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The geography of displacement
The geography of displacement


In his novel, The Songlines, the peripatetic Bruce Chatwin tries “to get to grips with the concept of the Dreamtime,” and learns, in somewhat rudimentary terms, that one “had to understand it as an Aboriginal equivalent of the first two chapters of Genesis — with one significant difference.”

“In Genesis,” Chatwin explains, “God first created the 'living things' and then fashioned Father Adam from clay. Here in Australia, the Ancestors created themselves from clay, hundreds and thousands of them, one for each totemic species.”

And “each totemic ancestor, while traveling through the country, was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints, and how these Dreaming-tracks lay over the land as 'ways' of communication between the most far-flung tribes.”

Furthermore, “a song can be thought of as both map and direction-finder. Providing you knew the song, you could always find your way across country.”

So, “in theory, at least, the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score. There was hardly a rock or creek in the country that could not or had not been sung. One should perhaps visualize the Songlines as a spaghetti of Illiads and Odyssey, writhing this way and that, in which every episode was readable in terms of geology.”


HEADLINE: Sat Nav for immigrants entering the US (The Telegraph; 30 Dec 2006).

Illegal immigrants planning to cross the desert and enter the US on foot are to be given hand-held satellite devices by the Mexican authorities to ensure they arrive safely.

Those who get lost or fall sick during the dangerous four-day crossing will be able to activate the device, to alert frontier police on both sides of the border.

The satellite tracking service will require would-be illegals to register their intentions before setting off — a paradoxical move, given that secrecy is necessary for success — but Mexican authorities are predicting that about 200,000 devices will be handed out when the project is launched formally in the coming year.


Geoff Manaugh left a comment in our post on Taryn Simon's photographs of customs offices, quarantine facilities, and other Edens; his comment is replicated below:

I once thought - in fact, I still think - that it'd be interesting to grow a garden using only seeds and plants seized at the Customs office.

A garden of seized plants. Captured flowers. Find out what weird, hybridized landscape results. Take pictures of it and submit the film for an ASLA award. Write a new Pamphlet Architecture book about it.

Grow more of the things. Seize whole landscapes coming over the border. An 18-wheeler hauling an open truck bed gets stopped at the gate - because the bed is planted with seeds seized at Customs a year earlier. A small, somewhat disorganized garden grows. So of course, you let it through... It's going back to where it came from...

But you don't. You re-seize it. The loop starts all over again.


On water stations.


HEADLINE: Vandals drain desert water tanks intended for illegal immigrants (KVOA News 4 Tucson, AZ; 14 Jun 2006).


A proposal:

You take a dozen or two prospective immigrants. So as to minimize controversy, let's identify them as French.

Through an unimaginably improbable series of events — including years despairing about their country's economic model; being inexplicably listed on the FAA's no-fly list; and a Congress growing increasingly impotent when dealing with immigration reform — they find themselves outside the border of the US, looking in. Just beyond that grove of trees is Arizona.

And they've just eaten some fruits, you see, or brushed up against a pollen-field plant, indigenous to Mexico but not the desert Southwest — or, since this is a design project after all, you, the designer, have them swallow the seeds and lodge a few more on their persons, in their hairy chests, lanky arms, and perfumed armpits. And for good measure, you surreptitiously stuff their pockets with ones you've gathered from other exotic locales.

Then off they go.

Unfortunately, most of them will die. Without a map, they will get lost, and dehydration will come long before they reach Tucson. That or they get accidentally killed by members of the border militia or by wildlife, if distinguishable. But where they stumble and fall, a garden grows.

These gardens would then act like vegetated outposts, a constellation of caravansaries which subsequent border crossers can follow or add to. Wave after wave, and tragedy after tragedy, this new underground railroad would become as well-established and well-marked as elephant jungle tracks, and as easily traceable as a Songline.

A hundred years later, they'll become the de facto national memorial park for immigrant America, a landscape record for the migrant experience.

The Ellis Island of the Southwest.

To follow a trail there is to embark on a pilgrimage, a sacred reenactment of collective memory and a paean to the soul of the country.


Can you connect the dots?

Below is a map showing the locations of migrant deaths in 2003, as compiled from maps available on the website of Humane Borders. Red dots are deaths due to heat; yellow dots, unknown causes; and light blue, vehicles. In areas beyond the map, deaths have occurred due to exposure to cold temperatures, homicide, drowning, existing medical condition and train accidents.

The built-up area at the top is Phoenix, Arizona. The white line at the bottom is the US-Mexico border.

The geography of displacement


In the Archives: Botanical Guide to BorderXing

The Washington Post Special Report: Immigration Multimedia


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