In the United States, contemporary discourse concerning “the border” almost always centers around the country’s southern boundary shared with Mexico. Rarely, in conversations public or private among Americans is there any discussion of the nation’s northern border with Canada. Whatever the reason (ignorance, indifference, or both) all this changes with the publication of All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands (UNC Press, 2017). In this stunning comparison of life along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borderlands, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, the award-winning travel writer and Professor of Creative Non-fiction at UNC Chapel Hill, busts the conceptual block that views “the border” as a place of exceptionality. Focusing on the modern-day experiences of Tejanos/as, Mexican nationals, and Akwesasne Mohawks, Griest uncovers startling similarities between people and places separated by nearly 2,000 miles. Whether the issue is drug trafficking, confrontations with the Border Patrol, assimilation, environmental pollution, or health epidemics, Griest records the echoing testimonies of northern and southern border dwellers. Yet, amidst the harrowing tales of struggle and loss, Griest finds another commonality…transcendence! In both the northern and southern borderlands, residents, artists, and people of faith stand their ground by staging individual and collective battles against the forces that threaten communities and livelihoods. Beautifully written with force, empathy, and passion, All the Agents and Saints is required reading for those wishing to transcend the ignorance and indifference that drives so much of the social and political divisions of our day.
David-James Gonzales (DJ) is Assistant Professor of History at Brigham Young University. He is a historian of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, the development of multi-ethnic/racial cities, and the evolution of Latina/o identity and politics. His research centers on the relationship between Latina/o politics and the metropolitan development of Orange County, CA throughout the 20th century. You may follow him on Twitter @djgonzoPhD.