Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Border Crosser: Into the Wilderness

In a little less than two weeks I will be joining a group from school to visit the US/Mexico border by way of the Arizona border. Our objective as a study group is to examine the border in a theological perspective (if the task can be done at all). We will be spend a week in the Tucson, Arizona (US) and Nogales, Sonora (MX) areas having conversations with local organizations, churches, and community members. I'm definitely looking forward to blogging about my experiences when I return from my trip.

As I prepare myself logistically for our trip, I'm also spending time preparing myself mentally and spiritually. When I think about borderlands and the idea of borderland theories, liminality, and all that academic jargon, I can't help but wonder if any of it is relevant. Can I expect to put a label on the experiences of border crossers? Why does that space need to be labeled?

Above my desk is a copy of Frida Kahlo's painting "Girl with Death Mask," and as I reflect on my upcoming trip to the US/Mexico border, I am drawn to the little girl.

In the painting the young girl (probably around four or five years old) is wearing a skull mask, traditionally worn at "Día de los Muertos" festivals in Mexico, where death is not mourned but instead celebrated. The girl is holding a yellow flower that looks like the tagete flower that Mexican@s place on graves during the "Día de los Muertos." She stands all alone on a vast empty plain under a stormy sky. At her feet is a carved wooden tiger mask that resembles the one that hangs in the dining room of Frida's home. However, neither mask seems appropriate for this tiny little girl; they accentuate her innocence but hint at the cruelty of her fate.

I read this painting as how I'm looking at my upcoming trip. We have this space, occupied by an embodied ambivalent reality. The young girl blends both innocence and terror. She puts on her drag clothes to go into the wilderness, but why? I think of the border crosser putting on their death masks, their drag clothes, as they enter the space of the wilderness. Whatever their story, we can see their humanity and their innocence, but we label that space dangerous and they are forced to carry their death masks as they wander through the wilderness.

I'm looking forward to spending time in Nogales and Arizona. As I continue preparing, I am remembering that I must check and be aware of my class and privilege, even as a Chicano and son of a Mexicano immigrant. Ultimately though, I feel blessed to be welcomed into their space and to allow our conversations to be meaningful in whatever form they take.

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