Professor Explores Borders in New Book
By Whitney Frasier
A new book by Cal State San Marcos Catherine Cucinella, assistant professor of literature and writing studies, asks readers to contemplate, recognize and understand the borders that make up our world—those that societies construct and those that construct societies. Border Crossings is a 335-page, single-theme Bedford Spotlight Reader that hit the stands late last year.
As a single-theme reader, Border Crossings tackles one topic, in this case, borders. However, as the name implies, Cucinella had chosen to focus on more than just physical borders and widen the scope beyond the Mexico-U.S. border.
The book has 34 readings and, of those, 10 deal directly with the Mexico-U.S. border. Other areas of the book address global flows and movement across borders, race and how it relates to borders and issues specific to women’s experiences with border crossings.
“I wanted something that met our local and regional needs, but I also wanted something broader that recognized the importance of introducing students to the complexity of all the borders with which we live,” said Cucinella. “I believe that if we can open a conversation about how borders touch our lives then we can have the more difficult political or politicized conversations about our national borders, immigration policies, or other thorny issues.”
Border Crossings acknowledges that borders exist and that they are powerful forces in the lives of people.
“It also recognizes that borders’ influence on society and on individuals is wide-ranging: geographical, political, economic, legal, medical, religious, social, environmental, linguistic and even sexual,” said Cucinella. “Finally, Border Crossings affirms that, whether we realize it or not, borders also influence how we think about who we are and where we are.”
The text pushes students to investigate the place of borders in their world—a world where borders still matter even as borders and the concept of borders are rapidly changing.
Border Crossings is the most recent volume in a seven-volume series that explores issues such as happiness, gender, money, sustainability and food. It is also Cucinella’s second textbook. Funny, her first, was published in 2014 for another single-theme series reader from Fountainhead Press’s V-Series. Both of Cucinella’s books are on the list of approved text for instructors at CSUSM. Border Crossings also features artwork by Professor David Avalos.
“I designed the book so that instructors have many points of entry for students and so that they can teach to their own pedagogical strengths and approaches,” said Cucinella. “An instructor can shift the thematic focus to identity with borders and borderlands supporting that focus.”
Instructors can choose to focus on borders, borderlands, border crossers or border crossings. Whatever thematic approach an instructor chooses, this book will raise critical questions regarding the nature of borders, as well as focus on critical reading, writing and thinking.
Although borders and border crossing is the subject of this book, students and what they do in the classroom really form the heart of this text.
“As students consider arguments, ideas, and information from various perspectives, they will be developing and presenting their own arguments and ideas about borders and how these issues affect their lives,” said Cucinella. “I believe this text leads students to ask critical questions—to look at the issue of borders and border crossings more closely in order to realize that defining borders and the issues surrounding them are not simple.”
Whatever the approach an instructor or student takes, the end result should be that students continue to ask questions because borders—political, social, cultural, conceptual—are messy and ever changing, shaped by people and shaping people.
“In order to envision the framing question of each chapter, to write the general introduction, chapter introduction, headnotes, to create the discussion questions and the in-class activities following each reading, I had to imagine myself in the classroom teaching to students,” said Cucinella. “I drew on my years in the classroom teaching at all levels— writing, literature and women’s studies.”
Border Crossings crosses disciplinary boundaries, and Cucinella is comfortable doing that.
“I am ecstatic about the possibility of this text being used in the classroom,” said Cucinella. “My teaching is my scholarship. Engaging students and providing resources for teachers are what I do—it defines me as a scholar/teacher. I used all my past experiences, my research skills and my knowledge of composition and writing…and I did so with a great sense of discovery and joy.”