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Mothering on the Borders

Yfat Susskind | Longreads | April 25, 2019 | 4,193 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

Mothering on the Borders

Yifat Susskind stands at three of the world’s most militarized borders and reflects on what is revealed about these zones of separation and violence when we see them from the perspective of mothers.
Illustration by Ellice Weaver

Yifat Susskind | Longreads | April 2019 | 17 minutes (4,193 words)

When my sons were younger, I remember explaining to them the difference between real and imaginary. Their dreams and nightmares weren’t real; you couldn’t see or touch them. The stories in their books weren’t real; I soothed their worries about monsters coming to life by assuring my boys it was all just imaginary.

Those conversations have surfaced in my mind as I’ve been thinking about borders; these made-up lines etched across the Earth by the powerful to hold their power in place — lines that are imaginary at first and then all too real.

Just look to the killing field that Israel has sown around Gaza, imprisoning people on a spit of land so ruined that it will soon be uninhabitable. It’s over one year since people there rose up to stage on-going protests against the occupation that has ruined lives and destroyed communities.

There’s also the US-Mexico border in Arizona, cutting across the land of the Indigenous Tohono O’odham People, now thick with the apparatus of state violence: cameras, fences, drones, guns, jails. Or the line that was drawn to divide Korea, now the world’s most militarized border, stuck with the Orwellian designation DMZ, for “demilitarized zone.”

As the director of MADRE, an international women’s rights organization, I’ve spent time recently at each of these borders, with feminist peace activists and Indigenous women leaders. In each place, I listened as women described what it’s like to be trapped by borders, as mothers told of their responsibility for the survival and peace of mind of their children in these zones of hostility and violence, loss and separation.

To see the world through the eyes of those who are responsible for its most vulnerable people: that’s what it means to work from the perspective of mothers. When we do this, we understand anew the issues that drive migration and border brutality — and the solutions needed to address them.


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