emisferica 4.2
emisferica 3.2

BORDERS: Hybrid Imaginaries / Fractured Geographies


Ulla D. Berg, Ph.D Candidate, Department of Anthropology, New York University. Ulla has an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Copenhagen and she is a graduate of the Program in Culture and Media at New York University. She is currently writing her dissertation on transnational migration between the Central Highlands of Peru and the US, focusing on communicative practices, transnational communities, and the politics of space. She is the editor with Karsten Paerregaard of El Quinto Suyo: Transnacionalidad y Formaciones Diaspóricas en la Migración Peruana (IEP, 2006). Other written work appears in Perú: El Legado de la Historia (Sevilla, 2001), Revista Academia Diplomática Peruana (2005) and Latino Studies (forthcoming). She is an affiliated scholar with the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos in Lima and the coordinator of the Peruvian Migration Network – an international, interdisciplinary network of scholars working on various aspects of Peruvian transnational migration. Ulla has directed, produced and edited the documentary Waiting for Miracles (2003), which follows a Peruvian Catholic brotherhood in NYC as it prepares for its yearly procession honoring the Lord of Miracles. She is currently working on a new documentary project on the Peruvian poet Domingo de Ramos.



Roberto Varea began his career as an actor and director in his native city of Córdoba, Argentina. Upon receiving his MFA in Theater/Directing from UCSD in 1992, he moved to San Francisco where he currently lives. His research and creative work focuses on issues of performance and its relationship to state violence and resistance movements. He has presented and lectured about this work in the US and abroad. He has also directed numerous productions and workshops associated with new play development and community-driven issues, particularly in the Latin@ - Chican@ communities. His directing work, which includes premieres of works by Cherríe Moraga, Migdalia Cruz, Jose Rivera, and Ariel Dorfman, has been presented at Brava!, Campo Santo / Intersection for the Arts, The Lorraine Hansberry Theater, the Magic Theater and El Teatro de la Esperanza, to name a few Bay Area venues. Roberto is the founding artistic director of Soapstone Theatre Company, a collective of male ex-offenders and women survivors of violent crime, and of El Teatro Jornalero!, a performance company that brings the voices of Latin American immigrant workers to the stage. He is a professor of theater at the University of San Francisco, where he co-founded the Performing Arts and Social Justice Major. In addition, he teaches theater to incarcerated women at the San Francisco County Jail's Sisters Project. He also serves on the board of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and The Consortium on Latin American Immigration, and is an Associate Editor of Peace Review an international journal on peace and justice studies, published by Routledge Press.


While globalization pundits and scholars in the 1990s optimistically predicted the beginning of a post-national era, marking the end of the international border and of the nation-state as it had been known until then, recent world events have signaled just the opposite: the challenges posed by globalization for maintaining and ensuring sovereignty, coupled with the furious rebirth of the "security state" after 9/11, have intensified the interest of nation-states to maintain control over national borders and, in particular, over the flow of human bodies across such borders. The increase in security walls, checkpoints, sophisticated surveillance technologies, intolerance and criminalization of the cultural, religious, and political "Other," however, have luckily not been able to hinder or silence the unwavering will, necessity, or desire to "cross over" displayed by many social actors in different contexts. In tandem with attempts by powerful institutions such as colonialism, the state, and the law in setting rigid boundaries, categorizing populations, and limiting spaces for civic participation, we are witnessing a prolific imagination made immediate in the territory of the human body or in the virtual space of digital communication. This issue of e-misférica is dedicated to exploring how the lived and performed realities of trans-localism have created new global geographies and imaginaries marked not only by enduring exclusionary borders, but also by new liberating ones.

The current interest in the study of borders reflected here is not only influenced by actual changes in the world, but also by the ways in which we look at the world and approach it for analysis. Postmodern, postcolonial, and feminist critical theories have opened important "third spaces" for the questioning of dominant hierarchies and "imposed borders" based on taken-for-granted categories of race, sex, gender, and nationality. Positions claiming to speak "from the margins" or from the "colonial difference" have called attention to how borders can be productive to think with or to think from, making explicit the very politics of knowledge production. BORDERS: Hybrid Imaginaries / Fractured Geographies builds on such interdisciplinary and anti-authoritarian approaches to the study of borders. Engaging borders, in plural, from a performance perspective is particularly useful in that it allows us to look at them as produced by different performative events and expressions, as well as being represented and enacted by a multiplicity of actors. The study of borders is thus timely and valuable. Rather than witnessing the disappearence of borders, we are in fact experiencing their multiplication. New, previously unthinkable, physical, virtual, and imagined frontiers emerge all around us—not only in the Americas, but also in the rest of the world.

This issue brings together original work in different formats—essays, brief articles, performance documentation, photography, and video, as well as reviews of books, projects, and performances—by artists, scholars, and activists that address border issues from various angles, disciplines, and geographical locations. As editors, we have tried to balance the issue, selecting both scholarly and artistic work as well as activist interventions, which illuminate the various dimensions—poetic, political, and at times perverse—of borders and their crossers.

The lived reality of transnational migration is perhaps the most paradigmatic of all border crossings and as such it has a privileged place in this issue in which both artists and scholars elaborate on the diverse experiences of migrants. Alyshia Galvez's essay reflects on what she calls the "seeming obliviousness of the general public in the United States to the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border". Taking a point of departure in the paradox that recent years' enhanced border enforcement between the U.S. and Mexico by American Homeland Security has not prevented undocumented migrants from crossing over, but rather produced more deaths than ever during these attempts, Gálvez asks why this fact has been largely ignored in public debates in the U.S. She suggests that this has to do with the dissonance between the physical and economic presence of immigrants and their absence from the social imaginary of mainstream America. Víctor Cartagena's artwork on the experience of Salvadoran migrants also stands as a rare public reminder of the ways in which American (read U.S.) social networks systematically use and exclude immigrant labor. Employing devices such as tea bags or delivery boxes with actual photographs of Salvadoran people, Cartagena develops a poetic discourse where these men and women are presented as disposable commodities. In contrast, on the other side of the border in Mexico City, Mexican migrants do have a place in the public imaginary, evidenced in Mexican artist Mariana Zapata's wall installation in one of this city's public parks as a part of her performance piece entitled "Reforma Migratoria," here reviewed by Stephany Slaughter.

But regardless of their place in the mainstream public imaginary, immigrants in all parts of the hemisphere imagine new geographies and sociopolitical landscapes in which they—just like recognized citizens—have rights to claim and borders to cross. It suffices to mention two important examples from the spring of 2006: the massive immigration marches in a number of cities across the United States against the anti-immigration legislation HR 4437 currently being debated in Congress, culminating with the national day of action "A Day without an Immigrant"; and the marches conducted by Bolivian textile workers in Argentina denouncing flagrant human rights violations and abusive working conditions. These two events surely had their effects not only on the local economies, but also on public debates in each respective country. In our POV section, Renee Saucedo discusses current anti-immigration legislative proposals and future challenges of the immigrant rights movement in the U.S. While Saucedo's piece offers a pro-labor perspective on current immigration policies in North America, on the other end of the hemisphere, María Inés Pacecca and Corina Courtis intervene in the debate on the Bolivian migrants working in sweatshops in Argentina. The conclusions drawn by Pacecca and Courtis are similar to Saucedo in that without proper documentation migrants are more vulnerable to labor exploitation and to the contradictions of the logic of flexible accumulation of the global economy.

Santiago Canevaro's research is also set in Argentina, but among a different group of South American migrants. Canevaro investigates the setting and blurring of cultural and ethnic boundaries in the context of a theater workshop attended by mostly undocumented Peruvian youth at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Peruvian youth in Argentina, Canevaro argues, engage in a number of performative practices through which they attempt to solve problems regarding their own stereotyped identities as migrants, as well as strategies for "passing" as Argentines. The piece results in a revealing and personal portrait of migrant youth questioning or affirming themselves against the harsh reality of stigmatized or socially approved behaviors, dress codes or local slang.

Performances never occur unilaterally or in a political vacuum. Drawing on material from the George Washington's Birthday Celebration in Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Elaine Peña shows us how the embodied transposition of U.S. colonial histories and mythologies aims to de-politicize border space, making cross-border co-existence between these two North American inland port cities seem harmonious. The curtain behind the "children's embrace" border performance, where a boy and a girl from each Laredo meet to kiss and exchange gifts, obscures the real backdrop of unprecedented drug-related violence and historically constructed political and structural inequalities in this border region. It is a similar landscape that provides the working environment for architect Teddy Cruz, whose work is reviewed and analyzed by Rodrigo Tisi. Writing from his studio in the San Diego/Tijuana area, Cruz affirms that "extreme geographies of conflict (…) become the site where alternative participatory architectural practices towards the city can emerge and the role of official urbanism questioned." Conversely, the portraits rendered by Argentinean photographer Julio Pantoja are a study of the clash between human presence and an imposing environment in two distinct borderlands: the Amazon rainforest and the mismísimo U.S.-Mexican border. Pantoja's subjects carve their silhouettes against extreme landscapes that, however lush or barren, force those who venture near these frontiers to engage in an unforgiving battle for survival.
No one has engaged the hybrid as a conscious and irreverent self-definition strategy for creative and political engagement more than performance artist Guillermo Gómez Peña. We share a cross-section of recent creative output by this dangerous border crosser, ranging from poetry and video to photo performance and a text developed in conversation with Argentinean curator Gabriela Salgado. This latter essay explores "the zones of silence" in the global art world, questioning not only censorship and self-censorship, but also the setting of limits to what is "acceptable" and the elasticity of what is "permissible". In her study of the quebradita dance, ethnomusicologist Sydney Hutchinson also focuses on hybrid aesthetics in embodied expressive behavior—here as choreography—in the context of U.S.-Mexican migration. In her essay and supporting multi-media materials, she shows how quebradita's formal principles, as expressed through flashy Western clothing and the fast, strident tecnobanda sound, gave political import and visibility to those enacting this Mexican-American dance during a time in which California's Proposition 187 sought to deny immigrants basic rights.

While works on the U.S.-Mexican border have been privileged in this issue, partly due to the uneven development of scholarly work on diverse immigrant groups, we have also sought to highlight contributions illuminating the experiences of other Latin American and Caribbean border crossers. As shown by the New York-based Dominican artist Scherezade Garcia, national borders are not only territorial in terms of soil, but also in terms of water. Scherezade explores the "liquid border" separating the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico and the often deadly crossings over the Estrecho de Mona in search for "salvation" in the North. Also speaking from the region is Casa de las Americas' Vivian Martinez, who reviews Delirio Habanero by Alberto Pedro Torriente, recently premiered by Teatro Mio in La Habana, Cuba. Martinez's contextualizes Delirio… a memory play set in the pressured cultural and political frame of Habana in the 1990s, within the body of work of the late Torriente, whose plays' themes often approached and questioned identity, migration and borders.

The reality of border crossing results in embodied clashes and adaptations that inevitably affect the colloquial spoken language. For Latino and Latina playwrights in the U.S., this finds expression in a hybrid voice, often questioned by purists of both English and Castillian Spanish. NoPassport, a network of theater artists (mainly playwrights) founded by Caridad Svich, hosts "Between Tongues: A Roundtable with Oliver Mayer, Anne Garcia-Romero, Elaine Romero and Caridad Svich." Each Roundtable playwright ponders their particular relationship with code-switching and their spoken and written Spanglish.

We are also excited to have the section Reports from the Field which features works by young scholars reflecting—in short first-person narratives—on their current research experiences and projects. This edition of Reports from the Field includes work by Pablo Assumpção (Brazil), Anurima Banerji (Canada), and Natalia Gavazzo (Argentina).

Borders are everywhere. They surround us. They divide us and allow us to come together. They mark our territories, our bodies, and our speech. They are real and imagined, porous and hard, visible and invisible, dominant and subtle, but above all political. Just as they hinder and impede our expansion and our growth, so they also shape our identities and senses of self. They become socially and culturally meaningful by the way in which they signal an end to possibility, but they also encode the very possibility of that which they deny: the performative and necessary act of being crossed. Virtually, physically, legally or illegally, as long as borders exist, so will border crossers.

The Editors, San Francisco and New York City, November 2006


Points of View

Artist Presentations

No-Mad Remixed. A work(s) sampler

Migration Exile and Memory

Sabana de la Mar. Salvation Action

Performativity in Architecture

Borderlands at Shutter Speed. Tijuana & Amazonas


Spanish Dreams

The Spanish Crucible

Sustaining a Spanglish Soul

Negotiating Tongues