This month The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) hosted the second annual Borderlands History Conference. The conference brings together scholars focusing on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. This years theme Shifting Borders: Gender, Family, and Community provided a broad definition of borders resulting in panels that ranged in topic, time period, and expanded the geographic scope of the borderlands.
I attended the two-day event which included an oral history workshop, a keynote by Sonia Hernandez, and a line up of interesting panels that provided a myriad of perspective on this years theme. The conference also provided ample time to network with visiting scholars and included a closing dinner at a local restaurant and cultural center, Café Mayapan.
At the end of the conference Dr. Larissa Veloz wrapped up the concurrence by providing four questions for borderlands scholars to consider. I have to say that I am still thinking about these questions in regard to my own research and my work as a public historian.
1. How does it feel to be a “borderlander”? How do people make sense of their own lives?
2. What are the creative adaptations people living on the border make? Who are the new cultural brokers that emerge?
3. How does a focus on gender, family, and community reshape our understanding of the borderland and vice versa?
4. How are images and histories of the borderland transmitted outward and what is our role as historians and scholars?
Dr. Veloz also made another comment saying, “the field of borderlands continues to inform various historiographies.” That was certainly clear from this conference; it is also important to acknowledge the breadth of the field which is still growing. I know it is easy to get caught up in one’s own area of specialization, topic, and time period. However, these questions (especially number four) help me remember that my work is connected to the image of the Borderlands that is transmitted to other parts of the world where borders look different. I wonder how fellow historians, scholars, and even people living on a broder today, feel about these questions? I hope that this platform provides a space to continue the discussion about the different ways our scholarship engages with borderlands and concepts of borders. Please add your ideas to the comments section below!
Having lived in El Paso for almost 4 years, even that short amount of time radically changed how I thought about the border. Walking across the Puente Cordova for the first time into Juárez was a life changing experience in that it made the effects of border militarization into something so tangible.
It reminds me of the power of the state even as nation-states across the world appear to be in crisis. I think as historians, no matter what place we end up in our careers, we must transmit to our students and emphasize in our scholarship the social, cultural, and economic impact of the barriers we set up for ourselves at national boundaries. We need to be cognizant of those issues historically in order to resist them and help our students to do the same.