Watch the Full Interview Bookwatch at UNC TV broadcast this interview with D.G. Martin in May 2016. D.G. read the book with great sympathy, saying he had had a border trip on his bucket list. My book served as a surrogate to his travel there. After publishing a review in numerous newspapers and on his […]Continue Reading →
New Film: Homeplace Under Fire
My latest film, Homeplace Under Fire, is both a homecoming and a new adventure for me. A homecoming, because starting back in the early 1980s I began to work with besieged farmers — African American, Lumbee, and white — who were in danger of losing their land to foreclosure. As the film shows, the Farm Crisis is still with us. And an adventure, because through this film I was able not only to return to a subject I care about, but to do so with Farm Aid, which included working with Willie Nelson and some of the most dedicated farm advocates in the nation.
Anyone who knows my work will recognize a continuing theme here: I am dedicated to rural people who give their all to provide food for us — and that includes farmers born here as well as farmworkers who have crossed borders to work in our fields. My thanks to Farm Aid and to my wonderful team who made this project possible.
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
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Almost everyone has an opinion about the U.S.-Mexican border. But Duke University anthropology professor Charles D. Thompson Jr. has a challenge for his students and anyone else before they crystallize their thoughts. My recommendation is simple. Before you make up your mind on immigration, get to know an immigrant – at least […]Continue Reading →
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.
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.