Migration-forced, coerced, or otherwise compelled by violence and capitalism- is racialized movement. Borders materialize perceived difference; create excuses and conduits for othering, departicularizing people’s specific histories and how they flow through the world. How people become racialized when flowing over borders is steeped too in the unearned privileges some of us hold based on our national, gendered, religious, and class-based affinities.
Carry-on room only. Since the destruction of the World Trade Centers in 2001, international travel restrictions have continued to tighten. Airlines and other transport organizations have capitalized on these restrictions by stringently regulating what travelers can and cannot bring with them, how much space each traveler will receive (in order to maximize the number of bodies per cubic foot that can be arranged like sardines into a given aircraft), and who can pass freely without extra qualification. I arrive to the Yucatan, 21″ rolly carry-on in hand.
I make my way by bus to the interior where I meet a man, Lucio. “American?” He asks. His English startles me. Not because he speaks it but because he speaks it here where my journey’s taken me. Here, on the interior, English is considered a rare skill. “Me fui mojado a Denver” he told me, “por eso, hablo un poco de inglés.” He tells me his story- migrant, not traveler. How important the difference. “When will you return? Vayamos mojados?” He grins, “Me mete en su maleta? Hace tiempo que no he visto a los Estados Unidos.” Later he tells me, “I thought it would give me a chance I couldn’t make here. Pero, nadie me dijo- it was hard. I didn’t understand what it would be like. I would never tell anyone else to do it. But… if I need to, I’d do it again.”
Mojado. A racial slur originally put on Mexican migrants who waded across the Rio Grande, gathers momentum with each passing, precariously tipping between bigotry and banal description- depending on the speaker. I pass freely into Mexico. Blue passport, no visa. Smiling. Not white. But not mojado either. Lucio’s appropriation of the slur and conscription of me into it pushes the limits of the racialized capitalism we both know, differently, yet intimately. Mojado- wet, water, rivers flowing, “floods of migrants.” As though the borders they corss could literally be toppled, drowned, made to disappear beneath the sea.
Tiffany Fryer is Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Princeton Society of Fellows and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University.