The Four Questions

Haggadah Section: -- Four Questions

It is customary at a Seder to have the youngest member of the Seder recite the four questions. Please include the chanting of the traditional questions in Hebrew here if you would like. We would like to ask four new questions instead: 

  • What role does Identity play in the Borderlands?  
  • What is Neoliberalism both in the Borderlands and abroad?  
  • How is the Law wielded and manipulated in the Borderlands?  
  • What does Citizenship mean in the Borderlands and around the globe? 

What is Identity in the Borderlands? 

When considering identity we must understand the concept of Intersectionality. 

“My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition.”Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”, Sister Outsider 

Our working definition of intersectionality is: “The acknowledgement that multiple systems of oppression can be at play in a single act of discrimination, oppression, or subordination.” Moreover, one type of oppression cannot be independent of another; all forms of oppression are always intersecting, communicating, and becoming redefined. 

We also must understand the systems at play, the –isms that shape intersectional oppression. Again, we defer to Audre Lorde: 

“Racism, the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance. Sexism, the belief in the inherent superiority of one sex over the other and thereby the right to dominance. Ageism. Heterosexism. Elitism. Classism. [Cisism. Ableism.]”Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”, Sister Outsider

What is identity in the Borderlands? There are many different folks who call the Borderlands home. There is a border here – sometimes physical, sometimes conceptual – but the roots of the people and culture run far older and deeper. There are Mexicanos. There are Americans. There are Estadounidenses. There are Chicanxs. There are indigenous peoples like the Tohono O’odham. There are indigenous peoples from México and Centroamérica. There are workers, politicians, volunteers, sisters, priests, government officials. There are farmers, handypeople, construction workers, electricians, students, cooks. There are Spanish speakers, English speakers, Tzotzil speakers, Quiche speakers, Papago speakers. We are all invited to add to this endless list. In the Borderlands, as with everywhere, each person is unique. We are reminded that we need to be conscious labelling someone as a part of a certain cultural, racial, ethnic, sex-based, gender-based, age- based, ability-based, etc. group. 

“Ambos Nogales” 

Sonoran strange, just who do you think we are? 

Nos toman por hijos de puta, 

nos(otros), hijos de la frontera. 

The people assumed to be Mexicans 

who aren’t always Mexicans. The people assumed to be white 

and might not be white people. 

The Mexicans who don’t speak Spanish 

and the Mormons who do. The Mexicans with their paper, que se sienten superiors. 

United Statesians without passports, not worth the trouble. 

The Chicano speaking Spanish on cellphone in his Border Patrol uniform at the freeway checkpoint. 

The gringo foreign exchange student 

who feels más mexicano que la chingada y que ha aprendido bien que no hay nada más mexicano que la chingada. 

The native teenager riding the Yo-Yo in Sells, 

Tohono O’odham Nation, Rodeo and Fair; feeling herself spin around the horizon and the horizon spinning inside her. 

The high school kids playing with their kids after school at their mom’s house. 

Los chiapanecos chambeando en el norte Snowbirds sunning in the south. 

Sonoran strange, such as it is, one man’s norte is another man’s sur. La puta de uno es la madre de otro. 

Sonorizona. La rumerosa, la maquila, Barrio Heavy, Barrio Libre. 

The border used to be main street, Nogales, 

now it’s concrete poured into pipe dreams. 

First they built the wall of rusted military metal, 

old landing strips used in the first Gulf War. 

(Then the torches spoke acetylene angles, 

bundles passed through kilo-shaped holes.) 

(Show me a fifty-foot wall, 

and I’ll show you a fifty-one foot ladder.) 

Then they built a virtual fence of military contracts. 

Motion-sensing cameras caught raindrops migrating from the monsoon, sin permiso. 

The border wall, now a series of columns, 

a set of ideas, made to feel permanent. 

Sonorizona. Las prostis, los pochos y las puestas del sol. 

The nomadic truckers waiting for free trade, 

folding pesos into paper airplanes, watching them fly through La Mariposa; 

the drivers less free than the cargo they carry. 

Sonoran strange, all things being unequal, 

we’re more ourselves on the edges, wearing our hearts on the outskirts and holding the hollow inside us. 

The miners, out of work, 

digging international tunnels, tunnels with air conditioning and telephones. 

In Nogales they say a drug tunnel 

is busted every other day. 

In Nogales they say one day the centro 

will collapse into all these empty veins. 

So much more to us 

than seen on the surface, 

sonoran strange 

just who do we think we are? 

from “Sonoran Strange” by Logan Phillips of Tucson, 2015 

What is Neoliberalism in the Borderlands? 

As described by Elizabeth Martinez and Arnaldo Garcia: 

“It is governed by the Rule of the Market: free enterprise reigns supreme, it aims to eliminate government influence, and prioritizes deregulation of all commercial exploits. At the same time, it focuses on cutting social services such as education, health, infrastructure, and welfare. - It assumes an unlimited supply of resources and an unfettered global capacity for progress. - Privatization and concentration of wealth is key, even if this comes at a higher cost to public. - It promotes the idea of individuality – the eradication of a common wealth and shared community – and cultivates a culture of fear and competition.” Adapted from Elizabeth Martinez and Arnaldo Garcia, “What is neoliberalism? A Brief Definition for Activists”

In other words, “Neoliberalism means neo-colonialization.” In the context of the Borderlands, Neoliberalism means maquila construction and the mass employment of disposable Mexican labor in return for cheap or no pay and long hours. It means transcontinental superhighways and the free flow of consumer goods over borders while it becomes harder and harder for human beings to cross borders. It means “vicious cycles of debt, deportation, and detention” for many who have tried to cross the border into the US to alleviate the strain of poverty on their families or to escape unimaginable violence. It means the political, social, and systematic prioritization of money over the lives of human beings. 

We are moved to consider the consequences of the Neoliberal system on the entire planet. We assert the opposite of what Donald Trump claims when he says “The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico[‘s problems], and, in fact, for many other parts of the world,” and that, in fact, the world has become a dumping ground for the garbage, chemical waste, environmental destruction, and externalities – such as cheap labor, inadequate healthcare and education, and oppression – generated by the countries that represent the interests of the hegemonic elite. We consider our Zapatista compa’s outlook on progress: “Bueno vs. mejor”, and how the illusion of unencumbered capacity for development has informed our life paths. We consider the tenet of ‘the image of the limited good’: that “there is a fixed amount of those things that provide satisfaction in the world, and that if one person has a great deal of those things, others will have less,” (The Death of Ramon González, Angus Wright, page 164). We are drawn to consider how we are complicit in these systems and how we, in our future, will strive to work against them and the negative impacts in which they result. 

What is Law in the Borderlands? 

Law is a way of maintaining order in a society. Law is also a way of preserving the rights of the hegemon and is often used to oppress those outside the hegemon for their financial or social benefit. In the Borderlands, Law is used to systematically criminalize and murder migrants who come to the US seeking a better life. Referenced here are Jeff McWhorter’s four pillars of Border Imperialism as they relate to the US-México Borderlands: 

  1. Displacement of peoples and families along with physically secured borders, watched over by the Border Patrol military force and physically partitioned by iron walls, cameras, motion sensors, drone technology, etc. 
  2.  Criminalization of migration and a network of detention centers and prisons that systematically deny people their human rights and are presented as a method of deterrence, just like how Border Patrol also justifies chasing migrants to their deaths in the desert as deterrence. –
  3. Racialized hierarchies that target people of color for merely being present in spaces; one example being SB1070, a law that permits police officers to profile and approach any person of color and demand that they furnish legal documents of identification, and encourages cooperation between local police and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona. 
  4. Labor precarity that keeps laborers scared of losing their jobs and thus prohibits them from organizing lest they risk being fired. Such labor is made up of banal tasks that can be done by any person and don’t require so much skill that individual workers have value to an employer. 

We are encouraged to examine the following quotes and discuss how they relate to Law in the Borderlands: 

“People usually do not resort to risky and desperate moves unless they have nothing left to lose.” –Alex Knight 

“Many migrate because they must; the journey and prospect of being labeled a criminal in the US pale in comparison to poverty or violence at home.” 

“People with felonies have families. People with criminal records have children. Working mothers and their children have been criminalized through gang databases. We are all family and friends.” 

We strive to understand and counteract our complicity in these systems. We are moved to challenge this rhetoric whenever we hear voices that claim that these systems are not at play. We call upon the governments of the US, México, and Centroamérica to take responsibility for the thousands of deaths on the borders between the US and México, and México and Guatemala (adapted from “Los Estados Unidos: La intervención en el aseguramiento de la region.” by Isabel Ball). 

What is Citizenship in the Borderlands? 

In our examination of citizenship, let us call upon the teachings of Hannah Arendt, a Jew critical of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and her insights into the refugee’s loss of political status and ‘the right to have rights’. ‘The right to have rights’ refers to the state of being that many refugees are in. Their rights are defined by their citizenship of a particular country. Once they become refugees in another country, the stipulations of those rights become decided by a powerful elite who, although presumably acting in the refugee’s interest, frequently prioritize forced assimilation to that country’s culture and the systematic oppression of those with viewpoints, cultural or religious expressions, and/or traditions that stand in stark contrast to the host country’s “de facto” homogeneity. Thus refugees lose the right to basic rights as human beings and are subjected to further oppression and marginalization through racialized, genderized, elitist legal systems. Arendt introduced ‘the right to have rights’ as a way of acknowledging that all humans have the inherent right to exist in this world, even if no sovereign nation is willing to grant them that right. 

Nanda Oudejans explores Arendt’s idea from the angle of asylum seekers. She highlights the common plight of refugees that: 

“de facto statelessness assumes that [they], at the end of the day, ought to be ‘there’, in their country of origin, not ‘here,’ in the country of asylum where they are non-nationals and do not belong,” (23). “Indeed, if refugees are deprived of place in the world, they are withheld ... ‘the power of place’,” (13).” We have a system where personhood is defined by place. Under this system, if you leave a specific place, you cease to be a person.” From “The Right to Have Rights as the Right to Asylum” by Nanda Oudejans

Omri Boehm, on the other hands, reminds us that “universality is a property of the set of all human beings, whereas the exclusive set of citizens is one to which the refugees do not belong.” (“Can Refugees Have Human Rights?” by Omri Boehm) 

As members of a society where we are considered ‘legal’ and therefore ‘allowed to be “here”’, we must be reminded that ‘illegal person’ is a new category, having only surfaced within the last fifty years. We acknowledge that “anti-immigrant [persecution] is one of the last forms of racism [in our society] that is deemed acceptable,” (“The Case for Open Immigration: A Q&A with Philippe Legrain”).We assert that there is no such thing as “an illegal human being” (“ningún ser humano es illegal”), and that people are not criminals because they seek a better life. We acknowledge that the category ‘criminal’ is a construct based on a legalized form of systematic oppression, as discussed by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, used to marginalize migrants and people of color within the US. We refuse to accept the label of “criminal” as a basis for oppression, segregation, torture, or prolonged detention of any form. 

Researched and compiled by Julian Cranberg 

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