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The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates the first and bleeds. ––Gloria Anzaldúa 

According to Gloria Anzaldúa, borders define the safe from the unsafe and produce the “us” from the “them”. To her, a border is many things simultaneously: a line, an edge, an emotional place created by the pain of an imposed boundary, in short, a transitional state. The word state signifies a nation, but it also implies being, as in being in a state of transition. Being a mestiza was for Anzaldúa a state of being. The mestiza lives in a state of perpetual transition, having to juggle between violent cultures. So maybe we can think of the ‘migrant caravan’ now crossing Mexico north bound as a mestiza formation, of sorts, in the making.

Gloria Anzaldúa. Image from https://bit.ly/2Y64xEw

Cities within states are also defined by borders, specially the ones that separate the “formal” from the “informal”, the latter usually named slums. The word slum is a highly contested concept, since there is not a single typology that can monopolize the name. Slums are basically precarious settlements and its inhabitants are commonly thought as being poor. Therefore, following Mike Davis’ somber vision of megaslums, I want to argue, speculatively, that third world nations are being reimagined as “slum-nations”: chaos riven places whose “dangerous” peoples’ foreign presence in the first world, can bring about all kinds of upheaval. This is specially true from the right side of the political spectrum.  

Slums of Honduras. Image from: https://nyti.ms/2vCtSZz
Honduras gang members. Image from: https://nyti.ms/2vCtSZz

The migrant caravan is not only crossing borderlines but borderlands. They are fleeing from poverty and violence, however, their voyage brings all sorts of violence upon them. There is Trump’s threat to increase trades tariffs to Mexico’s products as a strategy to make the latter become the former’s border “vigilante”, and then there is Mexico’s ongoing drug-war which has taken the lives of many migrants; just to name but a few of the many dangers that awaits them. Therefore, the caravan is caught up in what I call the border matrix.

A group of Central American migrants in the back of a truck in the outskirts of Huixtla, Mexico. Image from: https://nyti.ms/2ORy8QQ

Indeed, borders are cultural networks that delimit sovereign states and produce states of being. People may migrate because they feel that their culture has become unlivable, yet, they carry that culture with them since one cannot just tear it off; it’s carved unto one’s body, actually, bodies are spawns of cultures. One does not have a culture but is given to culture, thus one is dependent on it. In addition to that, one’s culture becomes the basis of discrimination when one wants to resettle and the new place sees one as a threat. Increasingly, first world nations are fencing off from the political unrest that their economic policies have, in part, created in the third world. 

A woman from Honduras at a migrant camp in Tijuana. Image from: https://nyti.ms/2T1rq8Q

In this sense, the caravan is between nation states and in a state of transition which won’t end once they arrive to whatever their destination may be. In sum, states can be thought as networked borders engendering states of being. Thus, the mestiza formation that is taking place is in part orchestrated by the very states that are trying to stall such hybridization. Power does not control it’s effects, thus the caravan needs to be seen as an international ‘performative exercise’; one that is enacted in the very acting in concert of the caravan which embodies, not only the migrants desire for a better life, but the precariousness of life and its dependency on the border matrix that produces the nation-states that then need to be protected from those vulnerable people created in the process. Finally, slums are a crucial node of the said matrix, since increasingly, the world is becoming more fragmented and slums are the “specter” that haunts the state’s machinery that constructs and reconstructs such fragmentation. 

Couple waiting for a bus traveling in Mexico from Pijijiapan to Tonalá. Image from: https://nyti.ms/2ORy8QQ

One thought on “Borderslums

  1. Pingback: Borderslums — {FAVEL issues} | Reading Development

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