A memoir that grapples with life, death, and documentary filmmaking on the United States–Mexico border.
Ferguson (co-author: Crossing with the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail, 2010) grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and lived much of her life in the gorgeous yet dangerous terrain of the border country. A dance instructor who developed a passion for documentary filmmaking, she devoted seven years to creating a film about the indigenous Rarámuri people of Mexico. In the subtle first half of her memoir, the author recounts the tumultuous process that led to The Unholy Tarahumara (another name for the Rarámuri), which premiered in 1998. Ferguson is a sensitive writer, wary of excessively exoticizing the land and the people she meets, but she beautifully conveys the sense of wonder she feels with every trip across the border. That wonder turns to barely controlled rage, however, in the book’s second half, as Ferguson looks in the other direction, at migration from Mexico to the U.S. She describes how migrant deaths surged in the mid-1990s, from an annual average of 14 to several hundred—the equivalent, she writes, of a large passenger plane crashing into the desert every year. Outraged by the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the increasing militarization of the border, she joined groups that provide aid to migrants and began work on her next documentary, about a Rarámuri migrant woman who spent years held unjustly in an American psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, she suspected that, due to her activism, the government was watching her. She was detained and arrested by mysterious federal agents in the desert, and she began a relationship with a Mexican man who, despite his visa, lives in constant fear of deportation.
A wise and humane account that draws on a lifetime of exploring the border country and pondering its meaning.