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Dispatches from Pop + Politics: border identity and the Tohono O’odham nation

October 6th, 2010 · No Comments

Note: Yes, I’m cheating on Girldrive with another road trip. For the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging on and off at Pop + Politics, the site for our series on the midterm elections.

Crossposted at Pop + Politics

When the media cover “the border,” they pit Mexico against America, Spanish against English, two increasingly melding cultures separated by a porous partition. But what happens when a border cuts straight through your own people’s land? What happens when you’re the forgotten voice in a three-way conversation–which hurts doubly, since you were there first?

The Tohono O’odham nation, one of the largest native reservations in the country, straddles the U.S.-Mexican border. Our team spent the day in Sells, Arizona, soaking in the landscape, eating short rib stew and prickly pear smoothies at the local cafe, and, before talking with Sells native Art Wilson, checking out the border. A far cry from the looming wall in Nogales, the border here is marked by some wire and posts barely taller than my chin.

Art explained that the border meant little to him as a child, that he inhabited both countries freely. “It was more like a a fence that kept the livestock from crossing over,” he said. “It was like crossing into somebody’s backyard.” He didn’t think of his world as a U.S.-Mexico duality, instead thinking of it in terms of “O’ohdam and white.”

After our conversation with Art, he generously shared a private moment with us–a ceremony in the middle of the desert memorializing the anniversary of his mother’s death. Here, we had a rare breath of calm amid our frenetic schedule, an hour enveloped in a prehistoric landscape that stood in stark relief against the cacophony of New York City.

These are the moments I’m glad I’m a journalist. These are the reasons to go on the road–to appreciate the vastness of our country, to force ourselves to see colliding identities, to get out of our comfort zones and glimpse into another person’s reality. Right before we got back in our cars, Farai mused, “You can never really walk in anyone’s shoes. But once in a while, you can stand where they’re standing.”

More soon…

-Nona

Tags: Roadtripping

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