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Transborder Immigrant Tool Series: Poetry Built for Survival on the U.S.- Mexico Border (Multimedia)

Kevin Dooley / CC BY 2.0

The Transborder Immigrant Tool is a GPS cellphone safety-net tool for crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. It was developed by Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g. lab in 2007 by artists Micha Cárdenas, Amy Sara Carroll, Ricardo Dominguez, Elle Mehrmand and Brett Stalbaum, in conjunction with CALIT2/Visual Arts Department/University of California, San Diego/Program in American Culture, Latina/o Studies/English Department/University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The technology, which includes a free GPS applet, was developed to augment low-cost cellphones to provide poetry and a simple navigation system that leads immigrants to water caches left by Water Station, Border Angels and Quaker help centers. It also provides geographic locations of highways and other landmarks used for navigating and surviving a border crossing. It repurposes inexpensive, used mobile phones that have GPS antennae. Its software aspires to guide “the tired, the poor” and the dehydrated citizens of the world to sites with water, and also offers poetic audio “sustenance.”

In 2010, the artists of Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g. lab were investigated by three Republican congressmen, the FBI’s cybercrimes division and the University of California at San Diego, where Dominguez is an associate professor in the visual arts department, for misusing public funds and promoting illegal activities. The investigations were eventually dropped, and the university did not find any misuse of funds.

Poet Amy Sara Carroll wrote a series of 24 poems, titled “The Desert Survival Series/La serie de sobrevivencia del desierto,” which were uploaded onto cellphones equipped with simple compasses and interfaces. Each poem is a form of lyrical advice that provides readers and listeners with tools for every hour of a day spent in the pernicious borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico. Truthdig will publish each of these poems in both Spanish and English over the next few weeks in our Poetry section, accompanied with bilingual audio recordings by various contributors to the project. For more information on the project, watch the video presentation below.

The first poem in “The Desert Survival Series,” read by Amy Sara Carroll in English and Ricardo Dominguez in Spanish


The desert is an ecosystem with a logic of sustainability, of
orientation, unique unto itself. For example, if the barrel
cactus—known otherwise as the compass cactus—stockpiles moisture,
it also affords direction. As clear as an arrow or a constellation,
it leans south. Orient yourself by this mainstay or by flowering
plants that, growing toward the sun, face south in the Northern

El desierto es un ecosistema único en si mismo, con su propia lógica
de sustentabilidad y orientación. Por ejemplo, el cactus de barril o
biznaga—conocido como cactus brújula—acumula el rocío y la humedad,
también proporciona direcciones. Tan claro como una flecha o una
constelación, se inclina hacia el sur. Oriéntese haciendo uso de este
recurso o por las plantas que florecen, creciendo hacia al sol, ya
que estas siempre apuntan hacia el sur en el Hemisferio Norte.

Submit a poem

Truthdig will publish poems that offer insight into current events and sociopolitical themes relevant to today’s world. From entries across the nation, Truthdig staff will select poems based on both their artistic qualities as well as the social issues they discuss. To read our guidelines and submit a poem for our consideration, click here.

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