All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands

"Identity is everything when you live in the periphery," writes memoirist and journalist Stephanie Elizondo Griest in All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands. This poignant and fascinating work of journalism explores two borderland communities, the Tejanos and the Mohawks. Mostly American born, Tejanos live a few miles north of the U.S./Mexico border, largely without heat, clean water or better prospects for the future. Their culture, meanwhile, brims with ancient traditions. In a standout chapter, Griest visits one of many "miracle trees" believed by the Tejanos to predict the future and heal the sick. In another, she speaks with a clutch of nuns trying to convince the Vatican to canonize Mother Julia, a beloved nun who died in the 1970s and whose spirit is believed to be working miracles still in their community.

The book's second half turns north to the Mohawks from the Akwesasne Nation, a sovereign state of indigenous people that overlaps the U.S./Canada border. Like the Tejanos, the Mohawks struggle to maintain their complex belief systems and traditional ways of life. Griest tells the story of Saint Kateri, Native America's first Catholic saint. The Mohawks claim her as one of their own, but her story of canonization highlights how tightly the legacy of colonialism intertwines throughout their history.

Griest also introduces artists and activists in both communities working to bring greater awareness to their suffering. With sensitivity and eye-opening detail, her dispatches reveal both the pain and strength of borderlands people. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

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