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border talk

featured guest
 Luis J. Rodriguez

Border Talk Discussion - Join one now
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Photo Credit:
Donna DeCesare

6 Questions Your Questions >

P.O.V. kicked off the discussion by asking Luis 6 initial questions, the same 6 we are asking all the featured guests.

P.O.V.: In your work, you consider the notion of 'borders.' What is a border to you?

Luis: A border to me is a self-indulgent, arrogant, colonial construct that separates people along the most inessential and least vital of interests. Although most schools have "political" maps with lines and colors designating borders and various nations — that some believe is a "God-given" thing — the earth has no such boundaries. In my life, I've seen the images from space of a blue-white-green world — there are no political lines drawn on this planet. Borders, therefore, have nothing to do with biology, geography (even if some borders follow along rivers and mountain ranges) or spirituality. They are political and historically bound creations, seemingly forever, yet transient and ever changing. Robert Frost once wrote that fences make good neighbors. But for countries, these same "fences" tend to disconnect and often enemize (a new word) each other.

P.O.V.: What's an important border that you've crossed in your life?

Luis: I've crossed many borders, but the most significant one was between the United States and Mexico. I was born on the border region that encompasses the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez area between the states of Texas and Chihuahua. I am a product of a border reality, a different reality than exists in other parts of this country. For one thing, the poorest counties are along the border (rivaled only by Indian reservations and the deepest sections of the South). I was two years old when we moved to South Central Los Angeles. There other borders blocked us from the "white" side of town (railroad tracks), gang territories, police imposed lines, and such. When my family moved across the L.A. River to the Eastside of Los Angeles, another border had to be crossed so we could be recognized as a people vital to the city. These borders became entrenched in our psyche — teaching us the limitations that many of us faced because of the "side" of town, country, or culture we happened to be from. Limitations that often translated to unfulfilled lives, fragmented lives, lives governed by limitations.

P.O.V.: If you could erase any border in your world, what would it be?

Luis: To erase any one border would have to mean the erasure of all borders. Today, because of the U.S.-Mexico border, the indigenous peoples of the South have little connection with the indigenous people of the North. There are around 2.5 million Native Americans in the U.S. (mostly mixed-blood); the numbers are far less in Canada. On the other hand, Mexico has more indigenous peoples than any other country in the Americas — some 10 to 20 million full-blooded, indigenous people who speak some 240 languages in 60 languages groups. Mexico has another 70 million so-called mestizo (or mixed) people — in actuality, these include full-blooded Indians who no longer live in their traditional ways to mixed-blood people, mostly indigenous, who have been highly hispanicized. While there are an estimated 10 million "whites" in Mexico (out of a country with almost 100 million people), the mixed-bloods include indigenous with Spanish and other Europeans as well as large numbers of Africans and Malaysians who were brought to Mexico during the colonial period. This has made Mexican mestizaje much more complicated than is widely recognized. Yet, Mexicans — many of whom have more Indian blood than "Native Americans" — are not considered indigenous in the United States, although they have roots as deep as anyone in the Americas. Because of the border, these people from Mexico who come to the U.S. are considered "foreigners," "illegals" and "immigrants." People of European descent — who crossed a vast ocean, not just a river that in some places is only a trickle of water (they are the true "wetbacks," if you will) and who only have a few generations on this land — are considered the "true" natives. This is how goofy borders have become, helping turn the truth on its head. In fact, there are Native peoples in the U.S. (although most of them have been embracing and open) who won't accept indigenous dances from Mexico or Central America in their Pow Wows or other ceremonies. The border has even affected how some native peoples see their native relatives from the other side.

P.O.V.: When and how are borders useful?

Luis: I believe we have long outlived and outused borders in this world. Perhaps at one time they were necessary — but today they are the source of most conflicts and war in the world for at least the past 3,000 years (included in this are the world's religions, another major source of conflict and war in the world). Who needs them? We have advanced to a level where we can share the earth's resources with everyone (proper and respectful relationship so that these resources are not depleted). No more hunger. No more exiled and homeless. No more class society where the rich feed off the poor (there is no other way they can stay rich). We can live in a world where everyone is valued and everyone's unique gifts, attributes, propensities, and talents are essential to a full and vibrant community. If we can dream it, we can realize it. Of course, society would have to be reorganized along completely different lines — not for profit, power and establishing borders. And why not? We've suffered enough by the work of our own hand — it's time to finish this business of borders.

P.O.V.: This episode of P.O.V.'s Borders concentrates on borders as a physical reality, in terms of people moving from one place to another and having to cross mental and literal borders to do that. What, in your experience, is the most contested border?

Luis: To me the most contested border in the world — by its size but also because of the high level of militarization there — is the U.S.-Mexico border. Probably the most volatile borders are in the Mideast, particularly between Israel and the Palestinian people. But still hundreds a year die trying to cross from Mexico to the United States. While most of these deaths are due to the elements of desert heat, rushing waters, and hunger, many have died at the hands of border patrols, vigilantes, gangs, and other violence. This region has really become the gateway from the United States — the most powerful nation in the world — to the rest of the world of mostly undeveloped and emerging countries (and vice-versa). Because of this status, we will continue to get more people amassing at the gates. The disproportionate accumulation of power and resources at one end is a great source of disaffection and dissent on the other end.

P.O.V.: Expand our borders. What's a book, movie, piece of music, website, etc. that challenges or engages with the idea of 'borders' that we should know about but perhaps don't?

Luis: There are many great books by Chicanos concerning their border experiences. Any books by Luis Alberto Urea, Juan Felipe Herrera, Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Victor Villaseñor, Gloria Anzaldua, Benjamin Saenz, and Denise Chavez should be on anyone's list of great border writing. The books and columns of Roberto Rodriguez and Patrisia Gonzales should also be sought (they are syndicated columnists for some 100 newspapers in the U.S. and Mexico). Of movies, "Mi Familia" and "El Norte" stand out — although there are others. The border musicians in English include Los Lobos, Tish Hinojosa, Patsy Torres, Selena, Texas Tornados, Flaco Jiminez (and all the Spanish-language Tex-Mex musicians from Texas and northern Mexico in the conjunto or norteño tradition). They include bands such as the 1970s Santana (who has crossed many borders), Malo, El Chicano, Azteca and more modern ones such as Quetzal, Tarantula and Ozomotli. Check out websites that have the words "mexica," "aztlan," "tex-mex," "border," "Chicano," "norteño," or "frontera" to find out more about these resources. I have a great bookstore, café, art gallery, and performance space that deals with Chicano/Border culture called Tia Chucha's Café Cultural. We can be reached at www.tiachucha.com. And check out my poetry with the band Seven Rabbit, that incorporates the music of Boxing Gandhis singer and Rock A Mole/Cha Cha Rose producer Ernie Perez.

Read more! Check out Luis's dialogue with Borders visitors...

about Luis J. Rodriguez


Luis J. Rodriguez is an award-winning writer with eight books published in poetry, children's literature, memoir, fiction, and nonfiction. He is best known for the international best seller Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.



Read some of Luis J. Rodriguez's poetry:

My Name's Not Rodriguez

Tia Chucha

Questions For Which You Are Always The Answer

Find out more about Luis at his website: