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Welcome to Border Ballad

I'm guest-blogging here for the next few weeks as part of the virtual activities surrounding the national PBS airing of When Worlds Collide (Mon., Sept. 27), a 90-minute documentary chronicling the "contact¨" between Old and New Worlds through the 16th century and the rise of "mestizo" or mixed culture in the Americas. The film flashes back and forth between past and present, and was shot on location in L.A., several places in México (the capital, Oaxaca, Mérida, Veracruz), Perú, Bolivia and Spain.

Soon there will be a dedicated website for the film, and in the meantime I'll be posting here about themes related to it, and especially about my most recent trip to Mexico and Central America with my family, during which I revisited several places we filmed in last year.

When Worlds Collide begins and ends in Los Angeles--strolling around Echo Park Lake with my twin daughters Ruby and Lucía. I describe the lineage they've inherited from their mother (my wife, UC Irvine anthropologist Angela Garcia) and father: Mexican, Salvadoran, "Hispano" from New Mexico, Mescalero Apache, Greek... they are "mestizas" several times over.

To invoke the word "mestizo" raises all kinds of issues--500 years' worth. The Spaniards first used it to describe the sons and daughters of mixed-race unions, but its etymology is telling: it was originally used to describe inter-breeding among farm animals. So the legacy is one of colonialism, as well as of resistance to it. And it is also about the "hybrid" manifestations of culture--on both sides of the Atlantic--that resulted from the meeting of Old and New Worlds. In this story, the "political" and the "cultural" almost always interact.

We begin and end in the present because the deep story we tell continues to resonate today across the Americas (and indeed, in the United States of America) in the way race and ethnicity entwine with social class, the way power echoes the past--and the ways in which we sometimes break free from that anguished history.

I hope you'll join me in this virtual journey and on a rich discussion about the issues raised by When Worlds Collide.


Rubén Martínez

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