Crossing the Borderlands

Crossing the Borderlands

From the front cockpit of the biplane, the surrounding mountains and broad plain below seemed familiar to me. I couldn’t remember ever setting foot there, yet I knew the place. After the pilot handed me control and I turned the plane into evening sun, memory returned. This was Texas! It was Oklahoma and Kansas. Hollywood’s versions, that is. Red River. Oklahoma! How many times had I watched Montgomery Clift and John Wayne ride in this same light? That was the child-me searching for home in every possible western image, even mythical Old Wests.

Now, less than an hour to sunset, slant light shaped the swells and hollows of the Canelo Hills and Sonoita Plain. The Huachuca, Mustang, and Whetstone Mountains blushed for a rose-tinged instant. Beyond them, to the east, the San Pedro River’s dark, winding course settled into dusk. No visible line separated Mexico from the United States, Sonora from Arizona. Land and sky stretched to the horizon.

These were the borderlands.


So many dividing lines have criss-crossed this landscape, seen and unseen, porous and seemingly solid. The San Pedro Valley is one of the most biologically diverse regions of the continent, yet visitors may know nothing of the region’s burden of violence. Fort Huachuca, an army post established during the so-called “Apache wars,” became the site of military segregation and containment of “Negro” personnel on a massive scale. And the metal wall marking the U.S.-Mexico border gives no hint of that border’s one-way permeability over more than a century.

Frontiers of conquest collided where a small river waters a dry land. The consequences still unfold, reaching my mother, and past her to me.


San_Pedro_River_Jacka.jpg courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey
By Vanessa Valentine via [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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