Check It Out:

Borderland on Al Jazeera America Network

May 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

Borderland is an amazing reality show running on the Al Jazeera America network on Sunday nights. The premise of the show is that six volunteers from the U.S. with widely divergent views and prejudices on immigration have been assembled to go on a mission to learn about the border and about why people come here to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America. The six people on this mission range from a young artist from New York City who believes that all borders should be smashed because they create divisions among people, to a retired Marine who believes that there should be a moratorium on all immigration because the government is allowing an invasion of foreigners into the U.S.

In the opening scenes of the first episode, the six—who know nothing about what their mission will entail—find themselves inside a morgue in Pima County, Arizona, where scores and scores of unidentified bodies lie. These are all people who have been found dead in the desert, people who attempted to cross into the United States from Mexico and didn’t survive the brutal desert conditions. The remains of an average of 180 people per year are found in Pima County alone—5,500 have died in the past 15 years. Being directly confronted with scores of human beings who have died attempting to cross is a sobering and shocking experience to all of the six, raising huge questions in their minds about what drove so many people to risk their lives to leave their countries and come to the U.S. In the words of the medical examiner, this almost represents a mass fatality.

After traveling further south to survey the border itself, including the border fence, which is designed and positioned in such a way as to deliberately force people who are attempting to cross to have to go through the most utterly inhospitable and deadly conditions, the volunteers are then presented with their mission. The Pima County medical examiner puts into their hands the photos and names of three of the people who died—and their mission is to go and follow their stories, go to their places of origin and learn who they were and how they came to die in that desert. They set off in pairs to pursue the stories, to meet the families, and to learn the realities of these people’s lives—a 13-year-old boy from Guatemala, a young woman from El Salvador, and a young woman from Chiapas, Mexico.

No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that what they encounter is a moving, sometimes frightening, and life-changing experience. Beyond the vivid documenting of the lives and brutal oppression faced by not just these three immigrants who died, but also their families and communities and whole sections of people who are on the move heading for the border, the other fascinating thing about this series is watching the impact on these six Americans of actually getting outside the borders of the U.S. and getting just a tiny taste of what life is like for millions and millions of people beyond the borders of the U.S. The volunteers are profoundly shaken, some of their deeply held views are challenged, and they are forced to begin thinking about what kind of system is operating that forces human beings to suffer these horrendous conditions and to face the wrenching choice between a life with no future and no way to support a family and risking everything to try to find some way for their families to survive.

While all the dots aren’t connected in terms of why these are the choices that millions and millions of people from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries around the world face—and what the domination and plunder of these countries by U.S. capitalism-imperialism has to do with that—it presents a powerful and enraging glimpse into what these realities actually mean in the lives of people and what impact it can have on people from the U.S. to shed their blinders and begin to confront some of how the world actually is.

Unfortunately, three of the four episodes have already aired, but if you have access to cable on-demand this series is well worth watching.


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