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Breaking down the borderlands through poetry

ASU English Professor Natalie Diaz presents visiting poet Eduardo C. Corral in conversation about the vital importance of border issues

November 16, 2018

In recent years, talk of border security, child separation, caravans of migrants and building — or not building — “the wall” has dominated U.S. headlines. Borders and borderlands, it seems, are at the forefront of America’s collective consciousness.

ASU English Professor and recent MacArthur genius grant recipient Natalie Diaz believes that borders can have many purposes, for better or worse, and that people who live in borderlands aren’t the only ones who need to be thinking about them. 

“Some of the worst abuse of power, people, wildlife, land and water happen in our borderlands — this will ultimately affect all of us,” she said.

In the hopes of starting a much-needed conversation on the topic, Diaz and the civic-minded artistic collaborative program [archi]TEXTS will present “Borderlands Poetry with Eduardo C. Corral” at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, in the Pima Auditorium of the Memorial Union on ASU’s Tempe campus. 

Felicia Zamora, manager of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing will facilitate the discussion, which benefits No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths), a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona dedicated to increasing efforts to stop deaths of migrants in the desert. The event will also be livestreamed

Corral, an assistant professor in the master of fine arts program at North Carolina State University, is the author of “Slow Lightning,” a collection of poems that transcends both literal and figurative borders. 

In anticipation of the event, ASU Now spoke with Diaz — whose own work and life has transcended many borders — to get her take on the importance of the topic and her own experiences with it.

Question: Why is the topic of borders and borderlands especially salient at this point in time?

Answer: The borderlands have always been an important place. It is the place of our ancestors and families. It is the land where our languages and stories come from. Borderlands are always the sites of traumas, because the border is something that has been imposed there, with fencing, war, water shortages or water pollution, maquiladoras, brutality toward women and children, racism — and yet from these lands, we are also a vibrant, joyous, beautiful people who are part of the fabric and clay of America today. There is no future of America without the peoples of the borderlands — these people have helped to build and maintain America. Also, imagine what American food might be like without the contributions of the peoples it is always trying to keep outside of its borders!

Q: Why is it a topic everyone, not just those who live near borders or cross them, should care about?

A: America is a country of indigenous or natives, and a country of immigrants. Every one of us is complicit in what happens in this country. We are each responsible in some way for the future we leave for the next generations. America shows its worst self at the borders, although it hides behind words like military might and patriotism. However, those words are disconnected from the bodies of everyone involved. We must treat all living things equally, no matter what side of the border you live on, no matter when your family migrated to America. Some of the worst abuse of power, people, wildlife, land and water happen in our borderlands — this will ultimately affect all of us.

Q: How do you hope Eduardo Corral’s visit to ASU will change the way attendees think about borders and borderlands?

A: My hope for bringing Eduardo here to be in conversation with Felicia Zamora is that we begin to acknowledge a conversation that is necessary and that might not have an immediate solution. These conversations have to start and have to be maintained. This one starting point, to join some of the other conversations that are being started on campus and across our off-campus communities. I don't know that it will change the mind of someone, but I know that it will help to give voice and language to some of our students and faculty and community members who are looking for ways to speak out about their experiences living in the borderlands. 

Q: What kind of borders have you experienced in your life/profession as a writer who is also Latina, indigenous and a woman?

A: The first border I learned and broke was the border of girls and boys — I had a gift for sports, and I was lucky that my parents saw this as a borderless place. I grew up playing with the boys. It was the greatest gift to me. Living on the reservation is always a border, as well as being of mixed race and living on the reservation. I'm not full-blooded. My father's family is from both Spain and Mexico, another complex border. We all have borders we navigate or hurdle or butt up against. Sometimes it's money or class, sometimes it's race or color, sometimes it is about sexuality or gender. The amazing thing to me is that if the border were to come down — be it a wall, or a fence or an imaginary line in your mind — if a bridge were to be built in its place, we could stand next to one another. We'd still have differences and we'd not always agree on things or understand one another, but we'd be able to stand side by side to imagine this world together, to figure out how to save our waterways together, to acknowledge that we are each human and alive and deserve joy and love and family and futures.

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