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A Matter of Waste and Bodies: Life, Death, and Materiality in the United States-Mexico Borderlands 1990 to the Present

Quintanilla, Alyssa (2021) A Matter of Waste and Bodies: Life, Death, and Materiality in the United States-Mexico Borderlands 1990 to the Present. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines contemporary United States border policy, which disregards the lives of border crossers and border dwellers. Since the inception of Prevention through Deterrence and the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, immigration policy has pushed marginalized peoples into increasingly dangerous spaces, including the desert of Southern Arizona and maquiladora-fueled garbage dumps. The rise in new dumps along the border is a direct consequence of economic systems which relies on the disposability of both materials and workers. Waste is used as a justification for heightened border policing as it plays a pivotal role in the economic and environmental rhetoric of the borderlands. This dissertation analyzes the discourses of migrants and border dwellers as waste and wasteful through works of literature, digital art, and digital archives that use discarded and disposed objects to address the humanitarian crisis in the borderlands. Critical to this analysis is the use of new materialism and environmental justice approaches to elucidate the violence of waste visible through dumps along the border like those in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. Equally important are specific objects exhibited in databases like Yo Tengo Nombre, which serves as a catalogue for identifying recovered migrants via their personal affects. In this way, objects become sites of recovery, which make visible the immense loss of life happening in the borderlands. Digital memorials further the importance of making visible the violence of sovereignty as explored in Fatal Migrations, 2487, and Border Memorial, all of which utilize digital methods to honor the deaths of thousands as a direct consequence of border policy. Considering the entanglements of objects, environments, and people, this dissertation examines how the border space is a continuation of a settler colonial ethic that effectively diminishes both the land and the those who have died along the border. Taken together, the pieces analyzed and discussed in this dissertation expose the violence of the borderlands as both historical and contemporary, social and political. This dissertation posits public mourning as a crucial site of resistance to the violence of U.S. border policy, and erasures which have been foundational to immigration enforcement in the borderlands.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Quintanilla, Alyssaacq3@pitt.eduacq3
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairRodriguez Fielder,
Committee CoChairWaldron,
Committee MemberBoone, Troy
Committee MemberHorton, Zachary
Committee MemberBruce, Caitlin
Date: 8 October 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 26 April 2021
Approval Date: 8 October 2021
Submission Date: 28 April 2021
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 195
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: border studies, environmental justice, materiality, waste, mourning
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2021 18:30
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2023 05:15


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