In search of a borderless West


Earlier this month, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for U.S. president, gave a speech in Phoenix, in which he detailed his immigration policy. He repeated his frequent pledge to build a wall, the construction of which would start on “day one,” he said. “We will begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the Southern border. We will use the best technology, including above- and below-ground sensors, towers, aerial surveillance and manpower to supplement the wall, find and dislocate tunnels, and keep out the criminal cartels, and Mexico will pay for the wall.”

If his words are to be believed (and who can say?), they hint at what a Trumpian America would look like: a well-armed techno-surveillance state that sharply divides “us” from “them” in the name of safety and security. Today, a Trump presidency seems unlikely, though not impossible. But whatever happens, he has done us all a service: He has held up a mirror to the American public, leaving us to make of ourselves what we will. His stances on subjects like immigration have brought to the fore many of the racial tensions in the country — particularly in the West.

"Quetzal," a linocut relief print by Fernando Martí, depicts the bird flying free with no regard for border walls. Martí, a native of Ecuador, is an artist, writer and housing activist in San Francisco who creates artwork for and with many political movements for liberation.
Fernando Martí/

Trump would have us return to a past where divisiveness and hard lines were the norm. It would be wiser, I think, to look to the future, one beyond borders. Few questions are more urgent for the American West than those related to the wholeness and integrity of the region, and our ability to confront future challenges in solidarity. Nowhere is this more true than in the Borderlands, a literal and metaphorical space that exists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This special issue came to fruition through the help of a guest editor, author and professor Rubén Martínez. Martínez, who was raised in Los Angeles and has Mexican and Salvadoran roots, has written extensively and personally about the subject. He sought out writing to help explain the nuances of the Borderlands, a distinct region with its own history and literature, meaning and symbolism, whose name says more about land than it does about borders. The fruits of his search can be found in the pages of this issue, in works of literary nonfiction, poetry and art, which Rubén introduces.

The Borderlands, as these stories show, is its own big idea, though it means different things to different people. To some, it is a frightful desert to be crossed as quickly as possible. To others, it is a place of refuge. In each story, there is a relationship at work, in a place that is rich and deep and full of meaning — and that won’t be divided by some dumb wall.

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