To preface this analytical section, I must say that I am a proponent of the belief that “everything happens for a reason”. Unbeknownst to me at the time of my choosing this story –there were really no more stories left on the sign up sheet—this story would be meant for me, or I for it (still debating this question). Without going into serious detail (which I will leave for my presentation of this story), it will suffice to say that personal experience and spelling the word ‘b-o-r-d-e-r-e-d’ in scrabble the other night have connected my to this story more than I had initially believed it would. I would argue that while this story is about physical borders, the metaphor of borders, and how they function in our homelands and lives, “Borders” is about making connections and conclusions about what it means to be “in between” homelands. Through the narrator and his family, as well as through the experiences with the border patrol, we are exposed to the difficulties, stereotypes, choices etc. that accompany (Native American/Indians, in this case) people whenever they travel within or between homelands.
When I first read this, I was confused about the encounters between the narrator and his mother with the border patrol –it was not that I didn’t know what was happening, but rather that the encounter simply ‘didn’t make sense to me’ in that kind of mind-puzzling way. The first encounter with the old border patrol guard, for example, confused me for quite some time; I found myself saying “didn’t he just ask them what their citizenship was the first time…and he’s asking them again?” Then, I figured that it must just be border ‘protocol’, and that the guard was simply doing his job by asking the family to “declare their citizenship” (139). But, after some (hopefully) careful reading, I noted that one of the guards asked if the family was from the “Canadian side or American side” (138). While initially this question made sense to me, upon further thought it struck me: “Aren’t Native Americans native to America?” What I mean is that, ‘doesn’t that mean that they do not, technically, have a ‘side’? My thought process was rewarded by the mother, who said that they came from “Blackfoot side” (every time she was asked, she gave the same answer: “Blackfoot”). Maybe it was pride; after all, even the narrator suggests that “it would have been easier if my mother had just said ‘Canadian’ and been done with it, but I could see she wasn’t going to do that” (137).
Even the woman who said she empathized with the family – “I can understand how you feel about having to tell us your citizenship” (138)—threw me for a loop; did she really understand or what she just saying that to coax the ‘Canadian or American’ answer from the mother? What also got me quite upset, even flummoxed, was that when the narrator told the woman (Stella) that they were “Blackfoot and Canadian”, she said that “that didn’t count because I was a minor…and that if [my] mother didn’t declare her citizenship, we would have to go back to where we came from”. Two issues: one, I think that anyone, especially a child, who says where they come from should be respected; and two, “where we came from” as an expression seems unfair simply because, I still believe(d), that Native Americans were native to this whole continent.
I still have trouble distinguishing myself with the use of hyphenation: am I ‘American’, ‘Asian-American’, ‘Filipino-American’, or even your ‘”typical” American’ male”? I think that in the mother’s answer of the question “what side are you on” with an answer that isn’t really a ‘side’, shows simultaneous pride and respect: pride in her culture and respect of her tradition.
According to a 1990 Census, “there are 32,234 Blackfoot Indians comprising 1.7 percent of the current Indian population” . While it is a small number compared to the 11 million ‘overseas Filipinos’ alone who live outside the Philippines, I can still understand natural inclination of the mother to say that she is “Blackfoot”, and not ‘Canadian’ or ‘American’. If the American continent is her home country, then of course she would need a more distinguishing identifier – that, to me, seems mere common sense. We make borders every day in our lives, whether we notice them or not: from the places we choose to live to the people we choose to spend time with, and even the foods we decide to try (or not try), we create imaginary borders and borderlines. We seem to restrict ourselves from freedom by seemingly pigeonholing ourselves within our own homelands; Americans, I believe, are notorious in choosing ‘fads’ and ‘trends’ that exclude even the closest of friends and family. I do believe, however, that there still is a question, similar to that which the border guard asked: we do need to pick a side. However, rather than choosing ‘Canadian’ or ‘American’, maybe King wants us to decide whether we should keep up our borders (imaginary and real), or embrace those cultures which make us different, as well as unite us in our humanity.