The Scar: Graphic Reportage from the U.S.-Mexico Border

Does it count if the spoilers are all pulled from the headlines? Giphy

Borders are arbitrary, violent things, things that bring out both the worst and the best of humanity. It’s a point driven home throughout Andrea Ferraris and Renato Chiocca’s The Scar: Graphic Reportage from the U.S.-Mexico Border, published originally in Italian and translated here into English by Jamie Richards. It is very short, very beautiful, and intensely powerful.

The Scar starts with a basketball game, a pair of drug smugglers, and a murder. It’s on the border: the murdered boy is heading home from a game on the Mexican side; the killer is a Border Patrol agent. The boy dies for a sin not his own, at the hand of a man who never saw his face. (The agent was later acquitted. I would argue this speaks to the ongoing structural violence of racism and colonialism.) Though the interlude is brief, it sticks, reminding us that José Antonio Elena Rodríguez—Toñito—was a real kid, who had done nothing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This section also gives tidbits of information about the militarized border—including the section of wall at Nogales—that those of us who don’t live alongside Mexico might not know. I, who live in the border zone, had no clue that the wall itself was a no-man’s land, where neither Mexico nor the U.S. holds jurisdiction. It seems like a remarkably poor idea, although since everything else about border walls is also a remarkably poor idea, this probably shouldn’t surprise me.

Considering what it is covering—the murder of an innocent, unarmed kid, walking home—I thought that this section of The Scar was remarkably even-handed in its representation: law enforcement on both sides of the border are offered relatively compassionate depictions, and Ferraris and Chiocca stress the ongoing cross-border cooperation. I have no idea if this is really the way the border plays out, of course, but to read The Scar, one gets the feeling that agents on either side of the militarized zone work together enough to know each other, as colleagues do. (It may even have changed, in the past few years: I’m border zone, but not border, and don’t know.)

The second section of The Scar moves from the worst of humanity to the best, as Ferraris and Chiocca follow humanitarian workers into the desert to leave food and water at heavily-traveled points of the route into the U.S. This section is beautiful, not simply in the art (which was beautiful in the first section as well, though also, as this review notes, somewhat oppressive), but in the stories of humanity and decency covered in its few pages. An artist places crosses to mark the dead, refusing to let the nameless be forgotten. Strangers work together to save lives, trekking into a boiling desert to leave the necessities of life for other people whom they will likely meet.

As of this writing, Ferraris and Chiocca note that the border patrol and the activists distrust each other, but are aware of each other’s actions all the same. I will note that, in the time since the visit that became The Scar, border patrol agents have been filmed dumping water left in the desert—something that went unmentioned in this section. (Perhaps the word was not yet out; perhaps it has worsened over the years.) Nonetheless, this section is a reminder that there are decent people out in the world, no matter that it is so often ugly.

The Scar is part of Fantagraphics’ Underground line, and, like more or less every other graphic novel I’ve seen from Fantagraphics, it’s beautiful: beautifully created, and beautifully forged as a bound work. It’s very much a work for adults, but I think it could also serve a place in upper-level high school classes, as well as pretty much anywhere in college: it is ripe for discussion, and could serve as a focal point for research into the border. (For that matter, it’s a great tool to use to remind folks from areas like Chicago that they, too, live in the border zone, even if the only one they routinely think about is where the South Side ends and the North Side begins.1)

The Scar is very short and very powerful. It lends itself to discussion, and to research, but also to reflection. It is a meditation on the border: as place, as scar, as people, as metaphor. It’s also a reminder of the humanity on both sides of that invisible line, and that is probably its most important facet.

Your Rights in the Border Zone

The Border Zone extends for 100 miles inward from any border. Most of the United States’ population lives within this border zone, including me (and everyone else in almost every major city in the country).

ICE patrols the border zone. However, even in this zone—including Chicago and New York and Philadelphia—you have rights.

Assorted Books on Border Studies

1 This is of considerable importance to me, as I rarely go north of that point.