Border Odyssey

Border Odyssey is an exploration of the U.S./Mexico border and the challenges it presents for the people of both nations. Both the Border Odyssey book and companion website travel the entire 1,969 miles. The website also offers resources for additional study, and an interactive map that allows you to travel town by town, through photographs, text, and audio to guide you, from Boca Chica, Texas to Tijuana, California.

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Kirkus Reviews on Border Odyssey

“A potent cri de coeur for a more compassionate, sane and humane border policy. Thompson has published scholarship on issues of immigration, agriculture and border politics and has brought groups of students to borderland regions for experiential learning, and this book represents a combination of reportage, travelogue, memoir and jeremiad.

Thompson chronicles his discussions with ordinary folks, activists, border officials and just about anyone who would answer his questions. He writes engagingly and elucidates both major issues as well as the subtle losses that have taken place over the years.”

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Teacher. Author. Filmmaker. Photographer.

My work over the last 30-plus years has centered on food, farming, farmworkers, land, labor, borders, and immigration. Where all of those meet is an especially rich field for me.

I do my best to make accessible work and deliver it to diverse audiences, whether through talks, films, or my writing. I want people to find my work approachable and hopefully something that spurs them to think and take action in the world. In several cases my work has been bilingual. My dream is to foster dialogue between groups of people who usually have too little to say to one another.

The common thread through all of my work — whether as a professor, author, filmmaker, or photographer — is a deep concern for people doing their all to have a voice in our agricultural systems. I try to lead my students and broader audiences into conversations with those who are all too often invisible to those who eat.

From the Blog

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When the Border Crossed Me

My border odyssey began in 1985 on a farm near Pittsboro, North Carolina. On a hot summer afternoon I walked out of my farm field to meet five men from Mexico. They drove into my driveway in an old beat up blue Impala, got out in the bloodied knee-length white coats and black rubber boots […]

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Whiskey

Making Whiskey in the Backcountry

Whiskey making, while rare in southern England, was highly developed in both Scotland and Ireland by the time of the Ulster emigration. We can credit the Ulster immigrants for helping introduce the tradition to America. Through their influence, whiskey making became commonplace everywhere in the new colony, particularly on the frontier. Frenchman Marquis de Chastelleaux […]

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Faces of Time / Los Rostros del Tiempo

Every Sunday morning over 100 elderly ex-Braceros - most of them in their 70s and 80s - gather with their families in the central plaza of Ciudad Juárez to peacefully demand payment of retirement benefits deducted from their pay decades ago.

These forgotten farmworkers who once labored on U.S. soil still have not received the funds they earned. At the invitation of Professor Luis Alfonso Herrera Robles, of the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez and Colégio de Chihuahua, Duke Professor Charles Thompson visited the central plaza in Ciudad Juárez to document hundreds ex-Braceros demonstrating in June 2010 and again in October 2011.

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More About Border Odyssey

Border Odyssey is a quixotic, modern-day, too-small-rental-car determined drive toward understanding the US-Mexico divide: all 1,969 miles. It is former farmer, turned activist, photographer and Steinbeck-inspired author, Charles D. Thompson, Jr. who makes the trip, sometimes with awe and wide-eyed students, sometimes with comedy, misadventure, and Hope, his wife—all the while pressing on with what he calls the useful fiction of a map:

“I needed to go to the place where countless innocent people had been kicked, cussed, spit on, arrested, detained, trafficked, and killed, all for the sake of working in the U.S. for a pittance. I wanted to go where it seemed our fears had superseded our sense of humanity.... It would become clear… the border, la frontera, was more multifaceted and profound than anything we could have invented about it from afar.”

Though observation and meditation, Border Odyssey scopes like no other book the contradictory pulses of the people and towns on both sides.

Murders continue along the border during Thompson's journey, but there is much more to the story than just the violence. Five centuries of cultural history (indigenous, French, Spanish, Mexican, African American, colonist, and US), wars and legislation, fluidly unfold, while meeting incredible people on both sides:

Stories are the opposite of walls: they demand release, retelling, showing, connecting; each image chipping away at boundaries. Walls are full stops, but stories are like commas, always making possible the next clause.

Among the varying terrain traversed: walls and more walls, unexpected road blocks and patrol officers; also a golf course (you could drive a ball across the border, though this is prohibited); a Civil War battlefield (you could camp there); the Southern-most plantation in the US; the scenic: a hand-drawn ferry, road-runner tracked desert, and breathtaking national park; then, barbed wire, bridges, and a trucking-trade thoroughfare; ghosts with guns; obscured unmarked unpaved roads; a Catholic priest and his dogs, his artwork, icons, and political cartoons; a sheriff, a chain-smoking mayor; a Tex-Mex eatery empty of customers and a B&B shuttering its doors; murderous newspaper headlines at breakfast; the kindness of the border-crossing underground.

Explore the Border Now