Humanities and the Border: Transforming Our Understanding of the US Borderlands Region

From community centers in low-income neighborhoods in San Diego and Tijuana to new spaces for Indigenous storytelling in the borderlands of Arizona, humanities scholars, students, and artists today are drawing inspiration from the US-Mexico borderlands region as the complex, creative, and collaborative region that it has long been. Though frequently cast as a place of crisis and separation, the border region fuels deep resilience and vibrant new thinking about cross-cultural community engagement, environmental justice, higher learning, and artistic interpretations of our shared human experience.

We hope you will join us for a discussion about the humanities and the border with Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, President of The Mellon Foundation; Teddy Cruz, Professor of Public Culture and Urbanism at the University of California, San Diego; Fonna Forman, Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Center on Global Justice at the University of California, San Diego; and Natalie Diaz, Poet and Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands at Arizona State University.

Decorated poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, and cultural advocate, Elizabeth Alexander is president of The Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder in arts and culture, and humanities in higher education. Dr. Alexander has held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she taught for 15 years and chaired the African American Studies Department. She is Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, serves on the Pulitzer Prize Board, and co-designed the Art for Justice Fund. Notably, Dr. Alexander composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, and is author or co-author of fifteen books. Her book of poems, American Sublime, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2006, and her memoir, The Light of the World, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 2015. Her latest book, released in 2022, is The Trayvon Generation.

Teddy Cruz is recognized internationally for his urban and architectural research of the San Diego-Tijuana border, advancing border immigrant neighborhoods as sites of cultural production, from which to rethink urban policy, affordable housing, and civic infrastructure. Cruz is Professor of Public Culture and Urbanism in the Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego, and Director of Urban Research in the UCSD Center on Global Justice. With long-time research partner, Fonna Forman, he is a principal in Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman, a research-based political and architectural practice, based in San Diego.

Fonna Forman is Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Center on Global Justice at UC San Diego. She is known internationally for her revisionist research on economist and philosopher Adam Smith. Forman’s research engages the intersection of ethics, public culture, urban policy, and the city – with a special focus on climate justice, border ethics, and equitable urbanization. She is Co-Chair of the University of California’s Global Climate Leadership Council. She partners closely with UC San Diego Professor Teddy Cruz, leading a variety of urban research and civic and public interventions in the San Diego-Tijuana border region and beyond. Together, they lead the UCSD Community Stations, a network of field stations across the San Diego-Tijuana border region designed for engaged research and teaching on poverty and social equity, and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ArtPlace America, and many others.  

Natalie Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press and won an American Book Award. Her second book, Postcolonial Love Poem, was published by Graywolf Press in March 2020 and was a finalist for the National Book Award the Forward Prize, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2021. She is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow, as well as a Lannan Literary Fellow and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow. She was awarded the Princeton Holmes National Poetry Prize and a Hodder Fellowship. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for the United States Artists, where she is an alumni of the Ford Fellowship. Diaz is Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University.