Borders: A Reading List

When I think of borders, several things come to mind: covert darkness, hundreds or thousands of dollars handed to a coyote, desperation. In the news, Donald Trump vows to build some sort of ridiculous fence along the Mexican-American border to keep people out, and cowardly United States governors swear innocent Syrian refugees will not enter their states.

Borders are not only political. In reading for this list, I read about all sorts of boundaries—in jazz music, in science fiction and in desert landscapes. Borders are implicit in the designation of which bookshelves belong to me and which are my partner’s. In this list, I stuck to geography: islands bursting out of the sea, a property feud gone horribly wrong, the billions of dollars backing border control in the American South, and the American South itself.

1. “This Land is My Land.” (Tony Rehagen, Atlanta Magazine, November 2012)

A obsession over property lines and tragic miscommunication leads to bloodshed in Georgia.

2. “Tasers, Drones, and Cold Chicken: Inside the Multibillion-Dollar Business of Keeping Me Out of America.” (Jose M. Orduna, BuzzFeed News, December 2014)

Jose M. Orduna came into the United States with his mom in the late 1980s. In this chilling essay, Orduna attends a convention known as the Border Security Expo: “where arms dealers and their government buyers come together in a feeding frenzy of defense contracts.” Part undercover expose, part something else altogether, this piece took a surrealist turn I didn’t expect but wholly appreciated.

3. “Dixie is Dead.” (Tracy Thompson, The Bitter Southerner, March 2015)

What (and where) is Dixieland? Tracy Thompson posits that the realest borders in the American South are the political affiliations of its increasingly diverse population.

4. “No Island is an Island.” (Libby Robin, Aeon, December 2014)

People are no longer from where they came from. They become citizens of where they wash up, or the world. Island-mindedness – the separation of places from other places – is no longer an option.

In this global world, it is flows and circulation, rather than land parcels, that are important. Just as Google maps and GPS have become widespread, territoriality is changing. Flows are about land-and-sea-and-sky-and-people – a collective consciousness that is hard to represent on a 2D map or a phone app.