Borders and Boundaries

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #11 in July 2010]

The Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) provokes dialogue, builds community, and promotes change by creating opportunities for adults in Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods to write, publish, and perform works about their lives. In NWA’s free, ongoing workshops, which are held at branches of the Chicago Public Library and in other community centers, participants write about their lives and their reflections on their neighborhoods.

Participants’ writing is published in the quarterly Journal of Ordinary Thought (JOT) and on NWA’s blog, “Every Person Is a Philosopher.”

In Winter 2007, NWA writers took on the topic of Borders and Boundaries for an issue of JOT titled “An Invisible Line.” The writing that emerged demonstrates the tremendous number of borders and boundaries we build up, create, encounter, use to divide, are oppressed by, are silenced by, push, explore, break apart, protest, engage, question, notice, ignore, honor, and reinforce through our everyday actions and inactions.

As we consider im/migration and related public policies and individual beliefs, let us ask ourselves: What are the ways in which we, as individuals, communities, and peoples, are restricted or given permission to move through space? And who seeks to gain from granting or denying permission? What do we individually and collectively lose when we don’t resist abuses by policymakers or others erecting barriers or controlling systems?

And as we seek to challenge broken or immoral policies of immigration, of taxation and social services, of civil rights, of health care and control over the borders of individual bodies, of the criminal “justice” system, of participation in a democratic republic—let us remember that the issues related to borders and access transcend physical/national borders. As the diverse works published in “An Invisible Line” demonstrate, systems of oppression play out on and across national, state, local, and individual levels.

Yolanda Nieves’s and Manny Sosa’s poetry (reprinted here) were originally published in “An Invisible Line.” Additional writing from that issue will be posted periodically at

To learn more about Neighborhood Writing ?Alliance and the Journal of Ordinary Thought, ?visit



Manny Sosa

Every personal day, I take my dirty boundary to the Boundr-o-mat.

My boundary is mine, pushing limits to a survey of restrictions.

My restrictions need cleansing, while my segregation is “dry clean” only.

You can buy defined containers, full of Freedom soap at the Boundr-o-mat.

And at the Boundr-o-mat they ask, “Would you like your guidelines


“Why yes, I’d love that.”

Sometimes, I find a rule that is broken. “Should I mend it?”

“Nah.” I toss it.

When my boundary is done, I take it out and stick it into the approved.

Be careful sticking your hand into the approved.

You may get burned if it was used before you.

While I wait for my boundary to get approved, I notice a body defining her

own boundary. She takes her fringe, margin, and edge out of her natural.

I offer to let her use my approved when I’m done.

It’s still hot and she has a nice frontier.

My boundary is done.

I discover my restraints, controls, and obstructions are all curbed.

“Caveat Proviso!” I hate when that happens!

I fold my boundary and neatly put it in my brink. Until next personal day, I

take my boundary and head to the confines.


Yolanda Nieves

no English

poor English


dark skinned






and a woman;


wheelchair bound

crossed eyes

bad teeth

bad breath

reads backward

autistic, blind,


and a throw-away child;

too short

too slow

curved spine


no papers

no job

with a police record

as a permanent ID;

living abandoned

limping their way

in an accurate world

before they fall way


where is my country?

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