Border Odyssey: Travels along the U.S./Mexico Divide

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This border carnival in the hot sun on pavement was repeated every day. It provided the crossers some sense of community and distraction as they waited, sometimes from morning until night. We reached the electronic sensing devices near the U. Customs entrance. We handed our passports to Diego and waited some more, making sure not to say anything critical about the border or immigration, or even to joke, as we had heard that the sophisticated detection devices monitored even the sounds inside vehicles.

I could see he was wearing a bulletproof vest and knew that he had to be sweating inside it. We both gave talks at a conference for grad students.


Border Odyssey: Travels along the U.S./Mexico Divide and millions of other books are available for instant access. view Kindle eBook | view Audible audiobook. This compelling chronicle of a journey along the entire U.S.-Mexico border shifts the conversation away from danger and fear to the shared histories and.

I showed my film about immigration to students and faculty there. It would have sounded ludicrous to go into my additional reasons for traveling the border: the stories, images in the park, and all the rest. The young, stocky white guard looked at me and shook his head. The university had put us up in a Best Western with palm trees and a pool.

Three fancy wedding parties took place in the hotel that weekend. The brides and their attendants wore long pastel formal dresses, the men dark suits and pointy boots. They danced to live bands into the night as we sat by the pool and listened to the music. Meanwhile, twenty-four young men and boys were murdered during the weekend in the streets of the city. Territorial fights in the drug wars, Diego surmised, just the kind of danger the officer was talking about.

So I knew what the guard meant about luck, but we had also seen what was on the other side of fear, an entirely different reason to feel lucky. We had parked our car in a border lot in El Paso watched over by several disheveled Latino men who played cards in a little shack at the entrance.

They told us that they slept there all night and let in no one but the car owners. Clearly there had not been a lot of gringos parking their cars and walking into Ciudad Juarez. We thanked Diego for the hours he had just spent taking us across the bridge, got our bags, and loaded them into our trunk. We waved good-bye, started the Chevrolet, and drove mostly in silence through the peaceful and deserted El Paso downtown.

Border Odyssey; Travels along the U.S./Mexico Divide by Charles D. Thompson, Jr.

We found our way quickly to I East and drove to a Texas state park where we would stay for the night. We started talking about what we had just been through, knowing we still had over a thousand miles to cover and much more exploring along the way. That afternoon we arrived at the lodge at Fort Davis and went hiking. Up in the Davis Mountains, about fifty miles from the border, we saw signs along a trail that warned of mountain lions that stalk small children or women hiking alone.

I had heard about the big cats bringing down men my size by jumping off ledges onto them from behind. After Juarez, a threat I could understand as part of nature was almost welcome. At least there were instructions about what to do.

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Never walk alone. Make noise. Try to look larger and more menacing than you might feel. But I noted that none of those signs said not to go. At the border everything was different. There, authorities wanted us to stay away. They might as well have had signs that said as much. But our trip along the border was our push back against all that. We were trying to do something to help change the vision and the conversation about border fears. We knew there had to be something more to immigration discussions than just to repeat over and over again that we should make the wall stronger and crack down on illegal immigrants.

After you walk a trail with your own feet, talk with others along the way, breathe the air, touch the rocks, smell the plants, see the clouds above you, and even keep watch for the mountain lions, a trail and the places it traverses become part of you.

Charlie Thompson’s Border Odyssey

You return with your own memories and maybe a few pains, and the place gets etched into your bones. This book is my telling about the border from my bones: my discoveries and frights, new friendships and hauntings, pains and possibilities, all gained because we ignored warnings to stay away. Why tell it? First of all, the border belongs to all of us. Like the underlining of a sentence, the border wall is a line beneath our country that emphasizes what we believe about ourselves—at least officially. I decided to face our fears by going there, hoping to replace fears with understanding.

I can say that the border taught me about possibilities beyond a single stark line, all gained from listening firsthand to those who, like the Braceros, live the frontera and bear its consequences. I returned home with a complicated set of images, experiences, and stories that needed retelling. Perhaps that is the major point of it all.

In presenting the struggles and strife of this place and its people with honesty and hope, Thompson shows the possibility and potential of such a beautiful dream. All rights reserved. This site was generously funded, in part, by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Share this book.


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Professor Zavaleta and his historic ranch feature in the first chapters of Border Odyssey. Readers will be saddened to hear that the ranch caretaker named Santiago, who figures prominently in the book, died recently. But we're happy to hear that Prof. Zavaleta gave a copy of book to Santiago's widow. Our condolences to the family.

Gracias por todo, Santiago! Reading at Malaprop's in Asheville, NC at p. A thoughtful and lyrical review in the revered Texas Observer. Jump to. Sections of this page. Accessibility Help. Email or Phone Password Forgot account?

Before the Border: The Immigrant Odyssey across Mexico

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