In many ways our readings this week are about scale. The scale at which we experience borders and boundaries in our cities. From the massive border walls that divide nations, such as the wall between the U.S. and Mexico border, to the walls surrounding gated communities, to the economic borders that separate those with means, and those without, often just blocks away. There are psychological components to all of these divisions, much of them linked to fear, and much of that fear stirred up by media and those who profit from the “border industry” (as I’m calling it for the purposes of this unit).
In “Fear of Others” Setha Low makes a connection between comments she hears teenagers in a San Antonio suburb make about “Mexicans” and a novel written by T. C. Boyle where community members discuss adding a gate to their development. We read a selection from that Boyle novel this week and it describes, quite smartly I’ve always thought, the hypocritical contradictions upwardly-mobile, liberals often espouse in their world views. They believe they are progressive people, embracing diversity, environmental protections, and animal welfare. In the novel, the protagonist is an animal lover and an avid environmental conservationist. But he has a uni-dimensional–even limited–understanding of and concern for the struggles of actual humans, the immigrants camping in the canyon nearby. In Setha Low’s research talking to real people living in gated communities, she discovers false views of what creates “safety” and how many people who want to live in gated communities have been manipulated by the media to feel insecure, often at the expense of low income nonwhites.
So let’s discuss borders this week. I’ve developed 4 question sets below. Pick TWO to answer for Wednesday and TWO for your follow up due on Sunday. (You don’t have to answer all 5 question sets.)
1. In Setha Low’s book she describes several reasons why people choose to live in gated communities–mostly by talking to the people themselves and asking them about their fears, anxieties, and desires. How does she find the decision to set up borders or boundaries reinforce certain views of people who may be different from those living in gated communities (i.e. does this separation reinforce feelings of fear, even if those fears are unjustified in reality)? How might these perceptions of difference or insecurity shape continued economic and social disparity (injustice, inequality) in cities?
2. Which of Setha Low’s interviews stand out to you the most, and why? Describe some of the psychological topics such as social splitting, purified living, and racialization she analyzes and how they might apply to the interview you picked. What does this have to do with building walls or not engaging comfortably with shared urban spaces?
3. How does TC Boyle suggest Delaney’s community has been inculcated with certain messages from the media about their urban environment? How has this impacted their feeling of safety and their desire to build a gate barring entrance to their community–one removed from the central city? What do you think are the race and class assumptions at the base of many gating projects in cities, particularly as imagined by Boyle in his book?
4. How might you describe the kinds of borders (real or metaphorical) Cándida and América experience as they try to earn money and survive in the ravine? What types of conflicts do these borders create for them and how are the couple and others like them viewed by those with homes in the community?
5. Finally, what do you think about the sections I chose for you to read from the TC Boyle novel Tortilla Curtain? Are the experiences described shocking? Familiar? Unrealistic? Reflective of people or experiences you know or suspect happen around us here in L.A.? Pick at least 1-2 episodes in the chapters and discuss.