Nepantla Post 9/11: State Terrorism on the Borderlands
Issue #60, April 2002
At this year's Modern Language Association conference noted Chicana scholar Tey Diana Rebolledo's talk, "Questioning Nepantla" grappled with the complexities of the US/Mexico border and asked the following question: "Is it a barbed wire fence that delimits, or an invisible line that shifts?" In my response to this question on the material and discursive forces of the border I think it is important that we acknowledge the unprecedented growth over the last three years of in the number of women and children (Mexicanas/os and Centro-americanas/os), many solteras/os, who pass through the "herida abierta" and the "cruce de muertos" into "el Norte" and who must negotiate all the dangers of racial, sexual, state and environmental violence that are a part of the journey. Second, I want to express my worry/ preoccupation with the actual negotiation of "real" border space in the post 9/11 era for Mexicanas/os, especially mujeres, who returned to México during these past holidays to spend time with their extended familias. These individuals were harassed by greedy and violent Mexican border patrol agents in search of their Christmas "mordidas/ bonuses"; and they will face additional violence now that have returned in the new year to (re) assume their jobs in El Norte.
On the geopolitics of the border(s) and the racialized and gendered spaces of access, limit and violence which Tey addresses in her paper, I recently made the following observations which I want to recast and extend in light of the "terrorism" of post 9/11 anti-terrorist policy and nativist fervor.
In this global era, citizen-subjects, mainly males, from imperial nation states further enjoy the privileges of seeking refuge, "slumming," "rebelling," and finding their "humanity" and "soul" in controlled yet sometimes risky crossings, engagements, and appropriations of the ethnic and cultural other. These journeys into the "exotic," the "primitive" and the "libidinal" are traditionally structured and marketed as temporary tourist jaunts: the subject — usually male — after spending himself can always return to the privilege and protection of his dominant community (e.g. "salsa dancing" without getting mugged in the South Bronx, crowding the sex bars of Tijuana, México; or "doing" Cancún or Cabos, México with MTV's Spring Break).
Unlike the near borderless movements of instant online fund transfers, Lear Jets, high speed Euro trains, and visa carrying tourists "doing" "cheap, exotic" countries and the "sex bars" in borders towns, the survival movements of subaltern peoples displaced by predatory global capitalism, and military and political pressures are dangerous and highly restricted by militarized national borders. When Mexicanas/os and Centro Americanas/os move in a South-to-North axiom across multiple borders to the United States, they must avoid robbery, assaults, and rape by a variety of predatory groups, one being enduring human rights abuses by militarized border patrols. After crossing the US/México border, which I argue is elastic, people live in fear of deportation, confront racial /sexual harassment and face further daily exploitation wherever they live.
So in keeping with these observations of the "rough and tumble" dialectics of privilege, access, and space in the North-to-South axioms of the US/ México frontera which inform the literary and cultural productions on Chicanas/os and Mexicanas/os literally crossed by the border, I ask: What will this space of nepantla become in the post 9/11 anti-terrorist fervor that feeds the nascent nativism in the US?
Stock in flag-related products and gas masks has soared, so has business at tattoo parlors to engrave people's false conscious patriotism, a patriotism that unfortunately becomes nativism. In fact: several neo-nazi groups who espouse a white supremacist "socialism" have noticed a large outpouring of public sympathy and an increase in dues paying members since 9/11/01. However, I question the false logic of nativism, as someone whose ancestry is tied to the indigenous natives of this continent: do nativist appropriate indigenous land claims of tribal nations? In doing so: do they forget, deny, or exude pride over the holocaust and displacement of native civilizations that now live in extreme conditions of economic and racial subalternity or as "new age" simulations and tourist trinkets?
Also the "Office of Homeland Security" gets a further six billion-dollar apportionment to its already existing 20 billion start up capitol (see AZ Republic, Dec 2). What does this mean for the frontera? What does this mean for social and creative activism and activists concerned with human and women's rights on the border? This new (old) state agency embarks on re-invigorating the scope and intensity of the Hoover-era COINTELPRO program that continues its campaign of brute violence against groups and individuals seen as un-American. However with the added twist of the technological sophistication of the global communications age: comprehensive e-mail monitoring, micro-satellite surveillance, thermal imaging systems, wireless microphones, military tribunals, indefinite immigration holds, immediate deportations, and not to mention the increase of covert operations on all those suspected with links to "terrorist" organizations. Meanwhile, Ashcroft seeks the further militarization of both borders: México and Canada (see AZ Republic, Dec 3). What does this mean for Mexicanas/os, and Chicanas/os who already negotiate their survival in the borderlands of state and vigilante violence? What does this mean for native groups like the Cree and Mohawks of Canada and the US, whose ancestral lands (like the Yoeme and Pima in the South) are cut literally by the border?
So I end by asking: Are we regressing to the 1950s with a twenty-first century technological capacity in terms of the repression of internal dissent and a repeat of the "gung ho" fervor of "Operation Wetback" where millions of Mexicanas/os (many by military airlift) were forcibly moved South? If so, for those of us who engaged with surviving, writing, and activism on the geopolitics of the frontera where discourses of race, gender and citizenship translate into state and vigilante violence, how do we respond?
Finally, a real life story of a Chicana student in my Fall Chicana/o poetry class who goes to San Luis, México every weekend to see her mom. After waiting for three hours in line, she tried to cross back to San Luis, AZ with her eight-month-old hija. She not only had to prove her US citizenship, but also, was held for hours by a US Hispanic INS female officer on suspicion of smuggling an illegal baby, until she was able to show "proof" the baby had the right to enter.
Arturo J. Aldama is currently an Associate Professor of Cultural and Literary Studies in the Department of Chicana/o Studies at ASU-Main. He is a member of the Bad's editorial collective.