Crossing Borders: My Week at Loch Leven

Diversity—a quality that many of our camps strive for, yearn for, dream about.
Tokenism—an unfortunate result of our desperate want to feel diverse.
Unity—often confused with uniformity and conformity; being of one tribe.
Tribalism—constructed borders that keep us “with our own;” Othering.

A crossroads—an intersection
a confluence
a state of being both, and
a place “sin fronteras
without borders

My past week at Loch Leven was a crossroads of culture, language, and differences. Real diversity was present, and our differences met in a spirit of worship, discussion, and unity. At camp there were youth from China, youth from Mexico, youth from Southern California, second and third generation immigrant youth, youth of different sexual identities, and youth from various faith traditions (or no faith tradition).

Needless to say, there were very clear and distinct barriers between our various tribes. There was chatter about the possibility that the youth will segregate themselves from each other reinforcing borders of separation—the us and them mentality.

Our hike up to the waterfall required real teamwork—crossing water barriers and personal barriers at the same time.

And perhaps the first day of camp went a little like this. The Chinese youth hung out with their interpreter, the youth from Tijuana spoke in Spanish to their friends, and the Southern California youth fell back into camp cliques. This is how camp goes, no? People connect with people similar to themselves—segregation is natural at this age they said.

They could not have been more wrong. By the end of the first day I witnessed an ice breaker where youth were all mixed up and randomly introducing themselves to people they had never met (per usual for first day activities). In a small group, I saw a group of about four youth speaking, but there were three languages being spoken. A Chinese boy introduced himself in Mandarin, which was then translated to English. However, there were no English speakers in the group—it was merely the middle language. Once the message was in English, an adult from Tijuana was able to translate it into Spanish for the other two youth. It was truly a crossroads of language and culture in practice.

Campers bonding during a long hike. Despite language barriers they were able to help each other.

As the week went on, worship began to resemble and model what the camp began to look like. Scripture was read in all three languages, prayers were spoken interchangeably between Spanish and English, praise songs incorporated verses in different languages. Our small groups made efforts to learn words and phrases in each other’s native tongues—in one instance a Tijuana camper read scripture in English and a Southern California youth read en Español. It was purely their idea, executed by them, and received with thunderous applause from the camp.

They actually cheered and encouraged the spirit of the crossroads; they were living sin fronteras. A phrase I have borrowed from an amazing scholar, poet and activist Gloria Anzaldúa. Her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza has been foundational in my workshop throughout this summer. In her work she eloquently describes life trapped by borders, and how our bodies, identities are physical borderlands—bridges—crossroads—between us that unite us.

Her work combines her experience of intersectional identities—Mexican, Texan, Indigenous, Woman, Queer, Mestiza, Chicana

She writes this poem at the end of her book, a poem that made me think about my week at Loch Leven.

To Live in the Borderlands

By Gloria Anzaldúa
To live in the borderlands means you
are neither hispana india negra espanola
ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed
caught in the crossfire between camps
while carrying all five races on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing
that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,
is no longer speaking to you,
the mexicanas call you rajetas, that denying the Anglo inside you
is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;

Cuando vives en la frontera
people walk through you, the wind steals your voice,
you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,
forerunner of a new race,
half and half-both woman and man, neither-
a new gender;

To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht,
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to
resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
the pull of the gun barrel,
the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

In the Borderlands
you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have scattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back;

To live in the Borderlands means
the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off
your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart
pound you pinch you roll you out
smelling like white bread but dead;

To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.

____________________________________________________

I shared this poem with the youth at Loch Leven at their Friday night worship service. The service deeply moved me, and was quite symbolic of their week of camp. They burned their border walls—literally and metaphorically.

The service had us walk and stop at stations where we reflected on borders that separated us from each other: Gender, Race, Class, Sexual Orientation, Language, Religious Belief, and Personal Barriers.

These barriers were symbolically written on logs so that the log represented the barrier itself. The logs were collected and, with enthusiasm, chucked into a camp fire to be burned and destroyed. Whether the youth who planned the service know or not, they committed a radical act of social justice. They took the step and decided to stop giving power to the borders that separate.

The campers’ form of prayer—stacking rocks near a waterfall.

Their focus was not diversity, their focus was not tokenism, their focus was not uniformity, their focus was not unifying tribes.

Their intention was the opening of spaces, like Loch Leven, to be a crossroads—a borderland without borders. They intended to open the space to allow diversity to exist as it does in the world, they moved to open then space to allow tribes to exist like they do in the world, they burned the things standing in the way.

To live in the borderlands is to live in flames;

The borderlands are not easy, they are not comfortable, the borderlands are treading new ground;

To live in the borderlands is to live in tempest.

And yet, my week at Loch Leven imparted in me lyrics. These lyrics reassure me, they assure me that a crossroads of flame and tempest embraces—for I am yours and you are mine.

en tempestad/Descansaré en tu poder/Pues tuyo soy, hasta el final

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One Comment

  1. Joseph Mondragon
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for those powerful words! The journey has not been easy for Loch Leven, and it is far from complete – if such a journey can ever be completed…

    Change, even for the better, often faces staunch resistance. What you experienced would have been impossible just few years ago, and was only made possible by the hard work and commitment of key leadership. Even now, the things you so rightly praise are viewed by some as threats to the integrity of a beloved institution. Had certain opinions held sway, the diversity you enjoyed would have been denied this very summer.

    It is my sincere hope that your testimony will bolster the work that has been accomplished, and soften the hearts of those who equate change with destruction.

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