Wednesday, October 3, 2007

America's Borderlands

“Borders” by Thomas King presents an interesting story that takes place almost entirely between the Canadian and American border. A Blackfoot woman and her son are not permitted to cross over into the United States because the mother, out of adamant pride, refuses to declare a nationality other than Blackfoot. Strangely enough, the same thing happens when the two attempt to reenter Canada. Because neither border patrol is able to identify their country of origin they are condemned to stay in the world between both countries which is occupied almost entirely by a duty-free shop. This story fits in perfectly with the overarching theme of identity and personal mapping that has dominated our class discussions. The mother perceives her identity as a member of the Blackfoot nation to supersede the relatively new nations of Canada and America.
Similarities can easily be drawn between this reading and Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera. Both prominent personalities possess such an unwavering pride in their cultures that they impose them on others. While Anzaldúa aggressively confronts the reader with her Mexican and Indian heritage, King's character tries to browbeat the authorities into accepting her heritage. In both cases, the initial reaction is frustration and discomfort. It is, after all, not so difficult to declare a nationality. It would not negate in any way the fact that the mother is a Blackfoot Indian. The two are not mutually exclusive. When considered in the context of the story, however, her motives become clearer. Her daughter has moved to Salt Lake City, an action that is perceived as an abandonment of family and culture. The mother sets an example for her children. The daughter is awed by her mother's actions and admits that she just might move back home after all.
Another interesting idea that occurs in both, Anzaldúa's and King's texts is that of an in-between-land that does not coincide with either bordering country. It is difficult to imagine that a border has any area to it at all. On maps they are simple lines and math has taught us that lines have no thickness. Anzaldúa's borderland bleeds into both America and Mexico, creating a displaced people who speak bastard languages and are involved in a never ending pilgrimage back and forth across the Rio Grande. King's borderland is much more concrete, though far less inhabited. The reader imagines that the Blackfoot mother and son are stuck in an area of land no more than a mile or so wide. There is no distinct culture to speak of which serves to emphasize their feelings of displacement in even more dramatic terms.

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