BoRDER CONTROL (Los atravesados)

When we eventually reach our destination, I jump out of the vehicle and start walking towards the border. It is still very hot out there and the eastern end of the runway is now wrapped in a shimmering haze, as if the asphalted surface and the sky were merging amorously with each other. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot an elderly Spanish couple hiding behind the bus shelter next to Parody’s kiosk. The woman is half-naked and holding a money belt stuffed with cigarette packets beside her flabby abdomen. The man has a cigarette tucked behind his ear and is patiently winding some brown parcel tape around his wife’s midriff. This is the kind of cross-border contraband that goes on in 2016: pitiably amateurish and small-scale, its meagre profits helping to keep afloat La Línea’s neediest and most wretched classes, making a mockery of the oft-repeated Spanish nationalist claim that Gibraltar is un nido de delincuentes y contrabandistas.’ Looking at this particular pair of geriatric estraperlistas, I find myself thinking of spinning dervishes and the paintings of Velázquez, of the bandage-wrapped Lazarus emerging from his cracked open tomb. Most of all, though, they make me think of the Chicano writer Gloria Anzaldúa and her work of non-fiction Borderlands/La Frontera. In this hard-edged autobiographical essay, Anzaldúa writes that borders are like ‘heridas abiertas’, where two worlds grate against each other and then bleed. Borderlands are the crusted scab that forms over the original wound, problematic interstitial spaces that lie suspended between the solid certainties on either side, their moral indeterminacy attracting those whom Anzaldúa calls los atravesados: ‘the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulatto, the half-breed, the half-dead; in short, those who cross over and pass over, or go through the confines of the normal.’ Though Anzaldúa was thinking about the border between the US and Mexico when she wrote these powerful words, they could very well apply to the elderly matutera, varizha, tissue-sellers and other luckless chancers associated with our own frontier, a human grotesquerie that congregates mainly on the Spanish flank of la frontera, but sometimes spills over onto the Gibraltarian side, continually reminding us of the unnaturalness of all dividing lines.

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