On Sunday, March 20 at 3 pm, author Charles D. Thompson will be at The Jax discussing his most recent book, Border Odyssey. The event is free and open to the public, with a reception to follow. Please join us!
Border Odyssey (publication date April 15, 2015) is a quixotic, modern-day, too-small-rental-car determined drive toward understanding the US-Mexico divide: all 1,969 miles. It is former farmer, turned activist, photographer and Steinbeck-inspired author, Charles D. Thompson, Jr. who makes the trip, sometimes with awe and wide-eyed students, sometimes with comedy, misadventure, and Hope, his wife—all the while pressing on with what he calls the useful fiction of a map:
“I needed to go to the place where countless innocent people had been kicked, cussed, spit on, arrested, detained, trafficked, and killed, all for the sake of working in the U.S. for a pittance. I wanted to go where it seemed our fears had superseded our sense of humanity…. It would become clear… the border, la frontera, was more multifaceted and profound than anything we could have invented about it from afar.”
Though observation and meditation, Border Odyssey scopes like no other book the contradictory pulses of the people and towns on both sides. Murders continue along the border during Thompson’s journey, but there is much more to the story than just the violence. Five centuries of cultural history (indigenous, French, Spanish, Mexican, African American, colonist, and US), wars and legislation, fluidly unfold, while meeting incredible people on both sides:
“Stories are the opposite of walls: they demand release, retelling, showing, connecting; each image chipping away at boundaries. Walls are full stops, but stories are like commas, always making possible the next clause.”
Among the varying terrain traversed: walls and more walls, unexpected road blocks and patrol officers; also a golf course (you could drive a ball across the border, though this is prohibited); a Civil War battlefield (you could camp there); the Southern-most plantation in the US; the scenic: a hand-drawn ferry, road-runner tracked desert, and breathtaking national park; then, barbed wire, bridges, and a trucking-trade thoroughfare; ghosts with guns; obscured unmarked unpaved roads; a Catholic priest and his dogs, his artwork, icons, and political cartoons; a sheriff, a chain-smoking mayor; a Tex-Mex eatery empty of customers and a B&B shuttering its doors; murderous newspaper headlines at breakfast; the kindness of the border-crossing underground.
Click here to visit Border Odyssey’s website and interactive map that allows you to travel town by town through photographs, text, and audio from Boca Chica, Texas, to Tijuana, California.
About Charles Thompson:
Charles D. Thompson, Jr. is Professor of the Practice of Cultural Anthropology and Documentary Studies at Duke University.
The common thread through all of my work — whether as a professor, author, filmmaker, or photographer — is a deep concern for people doing their all to have a voice in our agricultural systems. I try to lead my students and broader audiences into conversations with those who are all too often invisible to those who eat.”
Thompson holds a Ph.D. in religion and culture from UNC-Chapel Hill, with concentrations in cultural studies and Latin American studies. He also holds an M.S. degree in Agricultural Education from NC A&T State University. His particular interests include farmworkers, immigration, agriculture, and Appalachian Studies. His methodology includes oral history, ethnographic writing, documentary filmmaking, and collaborative community activism.
A former farmer, Thompson remains concerned about issues affecting laborers within our food system. He has written about farmworkers, and he is an advisory board member of Student Action with Farmworkers, the Duke Campus Farm, and other Duke food and agriculture initiatives.
Thompson is author or editor of six books. Prior to Border Odyssey: Traveling the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he wrote Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World. He is also editor, with Melinda Wiggins, of The Human Cost of Food: Farmworker Lives, Labor, and Advocacy.
Thompson is the producer/director of four documentary films, including Faces of Time, Brother Towns/ Pueblos Hermanos (2010), We Shall Not Be Moved (2008), and The Guestworker (2007).
Thompson’s latest project, Border Odyssey, is a website/photography exhibit/book/film combination.