A STORY BY KRISTA SCHLYER, PUBLISHED by Next Generation of Sonoran Desert Researchers (N-Gen)
Borderlands are special spaces where cultures meet and mix, where diverse communities blend within the overlapping edges of two worlds. This is especially true in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands because the region lies along a natural boundary as well as a geopolitical border.
Extract: Where the United States meets Mexico, a 2,000-mile stretch of land bridges the tropical and temperate zones. Here jaguars and ocelots share the landscape with their northerly cousins, the cougar and bobcat. Green jays, Altamira orioles and elegant trogons perch side-by-side on mesquite, ebony, and cottonwood branches with northern cardinals and mockingbirds. This is a landscape of wild surprise, shared equitably by the north and south of the natural world.
This is a landscape of wild surprise, shared equitably by the north and south of the natural world. The borderlands harbor some of North America’s rarest wild species and oldest human cultures, descendants of the Hohokam, Lipan-Apache and Spanish colonial families – all of whom predate the United States’ existence as a nation.
These lands are home to Sonoran pronghorn, prairie dogs, black bears, and gray wolves; they contain some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the continent. More than 450 rare species live here – some cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. At least 700 neotropical birds, mammals, and insects migrate through the borderlands each year. Like the human migrants who pass through this world between worlds, they seek safety, a future, survival.
But all of these borderlands treasures have been facing the eroding consequences of policies that prioritize large-scale construction of walls and other infrastructure, and that disrupt lives and divide the landscape. Abundant evidence has shown over the past decade that these barriers do not stop people. But they have destroyed and fragmented rare habitats, blocked migration corridors for endangered species, undercut the borderlands economy, and, along with a policy of militarization that dates to the early 1990s, they have led to the deaths of more than 6,000 human migrants.
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The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at Northern Arizona University ( DDCSP@NAU ) works to grow leaders for a conservation field that is functional, relevant, and just by embracing diversity, honoring different voices and perspectives, and changing the conservation field’s norms and culture to influence and expand how conservation is practiced.
On Jan 5, 2017, the Doris Duke Scholars visited the Arizona-Sonora border region to learn about conservation challenges in the region, and the grassroots initiatives being implemented to address them. Borderlands Restoration introduced them to this incredibly beautiful and complexe region - 'one of the most biologically diverse, yet economically depressed regions of the U.S-Mexico borderlands' - and shared its passion for habitat restoration, community engagement, and sustainable development. The scholars toured Deep Dirt Farm Institute to learn about integrating sustainable food systems with habitat and wildlife protection, and visited the border wall located on the property of a local rancher. Throughout the day the students collected video footage that would be later used to create these films. A Navajo production company, Paper Rocket Productions, was enlisted by the DDCSP to conduct a one-day workshop on making a “movie with a message” using the footage collected at Borderlands. The learning objective for this activity was for students to be able to communicate conservation challenges, and the work being done to address them, through their personal lens of identity and experience.
An Ethnographic Poetics of Placed-and-Found Objects and Their Finders in the U.S.|Mexico Borderlands
By David Seibert, Ph.D. published under The University of Arizona.
Abstract: Residents of the region just north of the U.S.-Mexico border experience migration and smuggling activities through constantly changing found objects on the desert landscape--a pair of shoes neatly arranged on a trail; a cross hung in a tree; a can of food balanced on a rock. Consideration of some found objects as placed objects, set down with apparent care by travelers unseen and unmet, demonstrates how the objects uniquely inform the perceptions and practices of residents who find them. Such finders speculate about the lives and movements of others by utilizing the objects as metaphoric figures of practice, tools that uniquely but only partially help them bridge knowledge gaps among multiple constantly changing variables in their everyday lives. The finding-speculating dynamic confounds a direct and easy association of found items with trash, of migrants with threat, and of a border wall with hopelessness. Residents instead craft a sophisticated and practical cultural memory of place in a region that is inhabited differently by day than by night, where tragedy, grace, danger, and hope fuse in unexpected ways. The objects and events that erupt into rural border life inspire a poetics that matches the territory. In a landscape of uncertainty, placed objects secure and extend situational understandings beyond common conceptual frames of epidemic, normalized patterns of violence and collateral damage that are often considered necessary conditions of life in the region.
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