“In many ancient religious texts, fallen angels were bound in chains and buried beneath a desert known only as Desolation. This could be the place.” These lines are from the first pages of Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway, this year’s Text and Community selection.
The “highway” Urea refers to in the title of the nonfiction work is a stretch of desert that 26 Mexican men journeyed through while crossing the border from Mexico to Arizona. As the book tragically depicts, only twelve of the men survived the ordeal.
The Text and Community Program is an annual semester-long project co-sponsored by George Mason’s English Department and the Mason Project on Immigration. Numerous events are planned throughout the spring semester, including a discussion forum sponsored by the Democracy Project, a film festival sponsored by the Mason Project on Immigration, a brown-bag lunch series focusing on immigration research by Mason faculty, and a student essay contest hosted by the English Department. The project will culminate with a visit from the author on Wednesday, April 9.
About forty professors from multiple disciplines have confirmed that they plan to use the text in their syllabi as part of the Text and Community Program. While English courses will examine The Devil’s Highway as an exemplary work of nonfiction, the book also offers a powerful examination of U.S. and Mexican border activities and immigration policies.
One of the program organizers, Debra Shutika (English), predicts widespread involvement in this spring’s Text and Community activities because of the political bent of the book and the focus on immigration as a campaign issue in the upcoming elections. “This type of book does offer the possibility of wider participation from the university community, which was my hope when the text was proposed,” she said. “I also think timing here is a factor—immigration is a relevant and important issue right now.”
Shutika said that although the semester’s programs will expand the focus of the immigration debate beyond the U.S.-Mexico border, the area will feature heavily in discussion because the majority of immigrants entering the United States are from the Americas and the major anti-immigrant movements affect Latinos most profoundly. Shutika said that the events will create opportunities for participants to explore issues such as immigrant assimilation, community change, and nativist responses to immigration.
While all students can find personal relevance in this semester’s program, the discussions surrounding the text will particularly hit home for the approximately one third of Mason’s student body who are members of minority groups, many of whom are first or second generation immigrants. “Most of our events include dialogues of some type, and in those forums students will be encouraged to share their stories,” Shutika said. “Text and Community offers an opportunity for students to look at their life stories in the context of the immigration debate.”
*Some content in this article appeared in a different format in the Mason Gazette.
March 10, 2008