Sewanee Symposium on Borders and Human Rights discusses struggles of immigration

Gailor Hall, the building where the Symposium took place. Picture by Luke Williamson (C’21).

Julianna Morgan
Staff writer

Throughout the week of March 5-9, Sewanee held a Symposium on Borders and Human Rights. During this event, different guest speakers discussed forms of migration and its relation to borders.

On Friday, March 9, the last two talks of the week included Manuel Chinchilla from the Spanish department and Jon Evans from the Biology department in Guerry Auditorium.

Chinchilla described the journey of migration to America from Central America, while Evans displayed concern for forest degradation and loss at the Belize-Guatemala border. Both speakers discussed the varying issues and lifestyles that come from journeys across borders.

Chinchilla incorporated two books into his presentation: Oscar Martinez’s The Beast and Erri De Luca’s The Face of the Clouds. Martinez’s book centers around migrants from El Salvador making their way to the American border.

He dedicated his full talk to migrants making a life for themselves throughout their journey. He explained that while some may never get into America, they do end up having more control over their lives. Chinchilla stated that “minorities tend to face people telling them they should do this, but they say we can do more.”

Martinez’s The Beast focused on the migrant flight to Egypt in the book of Matthew in the Christian Bible. According to Chinchilla, “Migrants are purpose political actors.” Chinchilla wanted to show they are not victims but victors of their lives. Their journey to the border is them taking control and deciding they can do more. “Migrants are deciding on their life constantly,” said Chinchilla.

Evans’s talk focused on the ecological side of the border topic. His presentation concerned the Belize-Guatemala border. What makes this area essential is its vital ecological use due to its rainforest. The rainforest has several rare animal and plant species that rely on the forest to stay alive. The demolishment of the tropical area could cause the extinction of these species. Evans discussed the border’s role in the forest loss and degradation.

“Depending on who is leading Guatemala, they do not always recognize the Belize border,” said Evans. Due to this issue, Guatemalans have begun to set up communities along the border, causing them to tear down the rainforest that is in their way.

In Evans’s presentation, he showed a map of the rainforest and the border. The Belize side of the map was full of greenery showing the thriving rainforest. However, on the Guatemalan side and a little over the border, it was brown due to the demolishment of the rainforest.

Evans then spoke about another major factor in the degradation of the forest: Xatero Palm harvesting. These plants grow in the rainforest and Guatemalans have made a business out of this resource. This causes the rainforest to be damaged, leading to tension with the Belizean government. Evans insisted on the need for a solution to this Guatemala-Belize border crisis.

Evans also emphasized one organization that is trying to improve the issue, Friends for Conservation and Development led by Rafael Manzanero.

Evans stressed the genius of Manzanero, saying that he has come up with a strategy for stopping the Guatemalans and helping to work with both countries to create a solution to preserve the rainforest. Evans believed that Manzanero is shaping the Belize-Guatemala border issue into a more promising story.

While both speakers discussed the border, each of them stressed different topics regarding migrants and borders. Chinchilla emphasized the human rights aspect and Evans emphasized the ecological side that many do not think about when talking about borders.

These two talks ended a great week for the Sewanee Symposium on Border and Human Rights.