All the Agents and Saints
Elizondo Griest, Stephanie. All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands. University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
All The Agents and Saints, Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands was published in 2017 and is the story of two different geographical U.S. borderlands; South Texas/Mexico along the Rio Grande Valley and the New York/Canada Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne along the Saint Lawerence River. Juxtaposed these two regions of the United States appear very different and on the surface the similarities are not always obvious.
In this two part narrative of 20 chapters the author reveals the commonality between the these two environmentally different areas. Each region shares a border with two different countries; Mexico in the South and Canada in the North. The story shows the difficulties of living on the edge, not only physically, but socially and culturally as well.
The author address the idea of “nepantle,” or being suspended in the middle, and the difficulties of living between two distinct cultures. She interviews these two culturally different borderland people, giving us a glimpse into their generational perseverance and the emergence of people embracing their cultural identities.
The author examines the customs and livelihoods of these borderland people and researches the U.S. companies in their midst, describing in many cases, the effects of environmental pollution and consequential destruction of local customs. The author describes the hostility of the companies when locals rise up and go against the status quo of these long-time occupiers. Gathering the information for this story the author interviewed, on both borders, local residents, border agents, immigrant detainees, tribal elders, healers, curanderas, religious clergy, bail-bond people, local law enforcement, gun/cigarette/drug smugglers, as well as, human traffickers. In addition, the authors also pays a lot of attention to the spiritual and religious practices of these borderland people.
The narrative is well researched with excellent detail of the conditions along these borderlands. The storyline is engaging in its depiction of the characters with extensive footnotes and bibliography, inviting the curious reader to explore the subject matter even further. If you have an interest in people living in the U.S. borderlands and the issues they face daily, you must read this book. The contrasts and similarities are fascinating.
Stephanie Elizondo Griest is a Chicana author and activist from South Texas who has traveled the world advancing her craft as a writer and investigative reporter. She has lived and worked in Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba and Mexico to name a few. Her books include the award winning memoir Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana, 2004; a best selling guidebook 100 Places Every Woman Should Go, 2007 and Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines, 2008. She has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post and Latina Magazine, and is currently an assistant professor of creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Review by Patrick Trujillo, NHCC-HLA Volunteer.