"I am not a migratory bird. I've always had a place. It is located west of the tall saguaro, south of the dry river, beyond certainty."
The Haunting of the Mexican Border: A Woman's Journey begins with this exquisite first sentence that conveys geographical landscape and way of being in the world. Author Kathryn Ferguson brings the reader intimately home for a personal journey that reflects the broader changes of time and place of Mexico, the US, and its intertwined relationship of politics and people.
This journey takes us from Ferguson's Tucson home to the stunning lands of the Barranca del Cobre, Copper Canyon, and the lands of the Rarámuri people of northern Mexico, to create a documentary film, "The Unholy Tarahumara." Ferguson paints the raw beauty of this land and its people with an experience from her childhood:
The teacher told us to tear paper so it looked like a random silhouette of mountains. So I chose blue, green, orange, purple, and red paper. I ripped the tops of each page into sharp angles, then into jagged curves. I glued wads of crushed paper on top of paper, all mismatched, all colors. This is how the Copper Canyon looks.
Ferguson spends the 1980's and 90's with journeys back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. Despite the thousands of miles traveling as a woman alone, she is not afraid for her personal safety. Yet, as time passes, this sense of safety shifts.
As I listen to the sunset sounds, I think about early years that I traveled back and forth to make films in Mexico. My desert was an open free place. But I began to hear about increasing numbers of bodies found in the Arizona desert. The remains of people who come to the United States to work or find family.
The consequences of NAFTA and increased border security after 9/11 has been a deadly combination, forcing Mexicans to look for work in the U.S. for survival, and for the first time, sending women and children north, since their husbands can no longer come and go as they once did. Dark spots stain the desert where people have died.
Ferguson's personal journey mirrors greater events. The increase of violence encompasses people from both sides of the border and now mars Ferguson.s own once-safe trips to the desert, as she becomes the target of harassment for Minutemen and other governmental agencies. As the political climate intensifies and more migrants try to cross and die in the desert, the increased militarization of the border grows. I learned a new vocabulary of my childhood homelands of Tucson and Mexico with this increased militarization, including "dusting," when those patrolling the border lower their helicopters close enough to migrants to kick stones, sand, and cactus into their faces and bodies.
The Haunting of the Mexican Border is a breathtaking work of art. Ferguson's artistry shines in her prose, polished and raw in a perfect combination, and her ability to convey the beauty and power of humanity. Her love of this place and its people fills every page. This book is especially close to my heart, with its story about lands and peoples deeply familiar and beloved. I read this book slowly, absorbed the language, often re-reading sentences for their detailed precision and the power of what they convey.
Along the borderlands we create shrines, descansos, to mark where a loved one has died. In The Haunting of the Mexican Border, Ferguson has done the magical: created a written shrine to honor a time and people lost, as well as serve as a beacon of hope for the possible. This story of a time and place lifts your heart with beauty, breaks it with reality, and then lifts and inspires again.
A writer, filmmaker, and dancer, Kathryn Ferguson lives in Tucson, AZ. She is coauthor of the award-winning book Crossing with the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail. Visit the book website.
Check out our interview with the author of Almost Anywhere.
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