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Who gets to decide?

Cover of Borders
A review of Borders by Thomas King

If you heard that someone got stuck when trying to cross the border, would you think of San Ysidro, El Paso or maybe Laredo? I admit, I did. But this story takes place at the Canadian-American border. This graphic novel, illustrated by Natasha Donovan, is an adaptation of Thomas King's 1993 short story. A Blackfoot boy in Alberta tells how when he was about twelve years old, his seventeen year old sister moved to Salt Lake City. The tension between Laetitia and her mother feels very real. Now, several years later, he is surprised when his mother says they are going to visit. They pack up their car and head out. At the border, an agent asks their citizenship and his mother says, "Blackfoot." The agent explains that she must say either Canadian or American, but all she will say is "Blackfoot." A few others talk with her, but all she will say regarding her citizenship is "Blackfoot." They are turned away, and so the head back (just a few hundred yards) to the Canadian border. Here too they are asked their citizenship, and once again "Blackfoot" is the answer. No amount of pressure will convince the mother to change her answer. And so, mother and son are stuck in their car between the two countries.  I appreciate how calm and in control the mother is throughout. She never gets upset, she simply states again and again, "Blackfoot." I also can empathize with the son who really just wanted to eat at the restaurant and see his sister.

There is, eventually, a resolution. 

The book itself is a pretty quick read. Many reviews say that it is for children ages 8-12. However, there are so many ideas to be explored, I suggest it to slightly older readers. There are many universal themes, such as family dynamics, as well as plenty to think about regarding the artificial nature of borders and nations and the impact they have on Indigenous people. I still have many questions that I would like to further explore. I can't help but think about the fact that this was originally written in 1993, and I wonder how things would work along the border in 2021.

Nov 12, 2021