Imagine There's No Border
By Jessica J. Savage
The 12th annual Mesilla-based annual Border Book Festival, April 21-23, takes as its theme "Re-Imagining the Border/Re-Imaginando La Frontera"—part two of a three-part series focusing on the world's borders. Last year's border theme, "Re-Inventing the Americas," focused on borders within the Americas including Canada. The 2007 theme will be "Remembering Who We Are, Remembering Where We Come From," and will take on borders worldwide.
"Literature and art, through storytellers and artists have always been at the forefront of issues," says Denise Chávez, director of the festival.
Concentrating on the US/Mexican border, this year's theme came to Chávez while she was standing on the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana with a group of writers. Between the countries was the formidable metal fence, trailing off into the ocean. Across the fence in America was a park in which there were no people and no children were playing; it lacked life. In contrast, on Chávez's side of the fence, everywhere she looked she saw vibrant colors and a place teeming with life. And then, she says, it came to her: "What if we didn't have borders?"
Borders can be what separate people. "We're not all disconnected," Chávez says. "We're all connected, from the children in Palestine to the people in Africa."
Through the Border Book Festival (BBF), which will bring together writers, artists, locals and other participants, Chávez hopes to facilitate a dialog about borders that will lead to a "re-imagining" of the border.
One way to do this is by emphasizing culture and by starting with the place you call home. "You look down at the ground of where you are and then you raise your eyes," Chávez says. The festival can be seen as a way to enlightened conscious-raising, she says, by sharing border culture through language, customs and food that will break the fear-based barriers that separate us.
Other countries place a high value on culture in all its forms by having ministries of culture, says Daniel Zolinsky, Chávez's photographer husband. "It's culture with a capital C," he says. For example, American comedian Jerry Lewis was recently honored by the French Ministry of Culture with a medal and induction into the Legion of Honor. The closest parallel US government entity is the National Endowment for the Arts, which is participating in this year's festival, as is the Mexican Consulate, which will send two of Mexico's top writers, poets Elsa Cross and Francisco Serrano. They will read from their work with Benjamin Alire Sáenz on Saturday afternoon.
The festival is headquartered at the Cultural Center of Mesilla, just 42 miles from the Mexican border, where visitors explore a plethora of new and used books, and are encouraged to engage in border culture conversations and attend the upcoming festival.
"Culture is food, language, music and wrestling," Chávez says, referring to Luchadores, the Mexican wrestlers who were featured in a BBF workshop. "Culture is life."
Meditating on culture and her own roots, Chávez recently realized the importance of the great American staple, tacos. Her new book, A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food, and Culture, inspired a food sub-theme and will be published in time for the festival. "Wherever I am, I can take my mother's tacos with me," she says. "Mestesata—the stew of life. That's what the festival is."
On Friday night, April 21, opening day of the festival will be an event called "Probaditas," meaning morsels or sampling of food. The event will be catered by local restaurants and features a reading by Chávez and music by Fronteras No Mas.
Many events throughout the weekend will be for children and teens, including the BBF's first Children's Parade on Saturday morning at 10 on the plaza. Having the area's young participate in the festival through workshops, the parade and storytelling events is important, Chávez says, because the concept of borders or separation is not natural for them; rather, it's a learned idea. "It's really about the border in our area."
The 2,000-mile area of stark desert landscape that is the US/Mexican border—and what happens there—is the focus of the work of many of the invited authors at this year's festival.
East Los Angeles cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, author of Migra Mouse, makes his living drawing humorous and satirical cartoons about Mexican immigrants. His work has appeared nationwide in newspapers and magazines. Alcaraz will participate in the festival and will hold a cartoon workshop with two other Mexican cartoonists.
A haunting image of many footprints in the soft sand of a desert arroyo is one of the photographs in the new book Inferno by Silver City photographer Michael Berman. Berman and border author Charles "Chuck" Bowden will present a talk and slide show on Saturday afternoon.
Another session will be conducted by journalist and author Diana Washington Valdez, who created a Mexican firestorm with her book about the Juárez murders called Cosecha de Mujures/Harvest of Women.
Readings, workshops and panels will also be part of the festival, which will have a banquet featuring readings by authors Rubén Martinez, Norma Cantú and Aristeo Brito, followed by a dance on Saturday evening.
Chávez wants all festival participants to come and be fully nourished by the atmosphere, food and all that is offered. "Come and be sustained, nourished, inspired, dance, sing, eat, weep and look at things deeply," she urges. "Culture is everything."
The festival also includes a trade show on Saturday,
April 22, and Sunday, April 23, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information
on the festival, contact the BBF at email@example.com or
523-3988, or see www.borderbookfetival.org.