“Art Against the Wall”

Reading Group Discussion with Stephanie Elizondo Griest

by Samia Noor
Nov. 18, 2019

Stephanie Elizondo Griest recently came to Duke for a reading group to discuss her book, All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the US Borderlands. At the discussion, she shared her unique life story. She grew up in the borderlands of Texas. Her family has roots in the King Ranch tracing all the way back to 1853. Her family spent over 130 years living here. Everyone on the Ranch lived together, they had free housing, medical care, and monthly rations. They worked from sun up to sun down, but Griest recalls these memories fondly– saying that she was able to observe her family’s traditions and cultures in this setting. However, in the 1980s with the introduction of rapid industrialization, the owners of the Ranch realized that machines could do maximize production on the ranch. 70-80 people lost their jobs on the Ranch and had to find jobs elsewhere, many of her relatives took up working in the suburbs in places like Walmart. From there, Griest was apart of the first generation of her family to pursue a life off the Ranch, and chose to go to college.

Griest explored different cultures across the globe, moving around the Community Bloc and eventually writing her first book about these very travels. While traveling, she began to gain an interest in native cultures and geography. Griest then turned the conversation about migration into a modern context, discussing the concept of borders. She wanted to learn more about her own people’s migration to the United States, and decided to journey along the border wall. She said, “What separates us is a twist of geographical faith, with me on one side of the border and them on the other.”

Griest challenges the norm discourse of migration by relating the border art stories to the human condition. She discusses how border art is more prevalent on the Mexican side of the border, since any art on the U.S. side is quickly taken down. Border art is a physical manifestation of the pain and struggles migrants face in order to make better lives for themselves, and in many cases border art commemorates their lives because they have died trying to cross.

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