Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Introduction: Kinship in these times

Discarded backpack and photographs, Anza-Borrego desert, 2006.
Closeup of photographs from above, 2006.
I took these two photographs during the summer of 2006.  Back then I was working on a large Cultural Resource Management archaeological project in the deserts east of San Diego, California.  On this particular day it was brutally hot and we were doing some survey work just a few miles from the US-Mexico border.  It's a corridor where thousands of people risk their lives to cross those harsh deserts in search of economic stability for themselves and their families back home (in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, etc).  Take a close look at the two images above.  When I walked up, there was this backpack sitting out in the middle of nowhere.  There were no other people around beside the crew I was working with.  No signs of what happened.  Just these personal items strewn on the desert pavement. 

The discarded backpack is suggestive enough, but the plastic sleeved photographs laying alongside are particularly disheartening.  What happened here?  The fact that the photos were not yet faded by the desert sun and heat means whatever took place here had not happened long before.  It was a faily recent event.  Someone crossed that massive border, shouldering this small backpack with these images of children as reminders of family back home.  Why were these things left behind?  Were they simply forgotten?  Did the person suddenly have to run?  Were they apprehended by officials whose job it is to protect the political line in the sand known as the United States border?

It was six years ago that I took these photographs, while I was out looking for evidence of human occupation from much earlier time periods.  These two images still have a sad, haunting feel about them...mostly because of the implications of the abandoned images of loved ones.  Someone took a terrible risk because of limited socio-economic options, and all they had to remind them of the most important things in life--like family--were a few two dimensional photographic approximations of kin relations back home.  For people who find themselves trapped in the grist mill of the global economy, family and kinship ties are often what motivate people to take incredible risks...and also what they hold on to when they are far from home.  And whenever I look at these images I always wonder what happened, and if the person who once wore this backpack ever found a way back to the faces depicted in those photographs.

This issue is about kinship in the 21st century, a theme that has been around in anthropology from the start.  It's a classic component of anthropology, true, but also something that is every bit as relevant today as it was 100 years ago--especially considering the current global economy, debates over cultural norms, and the politics of reproduction and sex.  This month we have essays by Shannon Perry, Diana Patterson, Veronica Miranda, and yours truly.  Thanks for having a look, and feel free to post your comments and thoughts.


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