Fragments from the presentation given at Shedhalle's Conference: Border Economies
|Crossing, that's the first thought that comes to my mind when I think about the border. The border needs of the potential of a crossing body in order to establish itself. Otherwise, why would a Nation/State construct a border?
But borders aren't homogeneous; rather they are quite specific and in relationship to particular but layered power relationships. The US/Mexico border is not an exception but the product of a century and a half history. In 1848, the Mexican governments and US signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico lost California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; in other words, half of its territory.
Talking in retrospective about the US/Mexico border is problematic unless we understand the border as an experience constantly articulated in the present tense, in the moment of crossing, in the meanwhile and in the in between of things, of places. Tonight, to think about the border in retrospective, in the past tense, as it used to be in my daily crossings, poses the danger of presupposing a frozen zone stocked between the Nation-State and (my) memory. On the other hand, to talk about the US/Mexico border, as a geopolitical place requires thinking about the border as a conceptual and experiential space, a performative site re-produced via repetition, and enunciation. The practices of the everyday produce and redefine space, in this sense to cross the border, as a site specific space, becomes a uniquely personal but politicized experience according to how, when, why and in which direction ones crosses: from north to south, with papers, with dollars, in English, Spanish or Spanglish; documented, undocumented, by feet, by car, in the run, in a jump, by the river in a contortionist position over a floating inner tube. At day or night? To stay, to go, or to return? From where to become what? With dollars or pesos? How we cross the border establishes our historical relationship to it.
Obviously, the border is about performing different and contradictory power relations because the border is about access, transgression, passing, being and not. Also, the border is about representation, translation, recognition and gaps. The border is about language, reiteration and repetition. The border is about discourse.
But for those who cross and live the US/Mexico border, crossing becomes a cultural experience, a particular worldview: the self always in relationship to difference, what we are not, where we are not, what is or isn't there on the other side of our imagination. Once one experiences a border crossing, one never finishes crossing. In fact, the border becomes re-constituted via our crossings and our power of decision making in the precise moment of crossing. "Will I be able to talk without an accent? Will I be sent to secondary inspection? I forgot my papers, could I fake it? Can I pass as...? The border becomes the reiteration of our crossings; without our body/power there is no crossing, and without crossing there is no border. The border is the result of our collective but multiple crossings. It is a performative site constructed not only through nationalism, xenophobia and control impulses and discourses, but also by our everyday embodiment and confrontation of them. Where are you coming from?
Within this context, to talk in retrospective about Border Art, is to talk from the first person and my own site of mourning. A reflection of what "it used to be" as a personal experience; nevertheless incomplete and fragmented. Not the history, just a story. My thinking about Border Art takes place through various crossings, and locations: The public and the political, the wrestling ring and the street, the body and the mask, art and activism. On the other hand, these locations are not exclusive to their concepts but to their metaphors and significations. The public as the political, the wrestling ring as the street, the body as the mask, art as activism; and vice versa: All those art-ivisms. The dichotomies in which I place these locations do not exist as such, as fixed, they are always temporal since they conjugate themselves and create new meanings and forms of political and cultural intervention. So one of the questions I am posing in this presentation is about the forms in which the US/Mexico border is discursively constituted. How do local artists use multiple discursive constructs as sites of contestation, elaboration and resistance?
NORTH/SOUTH AND UPSIDE DOWN FIRST IMPRESSION:
On the "other's" side, during the 70's and early 80's -and in a similar ideological frequency with the US- we had Mexico City's film representations of the border as a site of excess, prostitution and drug trafficking. Within these insidious texts, El Santo's film - La Frontera del Horror - is one of the most critical representations. Here, El Santo, -the most popular Mexican wrestler - had to save undocumented workers crossing the border from being captured by an US doctor who catch them and sell them as body parts to US laboratories. In this version of the Border, the migrant worker, undocumented per-excellence, functions as a "refaccion," a replacement part a marketable and exchangeable item. The undocumented is not even a body, rather; once he crosses the border he becomes a body part, a section, a fragment. This film allegorizes US/Mexico's economic bodies and migrant markets while understanding very well the use of the migrant body as a tool of, and for, consumption. Ironically, migrant workers become the necessary healing for a fragile economic body in need to constantly replace its body parts for its 'wholly' and instrumental functioning.
Furthermore, Hollywood representations produced the border as a site of contamination, and 'illegal' penetration. Specially compared to US 'legal' penetrations into Panama and Honduras, or US strategic and surgical strikes to Iraq. Just to mention a few. Paradoxically, US mass culture and governmental border narratives produce the migrant's penetration as reproductive in body numbers but not in profit. Migrant workers function as the perpetrators of US welfare debits and the abusers of State benefits. If the migrant worker is always represented as a feminized male, passive and re-productive; the female migrant is not even part of the narrative other than as surrogate of the State. "They just cross to give birth to their multiplying children". Female labor force such as domestic workers, baby sitters, and other blue collar labors, fall out of US narratives that produce a pseudo-feminism on the side of middle-class, white women. In fact, it is proven that due to the invisible female and male undocumented force, white middle class women can work outside their home and earn more money in comparison to what they pay for childcare. Not to mention the fact that the lettuce is $.49 cents rather than $2. The feminization of the migrant worker and the disappearance of the female migrant become elements of a hyper masculinist - macho - US narrative that constitutes the US as the provider of the under-developed. During the 70's, most Mexico City's border representations were about the various elements of crime: blood, violence and sex performed by the smuggler - coyote and via the trafficking of the crossing body, the pollo, the immigrant. If the Mexican narrative produces a border caught between victims and victimizers, the US produces the border as a no man's land, where illegal aliens crawl under the fence in front of their very eyes.
SECOND ENTRANCE: THE BORDER AS A WAR ZONE:
Very different to the notion of an impenetrable border like the ex-Berlin Wall or contemporary redefined national boundaries such as the pre-Soviets -in, which borders are constituted as places between life and death- the US/Mexican border has always been constituted as a site, based in its necessary crossings. It is not a coincidence that to cross from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso one has to cross a bridge over the Rio Grande. In contrast, to cross from Tijuana to San Diego, California, the immigrant has to jump a fence constantly restored, fighting against the ocean's will. The border is artificial; it is a construction. In fact, the 2500 miles fence dividing the land is a US recycling effort to materialized the border as a war zone. From the US sponsored Contra War we got the soldiers as reinforcement to the region, from the Golf War we got the military and their trucks, particularly useful in arid regions. And once those wars were over, George Bush announced a new war against drugs and the need to increment the infrared surveillance and numbers of body/ machines particularly at the border with highest number of crossings, Tijuana and San Diego.
LIGHT UP THE BORDER:
WHERE IS BORDER ART IN THIS PICTURE:
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