UArizona receives $1.18 million grant for new U.S.-Mexico borderlands research and archive project

April 29, 2022

The University of Arizona has been awarded a $1.18 million grant from the Ford Foundation to serve as an archival partner for a project aimed at expanding perceptions and narratives surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border, Reclaiming the Border Narrative: Storytelling and Cultural Power for Migrant Justice.  

The project is aimed at contributing to the national dialogue on migration and the U.S.-Mexico border through the support of storytelling by affected communities that address local culture and socio-political dynamics in the region.

As the archival partner for the project, the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry and University Libraries’ Special Collections are working together to create and activate a community-led and ethically-operated archive containing a more comprehensive portrayal of the border. 

“This project is a wonderful opportunity to change and expand the perceptions about the border region and migration, from one of chaos and peril to one in which all communities, people, and cultures are understood, respected and uplifted. We are delighted to be working closely with Special Collections and grateful to the Ford Foundation for their confidence and support” said Javier Duran, professor of Latin American and border studies and director of the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry. Duran also serves as co-principal investigator of the project.

The archive will house materials created through more than 40 border-related projects that were previously funded by the Ford Foundation and focus on a diverse range of border activism, art, journalism and community stories throughout the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Special Collections’ involvement will include guiding participants in community archiving, developing an online presence for their creations and providing access to the collections that highlight first-hand perspectives on borderlands history.

"This initiative is an opportunity for Special Collections to continue engaging with the borderlands communities and to continue expanding the work of reframing the story and the history through source documentation from those who live, work and serve in the region,” said Verónica Reyes-Escudero, the Katheryne B. Willock Head of Special Collections and co-principal investigator of the project.

“We are excited to collaborate with the grantees working on their unique border projects. It’s also an opportunity to expand on The Documented Border digital archive, which is one of our interdisciplinary efforts to use primary source documentation and allow people to see or hear these lived experiences,” said Reyes-Escudero.  

Special Collections includes distinctive collections reflecting the surrounding border communities and the university's land grant mission. These collections are comprised of materials that reflect borderlands life, culture, and power structures dating back to the 16th century.

“This project creates an important platform for us to build upon our existing partnerships with the Confluencenter in further establishing the university as a leader in borderlands research through the Border Lab,” said Shan Sutton, dean of University Libraries. “Special Collections’ contribution includes expertise in applying new ways of documenting and studying the borderlands that enable all of the voices in our region to be heard.“ 

The Border Lab, an initiative of the university’s strategic plan, convenes more than 70 UArizona scholars engaged in border related research. In addition to providing external funding opportunities, the initiative creates a space for scholarly exchange and community engagement. Dr. Duran is the faculty leader of the initiative. 

“The University of Arizona Border Lab Initiative was created to advance and position the UA as a top destination for students and faculty pursuing border related scholarship in global, binational, and regional contexts," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “I am proud of the work our departments continue to do and look forward to our university becoming the home of one of the most important borderlands archives in the country.”

Confluencenter has supported border related research and education through the grant funded program, Fronteridades, an interdisciplinary project that addresses human challenges facing society at the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, since 2019.

In 2020, the Mellon Foundation also funded the Digital Borderlands storytelling project in which the Libraries disburse grants to support the integration of library services into data-intensive, humanities-focused research on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.