3D: Dismantling the Mafia, Destabilizing Mechanisms, and Documenting the Historical Memory. By Sylvia Fernández

Reposted from Torn Apart / Separados website. You can find the Spanish version titled, “Triple D: Desmantelando a la mafia, desestabilizando mecanismos y documentando la memoria histórica”, at http://xpmethod.plaintext.in/torn-apart/reflections/sylvia_fernandez.html

the trap

So, once again, be careful! American domination – the only domination which one never recovers. I mean from which one never recovers unscarred. And since you are talking about factories and industries, do you see the tremendous factory hysterically spitting out its cinders in the heart of our forests or deep on the bush, the factory for the production of lackeys; do you not see the prodigious mechanization, the mechanization of man; the gigantic rape of everything intimate, undamaged, undefiled that, despoiled as we are, our human spirit has still managed to preserve; the machine, yes, have you ever seen it, the machine for crushing, for grinding, for degrading peoples? Aimé Césaire[1]

Ever since I begin my university studies in 2009, a concern arose in me; it derived from the frustration generated from taking courses related to the border. At first these classes focused on the feminicides–the murder and disappearance of hundreds of young women working at the factories (maquiladoras)–NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the aftermath of the war against drug trafficking as well as other issues tied to the US-Mexico border (immigration, militarization, violence and more violence). Most of these classes have been very difficult for me because of the negative perspective perpetrated to this geographical space and its communities. Despite the reality of these problems, interpreted in a particular way in these contexts, these classes were framed from a number of generalizations, without going deep into the history that lies behind the continuous crises.

Being a border woman, born and raised in the same place where my parents met while working in the Toshiba factory, my life has always been centered in a transnational environment. Therefore, the abuses, the violence and everything that implies living under a mechanism controlled by the hegemonic interests of an imperialist and capitalist system have been part of my everyday life. So, when I talk about my hometown (la frontera #1), most of the time I feel very sad and frustrated because my birthplace ends up being the representation of the chaotic, the dangerous, and the monstrous zone. It produces a rejection of the border or, in many cases, it provokes a feeling of a division to draw a distinction between the United States and Mexico. By living in this region one perceives and, in one way or another, resists that the problems that emerge, concentrate or impose themselves in this place, are beyond the sensationalist or tragic story and are there for paternalistic reasons. Also, the same mechanisms that control spaces like the US-Mexico border or the Central America region itself have been responsible for building “the official history” of these spaces and perpetuate the omission, invisibility, and alteration of the voices of the communities that inhabit these places.

The events taking place on the US-Mexico border in the months of June and July 2018, such as the immigrant families detained, deported, separated, and the executive order signed by Donald Trump, “Zero Tolerance Policy,” have once again become newspaper headlines; and US government speeches have made me feel frustrated, once more. One reason for this is that the crisis facing immigrant families that are being separated and transferred to detention centers, among other institutionalized shelters, is using the same strategy of hate, discrimination, racism, and dehumanization, among many other injustices. And this is where I ask myself, what happens all the time after a crisis like the one taking place now? It is forgotten. And the true story that includes the voice, the documents and statistics of the communities is lost. And when we seek to recover those voices/documents, they are often incomplete or corrupted. This is how the history that tells the story about the border is an altered creation that benefits the dominant and aggressive nation.

My case is an example. I am from the border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, which on the one hand is perceived as an insipid place without history and on the other is distinguished by its ease of converting crisis stories into fiction or production factories, always being used, destroyed and abandoned. Similarly, there is also the case of the thousands of Central American migrants who are now being part of a history that hides the main reasons for their migration[2], such as the intervention of the United States in Central America since the beginning of the twentieth century and the abuses they have faced during their immigration trajectories https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/275760276504019/UzpfSTc0Nzc0MTM5MDoxMDE1NjE5NzEwMTI4NjM5MQ/. In such a way that violence, poverty, and migration, among other crises that represent Central America and the border itself, are not due to their inhabitants but because of the mechanisms integrated into these countries for the economic, political and hegemonic benefit of the US government. It is necessary to keep historical memory present in order to emphasize awareness, decolonization of their consciousness, and resistance to oppressive mechanisms in a transnational manner.

With this in mind, over the past 3 years, I have been part of Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage as a Research Fellow. This has given me the opportunity to be exposed to a vast amount of recovered archives that contain the voices of the past. Particularly, many newspapers and unknown personal archives have led me to understand and be conscious of the existence of Other histories. These documents, personal archives, and US Latina/o academic research have shown me that the border cities of El Paso and Cd. Juárez and this special space that they create is a region of relevant cultural and historical production. Yet, since it is considered the periphery of the United States and Mexico, there is a lack of knowledge and disregard for this region and its transnational literary heritage, especially from locals who do not conceive this legacy as part of their identity and patrimony. My experience in Recovery coupled with my transfronteriza identity led me to think of a project that could integrate the US-Mexico borderlands and together with my colleague, Maira Álvarez—a fronteriza from Laredo, Texas—we founded Borderlands Archives Cartography; a project that maps nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries newspapers published on both sides of the border to visualize the multiplicity and hidden history(es) of this region.
The development of the project, in one part by presenting it in multidisciplinary conferences locally, nationally and internationally and my involvement in the Digital Humanities and Social Justice Speakers’ Series hosted by Recovery, with the special effort of Carolina Villarroel, Gabriela Baeza, and Lorena Gauthereau, led me to have the good fortune of meeting wonderful people (Jeremy Boggs, Purdom Lindblad, María E. Cotera, Alex Gil, Élika Ortega, and Roopika Risam), who have allowed me to learn from their experiences in the field of digital humanities. These scholars are aware that personal/communities stories are subject to political crisis and that they have the power to make social justice changes.

In June 2018 Alex Gil invited me to be part of a team with  Roopika Risam, Manan Ahmed, Maira Álvarez, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira, Linda Rodriguez, Merisa Martinez, and Gil himself, that created  “Torn Apart / Separados,” a project that aggregates and cross-references publicly available data to visualize the geography of Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy in 2018 and immigration incarceration in the USA in general. This initiative continues to work to profoundly review the crisis caused by the separation of immigrant families and refugees. It unmasks the mafia-type work of the US government as it produces more and more money through the abuse of vulnerable communities and by continuously degrading and attacking people of color.

I want to end by highlighting how the interdisciplinary and collaborative work within this digital, activist, and mobilized humanities offers the opportunity to create new ways of interpreting, visualizing, and documenting the history of communities with a profound message towards social justice and equity in the world. The way we have been working represents a practice of resistance in a communitarian way; our work goes against the strategy of “divide and conquer” in order to avoid the constant physical and verbal aggressions towards groups of minorities.


Sylvia Fernández is a Ph.D. Candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston and a Research Fellow with Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. She is the co-founder of Borderlands Archives Cartography. Her research is on US Latina / o with a focus on US-Mexico borderlands, transnational feminisms, postcolonial theory and digital humanities.


[1] Aimé Césaire. “Discourse on Colonialism”. Translated by Joan Pinkham. Monthly
Review Press, 1972.

[2] http://theconversation.com/how-us-policy-in-honduras-set-the-stage-for-todays-mass-migration-65935?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=twitterbutton

https://medium.com/s/story/timeline-us-intervention-central-america-a9bea9ebc148

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/february-2017/todays-banned-immigrants-are-no-different-from-our-immigrant-ancestors

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