. I have read about the daily jobs of a border patrol security guard (on the American side). In these readings, I often found myself wondering whose side I was really on. I know well enough at this point that in this life there is often not a clearly-defined “good guy” and “bad guy” when it comes to these kinds of circumstances. Who is right? A man trying to, albeit illegally, secure freedom and a better life for his family? A man trying to keep him from attaining that freedom? The line, unlike the border, is not clearly defined. I am often left wondering whose side is more deeply steeped in justice. Justice also has dual meaning in this scenario: legal justice and social justice.
While of course, the reasons are obvious for the necessity of border control: to keep out terrorists, drug dealers, and to maintain social and political structures essential to the foundations of a country. Is it not important that we protect these social and political structures? Are not these social and political structures themselves much of the reason why our country is so appealing to illegal immigrants looking for an escape from tyranny and oppression? This dialogue is tricky.
As I mentioned earlier, I have heard about all different kinds of ways that illegal immigrants have tried to cross the United States-Mexican border. One of the tactics that sticks most vividly in my mind is that of a family that, having crossed the border, proceeded to walk backwards so that their footprints in the dusty earth would seem to be going toward Mexico, not into the United States. Of course, while I am in no way condoning this kind of illegal crossing, it does seem to be a clever and amusing strategy toward a bigger end. It also serves, however, as an efficient means to conclude my piece. In the greater search for human justice, are making footprints that actually lead us forward, or are we disillusioned or mis-guided in our efforts, only fooling ourselves?

No comments: