Notes: Josue D. Cisneros, The Border Crossed Us: Rhetorics of Borders, Citizenship, and Latina/o Identity.

Cisneros, Josue D. (2014). The border crossed us: Rhetorics of borders, citizenship, and Latina/o identity. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press.


Cisneros argues that both registers of borders, the geographic and the civic, have historically defined citizenship in racialized terms, crossing and (re)crossing Latina/o communities. Cineros traces the use of vernacular performances of citizenship and border rhetorics throughout Latina/o rights struggles.

Keywords: rhetoric, social histories, history, borders, Latina/o


“[B]ecause they faced not only institutional barriers but also cultural and historical antagonism and outright persecution, the aliancistas deployed a tactical subjectivity as both citizen-subjects and noncitizen radicals. This border rhetoric oscillated between enacting citizenship through civil rights discourse and reformist appeals and performing a separate identity through ethno-nationalist discourse and radical activism” (p. 78).

“Vernacular enactments of citizenship are always momentary and confluent; vernaculars are neither wholly liberatory nor constraining but enact complex relationships of agency and identity” (p. 106).

“That border rhetorics and particular civic imaginaries are naturalized through rhetoric masks the fact that the border moves and materializes differently across space and time, that the borders of citizenship as they are conceived in any one space and time are unnatural” (p. 147).

“A backlash against identity and identity politics (on the right and the left) contributes to the difficulty of speaking of identity in concrete political terms and occludes the fact that identity is a reality of social location and part of a potential program for liberation and social change” (p. 152).


Cisneros, in many ways, does the kind of social history work that I would like to do. The work that he does highlights the rhetorical performances of Latina/o activists in key moments of Latina/o struggles for basic rights. He writes about how the Latina/o identity is constructed by coloniality  and deployed strategically in these moments he examines. Borders are material/social space of contestability and citizenship is performing belonging within bordered spaces: performing a racialized Latina/o identity in particular ways is performing as well as challenging that bordered space.

So I’m thinking a little about what citizenship means as an archive, as an archive of belonging and an archive of belongings. I’m finding this to be a productive metaphor for me to think through. I’m thinking about Enoch’s (2013) “Releasing Hold: Feminist Historiography Without the Tradition” that suggested inquiry into how the archive does the rhetorical work of remembering, but also the work of forgetting. I’m wondering how this might be useful in thinking about citizenship as being constructed toward particular identity performances even as Cisneros (2014) notes Latina/o identity has been prevented from developing concrete identity terms. This could explain that inability to discuss “identity in concrete political terms” (p. 152).

But I’m also thinking about this in terms of Archive Fever and the anxiety that surrounds this archive. The dust. The dust as these contestations, right? So how is the archive constructed in such a way to mask the rhetorical work of that archive? Of sustaining citizenship. Of collecting dust of the same in the fear of ‘death.’ Borders as the materialization of these anxieties. How might Steedman’s treatment of Michelet’s fever of the dust that kills complicate that? I think she, in seeing everything in the archives as having no beginnings, but seeing them ‘in medias res’, could highlight some of the ways that borders are contested and how citizenship, far from essentialist, is shifting.

But this is just a metaphor to help me process some of this.

There are easy connections to some of the work that I’m doing myself, looking at queer activists between 1987-1990, where I can see similar rhetorical moves being made, where what does it mean to be an American citizen is contested, where there’s a move to develop concrete terms to discuss identity—to perform identity in particular ways to address needs of basic human rights. There are similar differences in performances by activists within ACT UP as performing radical activisms and other LGBTQ activist organizations who wish to perform activist activity framed heavily in ‘civil disobedience’ discourses that heavily appeal to the dominant culture’s sensibilities of what it means to be a citizen.

Notes: David Sibley, “Bounding Space: Purification and Control” in Geographies of Exclusion

Sibley, David. (1995). Bounding space: Purification and control. in Geographies of exclusion. New York: Routledge, 72-89.


Sibley examines the way in which constructions of self and other create ‘purified’ spaces that desire conformity and construct deviance.

Keywords: Geography, Human Geography, Place, Space, Borders


“There seems to me to be a continuing need for ritual practices to maintain the sanctity of space in a secular society. These rituals… are an expression of power relations: they are concerned with domination. Today, however, the guardians of sacred spaces are more likely to be security guards, parents or judges than priests. They are policing the spaces of commerce, public institutions and the home rather than the temple” (72).

“We cannot understand the role of space in the reproduction of social relations without recognizing that the relatively powerless still have enough power to ‘carve out spaces of control’ in respect of their day-to-day lives” (73).

“We can envision the build environment as an integral element in the production of social life, conditioning activities and creating opportunities according to the distribution of power in the socio-spatial system” (73).

“An appreciation of power relations gives meaning to space. Variations in the control and manipulation of different spatial configurations reflect different forms of power relations” (76).

“The anatomy of the purified environment is an expression of the values associated with strong feelings of abjection, a heightened consciousness of difference and, thus, a fear of mixing or the disintegration of boundaries” (78).

“[The panopticon principle] ‘colonizes’ social life and erects boundaries between normal and deviant at all levels, irrespective of legal codes which define criminal behavior. Thus, control, discipline and carceral forms of punishment are diffused through society and social control on the panopticon principle becomes much more than confinement under a particular regime” (83).

“Self and other, and the spaces they create and are alienated from, are defined through projection and introjection. Thus, the built environment assumes symbolic importance, reinforcing a desire for order and conformity if the environment itself is ordered and purified; in this way, space is implicated in the construction of deviancy” (86).

Notes: David Sibley, “Border Crossings” in Geographies of Exclusion

Sibley, David. (1995). Border crossings. in Geographies of exclusion. New York: Routledge, 32-48.


Sibley discusses boundary consciousness and how self-and-other is maintained on a social scale.

Keywords: Geography, Human Geography, Space, Place, Border, Transgression


Leach, E. (1976). Culture and communication. Cambridge University Press.


Recreated graphic from page 33:


“The mixing of categories… by the intersections of sets, creates liminal zones or spaces of ambiguity and discontinuity…” (32-33).

“It is a zone of abjection, one which should be eliminated in order to reduce anxiety, but this is not always possible. Individuals lack the power to organize their world into crisp sets and so eliminate spaces of ambiguity” (33).

“Dichotemies like traditional/modern or simple/complex do not seem to have much relevance to the questions of boundary drawing, inclusions and exclusions” (35).

“Moral panics articulate beliefs about belonging and not belonging, about the sanctity of terror and the fear of transgression. Since panics cannot be sustained for long, however, new ones have to be invented (but they always refer to an old script)” (41).

“Moral panics bring boundaries into focus by accentuating the differences between the agitated guardians of mainstream values and excluded others” (41).

“Inversions can have a role in political protest in the sense that they expose power relations by reversing them and, in the process, raise consciousness of oppression. They energize boundaries by parodying established power relations” (41-42).

“The occasions when inversions assume a centre-periphery form, when the dominant society is relegated to the spatial margins and oppressed minorities command the centre, may represent a challenge to established power relations and, thus, be subject to the attentions of the state” (42).


Notes: Allison Mountz, “Refugees—Performing Distinction: Paradoxical Positionings of the Displaced” in Tim Cresswell and Peter Merriman’s Geographies of Mobilities: Practices, Spaces, Subjects

Mountz, Allison. (2011). Refugees—Performing distinction: Paradoxical positionings of the displaced. in Tim Cresswell and Peter Merriman (Eds.) Geographies of mobilities: Pracices, spaces, subjects. Burlington, VT, 255-269.


Mountz discusses the ways in which refugee subjectivities are positioned through discursive and material ties to borders, nationalism, and exclusion.

Keywords: Geography, Human Geography, Culture, Space, Place, Nation, Borders, Refugee


“‘Refugee’ refers to a heterogeneous set of people, yet is a term that others, discursively, materially, and legally” (256).

“For refugees and refugee claimants, subjectivity and mobility are always intertwined and policed through a series of paradoxical positionings. Refugees and those in search of refuge are articulated paradoxically to the state” (256).

“Performances of citizenship as distinction in times of crisis are central to the policing of bodies, an exercise in sovereignty that blurs inside and out, that links discursive and material locations as a way of keeping those constructed as undesirable, poor, and criminal beyond reaching the rights and privileges that accompany membership” (256).

“The meaning of the border shifts spatially and conceptually and is called upon to perform many tasks. One function is to link regulation of mobility to identity and territory: to link who one is to location, and in so doing policing national borders around identities” (256).

“The status of refugee links potential inclusion to previous exclusion, this paradoxical location proving necessary for the membership in the nation-state…. The ‘good’ refugee fits into the definition prescribed by the Convention. The ‘bad’ refugee will not and is instead positioned as attempting to ‘cheat’ the system” (258).