Since the inception of cog•nate collective, we have sought to document and analyze multiple experiences of crossing the border: from the pedantically harsh realities of waiting in a line of 1000 people on-foot daily to cross into the US to go to work, to accounts of migrants jumping the fence between Mexicali and Calexico in boots, entering the country in a flurry of sparks as their spurs crashed against the asphalt. "Transmission 1 - About Crossing", the first to be simultaneously played at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and in the UAG gallery as part of the Borderblaster project, creates connections between such varied experiences to reflect on the act of transgressing borders.
While documenting spaces like the Hotel del Migrante in Mexicali BC, which offers food, clean clothes and lodging to migrants recently deported from the United State, and visiting the Centro Madre Assunta shelter for deported women and children in Tijuana last year, we spoke to migrants about their journeys across the national border through the desert that spans northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.
We documented several of these conversations in a series of recordings, which were often interrupted by noises from the street, fellow migrants, or the exigencies of motherhood. It was important for us to preserve and share the content of these testimonies through our work, but we wanted to avoid exploiting the voice of individuals who felt vulnerable as recent deportees, and expressed discomfort with us using their names or playing their voices in public to large groups of people. Additionally, these discussions were well over an hour each, so we started thinking of ways to condense the experiences of migrants if we were to share them.
Another issue that we grappled with was the question of factuality of the accounts. While we are certain that the individuals we spoke to had indeed crossed into the US through non-government sanctioned routes, it also became apparent that certain details about their journey may have been fictionalized or exaggerated. Whether it is just the human tendency for storytelling in narrativizing and mythologizing one's personal story, or a consequence of trauma, what became important was considering these histories as contemporary documents of the crossing within the larger history of the border, and to consider the role that these stories play in the construction of nation itself; as voices of those literally pushed to the margins by the imposition of national boundaries.
The tension between fiction and non-fiction is one that defines the way we view the border, and understand the construction of the "other" as an integral component to the construction of self, and the relationship between that identity and a greater historical and political narrative. While the border as a thing posits itself as a barrier that asserts its impenetrability to define the nation-state, this is proved to be the stuff of myths, since thousands of people transgress this barrier on a daily basis. Yes, it is a boring tedious chore, but it is also a fiction that people's lives are characterized by stasis. So, everyday a line of cars and bodies forms up against a line that they will cross, to exchange culture, money, language, and histories.
When we began the project we assumed the attitudes of people at migrant shelters would be quite different from that of commuters who make the journey between nations daily. We were surprised that even though the trips described by migrants are quite different, their outlook is strangely similar. For many it was just a matter of time before they tried to cross again, the journey through the desert was a chore, tedious and grueling, but also surmountable.
In order to unify these two distinct experiences of crossing and honor the wishes of migrants we spoke to, we produced a series of historical fictions based on the migrant testimonies we had recorded. To bring the stories to life, we asked pedestrians waiting to cross the border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to read them out loud for us to record. We approached people waiting during days of peak traffic at the border. They were given a script and could vocally interpret the story however they chose. The resulting recordings merge the boredom and despondency that comes with waiting in line on foot for at least an hour, with accounts of witnessing mauling by coyotes, hiding in drainpipes from immigration officials, leaving companions dead in the desert and dreams of being able to fly across borders.
These recordings form the basis for "About Crossing", the transmission that was broadcast at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Friday, October 5. The wait time at the time of the intervention was approximately two hours. A mobile-billboard announced the project and transmissions to cars, while we wheeled the mobile-listening station to the Pedestrian line. Some bilingual individuals were annoyed with the repetition of the readings in English and Spanish, but many curious workers and pedestrians paused to listen to the stories and were noticeably taken aback by their content. The goal of the transmission was to incite reflection about the act of crossing the border, and also generate dialogue at the point of crossing about the presence and consequences of the border.
Transmissions will continue every Friday at 3pm at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and University Art Gallery on the UCSD campus until the 9th of November. Transmission 2 -- Market Exchange, will consist of a series of interviews with shop owners and ambulant workers at the Mercado de Artesanias de la Linea, documenting the history and transformation of labor, culture, economy and space at the crossing. Borderblaster is cog"¢nate collective's contribution to Living As Form (The Nomadic Version).
Listen to and read about all the Borderblaster transmissions from Tijuana: