Mellon Foundation Grant to Support Efforts to Bolster UA as Borderlands Leader

Emily Litvack, UA Office of Research, Discovery & Innovation
Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora.

"Fronteridades: Nurturing Collaborative Intersections in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands" is part of the UA's aim to become the leading institution for borderlands scholarship, referred to as the Border Lab Initiative.

With funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the University of Arizona's Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry will launch a program focused on exploring the narratives of those who live at and journey across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The newly established "Fronteridades: Nurturing Collaborative Intersections in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands" program is aimed at collecting and sharing the stories and art of people at the U.S.-Mexico border while creating new learning opportunities. The program, supported by an $800,000, two-year grant from the Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities program of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is part of the university's larger aim to become the leading institution for borderlands scholarship, referred to as the Border Lab Initiative.

"In Spanish, 'border' is 'frontera' and 'humanities' is 'humanidades.' So we call it Fronteridades because this program is really about intersecting the two," says Javier Duran, professor of Latin American and border studies, and director of the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, which oversees the program.

The program will work closely with the UA Center for Latin American Studies and will partner with two local nongovernmental organizations: the Southwest Folklife Alliance and the Colibrí Center for Human Rights. It is designed to achieve its goals through three main activities: facilitating border community storytelling, creating border fellowships, and hosting a series of border-related symposia called El Intercambio conferences.

The creation of border-related stories will be facilitated by UA students and faculty working alongside families and communities at the border. These stories will be told in a number of ways, including through video, multimedia art installations, murals and the written word. Fronteridades will work closely with the Southwest Folklife Alliance's VozFrontera program in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, to tell stories through art. It also will support the Colibrí Center's Historias y Recuerdos program, which aims to tell the life stories of missing migrants.

The semester-long border fellowships will be awarded to at least one community fellow, one research fellow and one public border artist, with the call for applications going out in the summer and the first fellows beginning their work in spring 2020.

The series of symposia will be aimed at facilitating transnational dialogue among borderlands experts.

"If we don't engage with our colleagues south of the border, we're not getting a full picture. So we're thinking the Intercambio will be an important component of our collaboration," Duran said.

The creation of the Fronteridades program comes on the heels of the UA's release of its new strategic plan, which includes the Border Lab Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to "make the UA the leader in the field of border studies by creating new knowledge and transnational collaborations and thus position the university as a top destination for students and faculty pursuing border-related scholarship in global, binational and regional contexts."

Duran says Fronteridades is the first major success of the Border Lab Initiative: "We truly believe this funding is going to ignite ideas we've proposed in the initiative. We're elevating our comparative advantage. The goal is for the UA to be the top institution for studying the border. This grant is one important first step in that direction."

"Fronteridades is a great example of the UA's commitment to serving our region," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "By focusing on the U.S.-Mexico border through a humanities lens, this project plays a crucial role in the UA's goal to share the cultural richness of our region with the world, and I am very grateful to the Mellon Foundation for recognizing the importance of this work, and for investing in it. I am excited to see the wide-ranging results of the work that the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry will undertake."

With the border just 60 miles away from the UA campus and a major focus in political news today, Duran believes Fronteridades is a natural fit for the university, galvanizing its existing efforts to understand the borderlands.

Duran added that the UA already has roughly 70 faculty experts on the borderlands across several disciplines, and the Fronteridades program will bring many of them together for collaboration. Those already involved include Maribel Alvarez, associate research professor in the College of Social and Behavioral Science's Southwest Center, and Robin Reineke, assistant research social scientist at the Southwest Center.

"We are really proud that the work of the Confluencenter has been recognized by such a prestigious institution  and we're thankful for the institutional support we've had from the president's office, the Office of Research, Discovery & Innovation, and the UA Foundation. This was a team effort, and we're delighted and excited for the opportunity from the Mellon Foundation," Duran said.