The lands straddling the U.S.-Mexico border are one of the few spaces worldwide where there is direct contact between the Third World and First World. This borderland provides an illuminating arena within which we can examine the intersections of Indigenous nationhood, Latinx identities, and whiteness. This program will critique the "Frontier Thesis" (first articulated by Frederick Jackson Turner) that the Anglo-American frontier is "the meeting point between savagery and civilization"--as a racist rationale for the settler colonization of Native American homelands.
We will study how place and connection is nurtured, reimagined, and interpreted, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico “unnatural boundary,” but also extending down into southern Mexico and Central America, and up into the Pacific Northwest. We will connect the on-going process of "Manifest Destiny" in North America and subsequent U.S. imperial expansion into the Pacific and Latin America.
Students will explore the juxtaposed themes of Frontier and Homeland, Empire and Periphery, and the Indigenous and Immigrant experience, in the context of the extension and contraction of empire. We will examine intersecting borderland and homeland identities, including among Indigenous peoples who “didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” To explore these themes, we will be using historical analysis (changes in time), geographic analysis (changes in place), and cultural analysis (race, nation, class, and gender).
Lastly, we will be looking at the legacies of “frontier” processes in the present-day U.S. and world, and toward future change and reimaginings (climate crisis, Indigenous nationhood, immigration, etc.). In particular, we will explore the backlash to immigrant rights and Native sovereignty, and explore strategies for countering far-right movements opposing cultural diversity. As the Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko asserts, “The great human migration within the Americas cannot be stopped; human beings are natural forces of the earth, just as rivers and wind are natural forces.”
The class will visit sites in Washington state where Indigenous, settler, and recent immigrant communities closely interact with each other in conflict and cooperation. Students will develop skills in writing, synthesizing information, and public speaking. They will complete a case study research project, documenting the imprint of historic policies on contemporary realities, and present it in a class symposium.