Closing the Border

The April 27 Rocky Mountain News features the final installment of "Border Street," a year-long series about an unnamed Denver block where, according to its introduction, "old meets new, English meets Spanish, legal resident meets -- and sometimes marries -- illegial immigrant." The concluding piece, dubbed "The River Churns Endlessly, Tossing Two Cultures Together," is a microcosm of the opus as a whole. It overflows with ambition, and frequently displays the abundant talents of its writer, columnist Tina Griego (pictured) -- yet it also contains more than its share of teeth-grinding moments.

Much more than its crosstown rival, the Denver Post, the Rocky eagerly takes on big, showy projects, and "Border Street" is among the more conceptually worthy of these efforts. In it, Griego tried to get beyond the polarizing rhetoric of the immigration debate in order to present a variety of subjects, be they Caucasians or Latinos, documented or undocumented, as real people, not mere statistics. To insure honesty and access, she granted these individuals anonymity, and rather than using realistic pseudonyms, she generally referred to them using sometimes unwieldy labels: "The Mexican Grandma," "The Teacher," "The Patriarch," and so on. This affectation consistently drew attention to itself -- never moreso than in "River," throughout which Griego repeatedly refers to herself in the third person as "The Reporter Lady" -- a too-cutesy moniker that distracts from the rest of the lengthy farewell. As such, there's a clash throughout between overly coy moments and genuinely evocative prose of the sort found in the following paragraph:

In the spring, when the morning light ignites the pink and white blossoms of the fruit trees and the dewy grassy smell rises, longtime residents of the block recall the days when they looked out their windows to see open fields of buffalo grass and their children, grown now, playing baseball. The people of Border Street are not generally given to nostalgia. They are accustomed to living close to the bone where there is no room for sentimentality. They are practical and if they indulge themselves in memories of a sunnier past, it is largely because it helps them to set the standard for how they would like to live, especially now, when they look out to see trash cans overflowing and broken glass glinting in the street, and when, more recently, they were awakened by the sound of gunshots fired from a passing truck.

In the end, "Border Street" represents a noble attempt to go beyond the headlines, and even though it didn't work as often as it did, it was preferable to the sort of immigration coverage that degenerates into name-calling and counter-productivity. This latter, and more common, form of debate on this issue, which turns up far too often on talk radio, borders on uselessness. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts