There are few roads that parallel the U.S./Mexican border for very long. Interstates tend to veer away, and those wishing to follow the 1,969-mile boundary must often risk axle-destroying four-wheel-drive roads that cut through the Southwestern plains.
Yet Charles Thompson took those roads, rattling along heavily rutted trails, fingers crossed that his rented Chevy Cruze wouldn’t get stuck or totaled in the process. The Durham author, documentary filmmaker, Duke University anthropology professor and migrant rights activist had to if he was going to write “Border Odyssey: Travels Along the US/Mexico Divide” (University of Texas Press). It was his mission to follow the border as closely as possible. He sought a firsthand look at how modern U.S. border policy has affected the people in the region, from migrant workers to indigenous people to border patrol agents to residents of economically stagnant towns just north of the boundary.
The result is a travel memoir with a conscience, an extension of Thompson’s ongoing work to humanize the hotly debated region.
“I want to appeal to our better side,” Thompson says, sitting at an outside table in Carrboro during a brief return to North Carolina. Three days previous, he had been with university students in southern Mexico, in Tapachula, Chiapas; in another three, he would rejoin them in Tucson. “It’s like we have two sides – the side that’s self-interested, exploitative, and jingoistic, but we also have another side that has a long history of welcoming.”