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Without Borders

Planted on an isthmus, with the Pacific on both sides of me, I can’t help thinking about borders. The physical barriers of rock and water we constantly seek to traverse and control, as well as the artificial ones we create to keep out one another. A few steps to the right or a yard forward doesn’t change the scenery, but does affect cultural ideas of ownership. Is the causeway on the other side of the estuary American because it was paid for by the US government? Or Mexican because it was built by the labor of those born across the fence? Does the lemon tree beside me acknowledge a specific nationhood?

In practice, borders change at the whim of those in power. A generation or three earlier and I could not have defined myself as citizen of a particular country. My birthplace was not the nation it is today. Still, identity and a sense of belonging are funny things. Despite a nomadic existence and an understanding of the dangers of chauvinism, I continue to struggle with my tangled upbringing, to long for a singular sense of home.

Feelings, however, don’t make possible passports. A world without borders is a utopian mirage. In reality we are subject to the policies of institutions, the bureaucracies of economy which privilege some while denying others. In our binary choices of membership, emotions are used as sentimental leverage to preclude us from questioning inherent complications of integration. Can nation building ever stomach interrogation from its inhabitants? At what point is the monarch willing to be told by his subjects that he’s naked?

As I’m chauffeured to my hotel alongside other tourists, I listen to their enthusiasms about the peninsula. They are by turns excited about lounging on unspoiled coasts, the currency exchange favoring them, and the luxury of being catered to. They are equally upset about the possibility of student-debt relief, of increasing migrants invading their towns, and the skyrocketing price of medical care. It’s a scarcity mindset for the prosperous.

In the midst of an unfamiliar landscape where the only locals I interact with are in service to me, I too feel a noxious blend of arrogance and ego affect my behavior. Do I look like I belong at this hotel? Is my outfit good enough to sit next to that couple at the pool? Will someone mistake me for the help?

If notions of exclusivity continue to dominate our desire for community, how will we ever truly (re)connect? How will we divest ourselves of hierarchies if we cannot believe that we have never been separate from nature or one another?


We began as a migrating species, wandering vast plains and roaming oceans in order to explore, find food, build new societies. Itineracy in the twenty-first century, however, is rife with moral weight. The pandemic with its necessity for isolation has heightened this to new levels. What does it mean when a civilization’s essential workers sacrifice health in order to survive? If two people decide to leave their childhood country to work in another, why is one of them categorized as an alien while the other is an expatriate?


“How does one hate a country, or love one?” Ursula K. Le Guin asks in “The Left Hand of Darkness.” “What is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s un-country?”


My imagination fails at world-building as I stroll the dunes of Baja, Mexico, eat a fish taco at a cafe, browse for souvenirs at an art colony. Are the specificities what make these places come alive for me? Would I prize the tacos and the art less if they were crafted within some other province? I’ve become inoculated to the benefits of my citizenship, taken too easily the ability to cross borders. How do I stop speaking of the world I comprehend as if it were the world we inhabit?


Here at the edge of land and sea where real scarcity is the experience of so many indigenous peoples searching for opportunity, loss — of language, ancestral knowledge, and ecological integrity — is the coin they must pay in order to exist. Belonging, in this case, is both anathema and necessity.


Standing at a small section of public beach I listen to the polyphony of conversations. I attempt to distinguish the disparate voices even as I swim in the alternating harmony and dissonance of their combined murmur. “Que bonito,” “que refrescante,” everyone agrees. For a little while allegiances are forgotten as locals and visitors succumb to the rhythm of sea and shore meeting as both steadily muddle the border between liquid and solid, familiar and strange.


TRAVEL NOTE: 

Ecology Project International allows students and educators to partake in a Baja Marine Science project. Participants can snorkel one of the planet’s richest marine reserves while conducting data collection to help local scientists develop their field research projects.


Can you imagine a future world without borders? What would it look like? Let me know in the comments below.

65 replies »

  1. Way back in the 1960s, even the late 1950s, I was exposed to the kind of white privilege you see in resorts in places like Baja. It was eye-opening. When I was offered an opportunity to be on a cruise to Bermuda (from NYC) at first I refused because I thought it would feel too strange. I ended up going and learning really valuable things about the land. A local naturalist was kind enough to show me the work he was doing to bring back an endangered species. So it was worth it. Now there are opportunities like the EPI trip. It sounds like an interesting organization. I think borders go back to the “other” and fear. Those are hard things to deal with but not working on the problems would not be living. Here we are. So we try.

  2. An insightful post for the new year; thank you! One line which set the tone for me was, “My birthplace was not the nation it is today…” The neverending changes in politics, cultural transformations over time (what is the rage for one year is forgotten the next), and then the reality you mention in an earlier post, “…though I pretend to comprehend myself, I have yet to meet the person I will be tomorrow.” One of the brilliant things about travel is the opportunity to step behind the ‘tourist curtain’ and experience the local culture, touch the soul of the people, and in return, be touched ourselves. Excellent writing… and your photos help the nomad in us all flow along with your thoughts. I wish you an adventurous ’23.

  3. As others have already noted, this is such a thought-provoking post. You ask intriguing questions. I was drawn to this: “If notions of exclusivity continue to dominate our desire for community, how will we ever truly (re)connect? How will we divest ourselves of hierarchies if we cannot believe that we have never been separate from nature or one another?” I wonder if it’s even possible given the way we have evolved.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. Perhaps if we can imagine ourselves evolving even further to beings who can believe we are not separate from the world we can achieve it as well. Wishing you well and happy new year.

  4. This is a thought-provoking post. I don’t know, and have never understood, why humans seem to have the need to set themselves apart from one another, either by erecting imaginary or real borders, but it seems to be something ingrained in our brains. Was it always there, or did it “evolve,” as more humans populated this planet?
    And while we question the need for borders personally, we never seem to have done so collectively. I see no indication that humanity will ever get over this. Rather, with increased stresses, be they environmental or economic, there seems to an increasing tendency to dig trenches, or build walls.

  5. HI BT, great to read your post here. Happy New Year!
    A world without borders is a utopian mirage. <<< This.
    Your words ring true, sadly.
    I think the world would be much better off without humans. We've ruined it with our desire for power and excess. In a time of tragedy as we've had with Covid, wars, and now an economic downtown, it's galling and criminal that 'more more more' is still a mantra for many leaders today.

    As a side note, I received the alert of your new post but there was no content in the body of the email. There used to be (I think) with a link to your post. Odd!

    • Hello eden. Thanks for letting me know about the email missing content issue. I will try to work out if I can fix it.
      I so appreciate your support and have enjoyed chatting about so many things with you. Wishing you a very marvelous new year!

  6. No borders? Yeah, it’d be nice. But even then, tribalism would likely still rear its head. Even within the confines of a single border there’s no shortage of groups who are only too happy to act as if they think they’re superior, or hate on the “other.” But how much of that is government leadership, and how much is media?

  7. An ambitious and deeply complex topic. The Middle East, the “Medicine Line”, Russia – Ukraine, China – Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan all come to mind.

    And even though borders is a man-made construct with a history that spans from the earliest days of tribes, I’m ready for the conversation to move into the borders that divide class, specifically the 1% and the rest of us.

    Thanks, A, for your thoughtful essay. And Happy New Year!

  8. Unfortunately, I don’t think in our lifetime we will see the end of borders as we have them today. But it does feel good to see people from different countries coming together in a place where the notion of nations is irrelevant. Wishing you a great year ahead, Atreyee!

    • It does indeed Bama! Until that possibility it’s inspiring to be parts of small communities working towards tending and providing resources for all. Wishing you all the best in 2023.

  9. An intriguing post. There is so much talk of nationalities, borders, citizenships that it has become a muddle of isms. There can be no open borders as long as we let egoistical leaders believing in land grabbing govern us. Boundaries to them are means of exploitation. There is nothing to stop striving and dreaming of a future perfect world

  10. This is my favourite kind of “travel” post. I love the pondering and the wondering and many of these themes are ones I’ve been wondering about, too. The notion of borders is really quite absurd. I also find it a bit pointless for people to be doing those trendy heritage-DNA-tests, because we are all the children of nomads. What does it mean to have 11% this blood and 3% that? Where did the those people come from? Was that area always inhibited, or did they too wander from another region at some point?

    I recently read an interview of a young man who refused to do his complusory military service because he thinks war is “silly”. He said he refuses to die for a country because he values his life and would rather be alive elsewhere than dead in this lovely country he was born in. It was so refreshing to read.

    I love it when people think critically, or even just a little bit out of the box, analyse and question. Too often we don’t, and you can see it every day, even at the work place. Why do we work such long days even though we’re too tired to be productive in the afternoons? Well, because someone a long time ago decided we must.

    Anyway, back to your post! Does the lemon tree acknowledge a nationality? I think it depends on whose lemon tree it is.

    • Aww, thank you kindly for your lovely comment! I was so delighted to hear that you enjoy these sort of posts. I so agree, it’s important to keep thinking critically in life, and to keep asking why, what is it for, and who is it benefiting. If only these were taught in our educational systems! Wishing you a very happy New Year.

  11. It seems an even more impossible dream now than ever. Divide and conquer is almost certainly the message, and a very sad one it is. I, too, feel ambivalent about my lifestyle and privilege, Atreyee. The fact that I worked hard for it matters not at all. So many people here grasp the opportunity, to work and achieve or to enjoy the benefits. The capitalist dream rules but the alternative can be very ugly. Peace and equality? If only they were a marriage made in heaven.
    Despite it all, I wish you a happy new year.

    • I agree the dream seems impossible, but only I fear because we need larger imaginations! I keep dreaming and working towards the dream of community in whatever small ways possible, believing that every tiny step matters. Wishing you a most marvelous New Year Jo! Thanks for all your kindness and support.

  12. I have had similar thoughts and insights. Not so much in Baja and Mexico for some reason, because there I camped among the land and locals. Here in Colombia, while staying for a week at an Airbnb in a touristy area in Cartagena is where it happened. I felt privileged and as if I didn’t belong. It felt strange and almost like a culture shock to stand out and walk among the “rich,” whether Colombian or gringo tourist or expat. Not my scene.

    That was weeks ago. Now, this feeling has evaporated, because we are among the land and the locals again, camping in nature and along the cute streets.

    Where in Baja are you? Todos Santos area? Your photos are stunning?

  13. Great work. It will take many conversations to flesh these thoughts out further but they are constantly on my mind, particularly given events this year. Humanity can do wonderful things … look at our art, our science, our thinking. Yet we can also be so cruel and uncaring. The way we treat others, the way we treat the environment. I feel I had much the same thoughts as you while travelling in Mexico in the 70s…but not staying at hotels with swimming pools. Love your writings .. best wishes

    • Thank you for your kind words. It’s disheartening to hear that you had the same feelings decades ago, but unsurprising. Humans seem to repeat their history. Wishing you a wonderful 2023.

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