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Between Borderlands and Bioregionalism: Life-Place Lessons along a Polluted River

Perlita R. Dicochea


Considered one of the most polluted rivers in North America, the New River, overlapping the desert border region of Baja California and Southern California, symbolizes neglect, uneven development, and struggle for residents who live nearby. Ranging between their mid-30s and mid-60s, the twelve men and women whose interviews are the focus of this analysis demonstrate the process by which they have come to distance themselves from, yet, relate to the New River. Facilitated by a bioregional vision and borderlands scholarship, I propose that the process of detachment from the toxic river is possible because of an existing degree of binational, bioregional consciousness and lifeways articulated by individual respondents. Indeed, ecological crises such as the toxic New River and subsequent human disconnection from the environment contextualize much of bioregional scholarship and activism. In the face of ecological crisis, how has the New River pollution problem shaped the way individual border residents conceptualize and relate to their environment? How might border thinking inform the sense of place and ecological awareness articulated by the individuals interviewed?

I contend that the sense of loss and despair among all of the respondents in this study, while an indication of the negative impacts of river pollution on community health, also signifies the characterization of a social problem. The very act of naming the problem of the contaminated river means that its current state has yet to become a normalized, accepted, or invisible disposition. Indeed, respondents indicate a fragmented and transregional sense of place. From a collection of individual border residents' perspectives and experiences, I extrapolate the possibilities for bioregional reinhabitation, or reconnecting with the environment, through problem-naming and increased public participation as crucial steps toward environmental sustainability.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229