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