Territory & Boundaries

I’d like to focus on territory and as a subset, boundaries. We see this as a theme in all three books. In The Squatter and The Don we see the disruption of territory as the Squatters move on the Don’s land, in Gregorio Cortez we see the emphasis on the physical border between Texas and Mexico, and in Down These Mean Streets we see territorial boundaries between different neighbourhoods and the northern and southern states. It is interesting to see how these territorial lines play a role in the motivations and behaviours presented in the books. In many ways, none of these books could have happened if not for these boundaries, and the trespassing of these boundaries.

In The Squatter and The Don, for example, the story is centred around how the squatters unrightfully – or rightfully, in technical terms – claimed territory that was already owned by the Don. If it wasn’t for this action, this trespassing, then none of the subsequent events would have been possible; the Don would have kept his land and cattle, Clarence would not have met Mercedes, they would not have travelled across the US nor gotten married, there would not have been a collision between the Anglos and Californios, etc. It is interesting to think that so many events could be centered around what seems to be a simple, and somewhat trivial, part of the book. It almost seems too simple…

In Down These Mean Streets, on the other hand, we could argue that the territories in which Piri lived drove his behaviours throughout the autobiography. In the barrio, for example, he strived to be macho and fit in with the other barrio kids. Upon moving out to Long Island (I think it was?) he was forced to realize he did not fit in there, causing his out lash and subsequent desire to go to the South. When in the Southern territory, we see him adopt the black man’s mentality, driving him to execute actions that he may have not done otherwise, such as take advantage of a women in order to feed his pride. When in jail, we see him go through a transformation. I argue the jail is another territory; a territory and boundary that separates people from freedom, one that separates the old Piri from the new. But I also believe that Down These Mean Streets holds another layer of boundaries; the physical to mental, the territory of the inner mind vs. the territory of action. We discussed this last week, in how Piri seemed to go through life almost on autopilot – he acted like he thought he was expected to act, did things because of who people told him he was and not who he thought he was. He acted in the physical space and the “territory of action”, so to speak. But in jail, we see him venture into his mind; he explores the territory of his thoughts, his feelings, the psychology of his mind. Perhaps this is a stretch for some people, but I believe that these territories, these boundaries, that Piri explores throughout the book are fundamental to his self discovery. I’m curious to know what you guys think!

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