For the past 25 years, US border enforcement has pushed undocumented migrants into ever more perilous routes across the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona; this strategy is now responsible for the deaths of many thousands and the pain and trauma of millions more. How can archaeology bear witness to these migrant experiences and call greater attention to an ongoing humanitarian crisis along the US-Mexico border?
Drawing on anthropological research by the Undocumented Migration Project, this talk explores the “biographies” of migrant backpacks—including their origins, wear-and-tear, discard, and decay—as material testimony to the suffering and survival of those who wore them. Moreover, the afterlives of these artifacts—including their collection, curation, and display—can amplify the accounts of migrants themselves and memorialize their experiences as a troubling fact of American history in the 21st century.
Dr. Cameron Gokee is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University. His research examines the cultural economies and political violence of borderlands—including a historical landscape of slave-raiding in Senegal and a contemporary landscape of migration in southern Arizona.
This virtual talk is presented by the Boshell Family Lecture Series on Archaeology in conjunction with the exhibition My|Gration.