Bordering the Nation in the 21st Century

(B)ordering the Nation in the 21st Century: A Parody of National Security

Luis Humberto Crosthwaite’s border-based postmodernism both foregrounds and

suggests the border-making initiated in and following 1848. This action of zooming in and

zooming out, as it were, indicates not a peripheral focus on 1848 but rather the logic of double

encoding defined above. This logic is first presented in an epigram comprised of lyrics to a

norteño song which states: “[q]uiero recordale al gringo, yo no crucé la frontera, la frontera me

cruzó” [12] (“I want to remind the gringo, I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.”) In

this epigram to “Recomendaciones,” which is the first vignette presented, Crosthwaite uses the

pop cultural form of norteño music in order to situate the text in the historical context of 1848.

Cathy Ragland defines norteño music as contemporary renditions of Mexican folk ballads.

Additionally, she notes, this music is performed by bands featuring “a three-row button

accordion; a bajo sexto, which has twelve strings with six double courses; an electric bass; and

drums” (1). As a result, the function of the norteño lyric is to evoke the 19th century’s redrawing

of border lines and to suggest that this emphasis on national borders persists to this day. The

lyrics, from the popular band Los Tigres del Norte, are a pointed reference to the coloniality and

mobility, not of populations, but of the border itself that harks back to the historical lessons of

border modernism in George Washington Gómez (12). Significantly, in the present moment, the

border is yet again mobilized in that it is “pushed out” through both the rhetoric and the concrete

expressions of national security.4 While the invocations of 1848 in sections following the first

are not as explicit, what remains consistent is a focus on the intertwined relationship between

border-making and border-crossing as the daily reality of Tijuanenses. By foregrounding the

expansionist logic of 1848, the list of “recommendations” which open the text situates the reader

not in a virtual dehistoricized space but in a militarized border which exists as a marker of

national control.

In order to critique the way in which the border is policed by government institutions

designed to preserve the idea of the nation, Crosthwaite uses the exaggerated list characteristic of

postmodernism. Importantly, the absurdity borne out through the list effectively parodies the

legalist methods of border control. Further, this parody not only satirizes such methods but

underscores the social conditions in which they exist as a means of initiating a critical

examination. In arguing for parody as a mode of critique, this chapter draws on Hutcheon’s

assertion that parody is the “mode” of the “‘ex-centric,’ of those who are marginalized by a

dominant ideology” (35). Moreover, this critique as parody is enabled by the technique of double

encoding, where material is presented only to be subverted. In the list of recommendations,

Crosthwaite projects the tenets of dominant ideology back onto the ideological structures

themselves, that is, those sites from which dominant ideology emerges. In this particular case,

one such site of dominant ideology is the U.S.-Mexico border and its militarized border checkpoints,

monitored by the federal agency known as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

The parodic nature of the list satirizes the ICE pretense of safeguarding the border as a

legal imperative manifest in the rhetoric of national security. Each bullet point contains

instructions about the legal procedures of border crossing followed by language which

undermines this fixation on legality. The first bullet point, for instance, begins plainly enough by

stating that “[s]e require que portes un documento que acredite tu nacionalidad y tus intenciones”

(“[i]t is required to carry a passport which verifies your nationality and intentions” [13, 14].) Yet

later, the very same bullet ends by stating that one should cross “para realizer faenas que no

comprometen el statu quo de la sociedad que visitas” (“to perform works which do not

compromise the status quo of the society which you visit” [14 italics original]). As a matter of

fact, this organization, legal specifications undermined by absurd propositions, represents the

larger pattern of “Recomendaciones.” While it begins with instructions on legal crossing, the

rhetorical punch “ultimately” suggests subservience and assimilation. As the bullet points

progress, the language becomes increasingly ironic, as when the narrator urges the reader not to

be pleased if a K9 dog urinates on their tires. The final bullet begins by stating, “[w]hen you

come to the guards have your passport ready and your mind blank” (15).

The ICE agents are not concerned with detecting whether

border-crossers have “droga” or “fruta” (“drugs” or “fruit”) in tow as the narrator initially

suggests (14). Instead, the narrator ultimately states, “[l]o más apropriado es estar convencido de

que ellos son seres omnipotentes, deidades, césares caprichosos capaces de arrojarte de su

imperio” (“[i]t is best to be convinced that they are omnipotent beings, deities, capricious

Caesars capable of ousting you from their empire” [16]). Therefore, the recommendations for

navigating procedures like customs inspections turn out to be a set of tips on appeasing the allpowerful

but arbitrary gatekeepers of the kingdom. By showing the absurdity of these

procedures, Crosthwaite reveals that the “law” is a pretext for the more insidious project of

naturalizing the border and the nationalist ideologies which subtend it.

The deliberately constructivist quality of the list stylistically mirrors the idea of order

which undergirds the reciprocal projects of policing the border and preserving the mythical idea

of nation-as-homeland. Just as the list form itself is predicated on the idea that there is a rationale

to hierarchies, the nation form presupposes not simply that dominant-subordinate relationships

are comprehensible but that they are, in fact, reasonable. As a result, the intrusive narrator, who

claims to have crossed the border over one thousand times, not only calls attention to the

constructed nature of the list but also of the nationalist laws which it vocalizes (13). Historically,

the impulse for nation-building via territorial control was unleashed in the 19th century as

Manifest Destiny. In Crosthwaite’s text, this tendency toward national control persists only that

it is set in the context of the 21st century. Despite this context, however, the border between the

U.S. and Mexico is ordered, albeit unevenly, by the national institutions of the U.S. and Mexico.

Lauren Berlant thematizes this idea of order through her term “National Symbolic,” a concept

which, she argues, produces “the ‘law’ in which the accident of birth within a

geographic/political boundary transforms individuals into subjects of a collectively-held history”

(20). In this regard, the U.S.-Mexico border is used by ICE as an ordering symbol which, from a

nationalist perspective, delimits the U.S. homeland from outside territories and the alien beings

that inhabit them. This obsessively policed border under constant surveillance on both sides of

the border is material proof of the ICE ideal to impose methods of national security impermeable

to those who “upset the status quo.”

Structuring the list of recomendaciones as a parody of the nationalist impulse for order

provides a formal analogue for a border history which does not make sense but has attained the

status of a regime of truth. While each of the bullets begins as instructions on navigating the

legal customs required for border-crossing, thus privileging the significance of the law, they

ultimately end in absurdity. Customs agents are deities; border agents will only take “yes” or

“no” answers even when their questions warrant otherwise; border-crossers are exhorted to take

no pleasure in coprophilia. The narrator of the list thus frames their satirical commentary as legal

instructions in order to undermine the very notion of legality itself. Further, Crosthwaite’s

parody shows that this turn to legality is actually a nationalist strategy used to enforce nativist

policy. As a result, the application of the law as an ordering principle on the border is rendered as

a farce. The relation between legality and border-crossing, literally staged as a set of legal

procedures, does not add up. In this light, Crosthwaite provides a list of laws that are not actually

laws at all but regulatory mechanisms of an ideological construct, the nation, which presents

itself as what Berlant would term “the inevitability of a natural law”; of what Michel Foucault

identifies as a regime of truth. In short, it is precisely the transformation of a collectively-held

narrative into a paradigm that orders and conditions life materially and conceptually which

makes it possible for the popular discourse on immigration to rationalize lethal force because

immigrants are ‘breaking the law.’ As a result, by double encoding, in this case displaying a list

that is both a set of laws as well as a series of absurdities, Crosthwaite illustrates that the border

continues to be governed, and reproduced, by the politics and protocols of national security in

the guise of jurisprudence.

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