This article was originally posted by Ed Conroy in San Antonio Express-News. You can also read it here.
At a time when Arizona’s new immigration law has created an intensified national controversy over the value and worth of the people of our border regions, one new book has the power to make us pause to reflect on the stories and conditions of their lives.
Anyone who has crossed a bridge over the Río Grande/Río Bravo into México’s border towns will find the faces familiar that leap off the pages of “Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives.”
There are the children with haunted stares hawking handmade dolls or beaded trinkets; the grim, ancient women with faces of stone lips sealed tight against proverbial moscas (flies); the gregarious salesmen of boots, hats and other western wear; the accordion players and mariachis who grace the cantinas and plazas in the evenings; the young lovers who sway to their melodies — plus so many more.
These faces come to life in the charcoal and pastel drawings of Reefka Schneider, who fascinatingly captures both the graphic details and emotional truths etched into faces young and old by the harsh social and natural realities of border life.
And those faces breathe with life in the poems of her husband, Steven P. Schneider, crafted clearly with the intention of creating a narrative that captures a moment in life and its emotions for each person.
As a married couple not native to the Rio Grande Valley (where Stephen teaches English at the University of Texas — Pan American), the Schneiders bring to this book a tremendous sympathy with one another’s aesthetic sensibilities, as well as their own ability to sympathize intensely with their subjects.
The result of their work is a series of 25 poignantly moving vignettes of border people and their lives, expressed as a page of poetry in English and Spanish, and, opposite, the portrait that is integrally joined to the poem.
José Antonio Rodriguez’s translations of the poems, for those who prefer to read them in Spanish, are wonderful evocations of Schneider’s work as well.
As they put it in their artists’ statement at the conclusion of the book “… our marriage of art and poetry reflects the creative synergy of the people who live on both sides of the River … It is a story of the human spirit and its quest for happiness and fulfillment, its struggles to survive and overcome human hardship.”
But the Schneiders also go beyond eloquently capturing the pathos and joys of the lives of diverse border people. As UTSA English professor Norma E. Cantú points out in her excellent introduction, their last two poems, “It’s a Lie/Es una mentira” and “Disappeared /Deaparició,” hammer at the injustice of inadequate school systems on both sides of the river, and the atrocities suffered by people known as “the disappeared, los desaparecidos,” not only on the border, but, as they name it, in Chile, Guatemala and El Salvador as well.
They remind us that “the border” is extensive and indeed is, as Gloria Anzaldúa put it, “una herida abierta (an open wound) where the third world grates against the first and bleeds.”
Hopefully this book will find ready acceptance in schools and public libraries across the U.S./Mexico border, and will help fulfill the authors’ desire to “improve cross cultural understanding and deepen awareness of the human ties that bind us all together.”
The Schneiders read from and sign “Borderlines” today from 1-3 p.m. at the Twig Bookshop at Pearl Brewery, 200 E. Grayson.
San Antonio writer Ed Conroy is director of development for the Southwest School of Art & Craft.