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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. Ahhhh … such beautiful photos, writing, and such big questions. It may be my mood at the moment, but your piece has saddened me so.
    One doesn’t have to travel far, as you know, to listen to conversations expressing deeply disparate views; they are our neighbors, people at local stores, events and so on. In the end, I think how things will change – for ourselves and our children – and the world become more accepting of each other is if we firmly lead by example – by our own relentless kindness and acceptance of others. And by searching ourselves for the dark corners that coddle our own resistance to this openness. It’s a lifelong journey. Thanks for taking us along.

    • Thank you for your beautiful comment. It’s brought me a spark of hope since when I was writing this piece I too was filled with a sadness about the future which clearly came across to you in reading the post. I continue to cling to your advice: in the face of uncertainty I will lead by example with “relentless kindness.” Wishing you a new year filled with love, hope, and laughter.

  2. Beautifully done, and you raise some deep, fundamental questions about nationhood and borders.

    Some years ago, my husband and I were travelling in a former Soviet bloc country, and we were acutely conscious of our prosperity. We aren’t wealthy people, but we certainly appeared to be, when compared to the average citizen of this country. We were conspicuous Westerners.

    It was interesting to see that neighbouring countries to this one had more to offer their citizens, and not material wealth. These other countries had more opportunity and more hope, even though the landscape/environments were similar. The differences between the nations were manmade (including language & customs), but they made ALL the difference.

    Thanks for sharing another insightful post. I always feel a little more thankful when I read your writing.

    • Thank you so much for your sweet comment and for sharing your experience regarding this issue. I’m always grateful to hear my posts connect with others in meaningful ways. Wishing you a wonderful 2023!

  3. I’ve had similar feelings. A bit of shame about being wealthy. The construction of nations is the current way we humans are organizing ourselves. There is something genetic/very basic about us vs them. Unequal division of resources is not implicit in nationhood – although you got to admit that exploitation is always present. I’ve been born in a favorable place and time too. You try to live a moral life. Life, the beach, are truly beautiful.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. There’s so much to chew on about our future prospects as a species. I’m still unsure if it’s a human desire to follow the us/them path or whether nation-building has instilled it in us. Wishing you a very wonderful new year.

  4. As a citizen of two countries, and a traveler in many others throughout my life, I see your point.
    I even lived in South Baja California for five years, three years short of fifty years ago, and have fond memories of the place.
    A paradise for the tourists, just plain home for the locals, my memories now are good, at the time, I really wanted to be elsewhere!
    It’s funny how our perspective changes with the years.

    • It is funny how our perspective changes over the years. I was thinking how even my memories of certain places have shifted to form other patterns that have become my reality now. Thank you for your lovely reminisces.

  5. Happy new year BT! What a way to start the year. Talking about borders in a space where there are none. Love how you write. Your longing for connection – to place and to people – came out clearly. 😊

  6. At one time, I thought that if the United Nations issued a passport I would be first in line to get one… 😉
    Now, well… the UN has disappointed me a bit.
    A world without borders? To a great point, the Schengen space has been that. Inside…

      • Inside. Yes. 😉 Having a French passport and going back regularly, the Euro and Schengen have been great. One could travel anywhere. It might possibly not last. So many things one took for granted might not last.
        All well here. Thank you.
        Hope you are too. 🙏🏻

  7. Thanks for sharing this idea. These border crossing we all are lined up but we travel all over our world. So much to see and do . I found your blog and let’s follow each other. Thanks Anita

    • Thank you for stopping by to chat Anita. Certainly some of us are privileged to cross borders much more easily than others and it’s something I don’t take for granted. Looking forward to reading your posts.

  8. I can remember on one overseas holiday feeling similar feelings when the service people hovered about me to ensure my meal was pleasant and my glass was constantly full. Eventually, I had to thank them for their service but advised that I did not need their constant assistance.
    This type of behaviour speaks from the viewpoint of the haves and the have not. A lack of borders speaks in this regard; on a much larger scale, of course.
    There are so many obstacles yet to be overcome, many changes socially and politically before we can see your ideals becoming reality.
    However, I am an optimist. And even though the changes needed are great, each small step marks advancement. Even talking, as we are now, is part of that…

    • It is indeed encouraging to see all the small ways in which people try to make things better for one another. And I feel so lucky that I get to see so much of that in my travels in fact! Total strangers willing to help one another out of difficulties without reward. Thank you for sharing your own story with me. Wishing you a lovely new year!

  9. Your reflections on identity, borders and travel are a great read, Atreyee. A lot to think about. And I always enjoy your photographs. I do wish I was floating in that warm sea right now. Wishing you a marvelous year ahead full fun of adventures. 🌟

  10. Your musings in this post will stay with me for a while, as they contain a lot of food for thought. Identity, belonging, and borders are concepts I constantly engage with in very personal ways. It is an intricate dance of light and shadow.

  11. Although I am no longer on WP, I am so happy that I still get notifications when you post a new essay. I really enjoy following your story of a wanderer.

  12. I love this post, it is very interesting how different people think about the world and what it has become. The way you talk about our borders and limits created by the government and asking intriguing questions that really get people to think is just amazing. I am glad to be reading this and I am glad you have found a way to share these thoughts and hidden issues the world has tucked below us. Have a happy new year.

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