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Bullets over the Borderlands

January 16, 2020 | Robert Alexander González

Men assisting with “Operation Wetback,” a 1950s mass deportation program. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
Men assisting with “Operation Wetback,” a 1950s mass deportation program (photo: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images)

Moved by the August 3, 2019, mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Dr. Robert Alexander González wrote a two-part essay, “Bullets Over the Borderlands,” seeking to work through a history of racially motivated borderland assaults. In writing this essay he was also laying the groundwork for an Architectural Competition Brief that he is preparing for a proposed memorial to be built somewhere along the border. In this talk, he hopes to explore issues concerning landscapes, memorials, and memory. How does one define the parameters of an architectural competition that effectively commemorates tragedies and exposes terrorism that occurred over a lengthy span of time and space? The charge is complicated when one considers the reality of ongoing attacks and conflict. Competition directives can sometimes be too open-ended, so those things which attach the directive to key ideas are critical to ensuring the competition yields bountiful, and potentially fruitful, proposals.

Robert Alexander González, PhD, AIA, is an architectural historian, architect, and a professor of architecture. He is Director of the Texas Tech El Paso Program, located on the US-Mexico border in one of the largest binational metropolitan areas in the world. He is the author of Designing Pan-America: U.S. Architectural Visions for the Western Hemisphere (2011) and the founding editor of the journal AULA: Architecture & Urbanism in Las Américas. He has written about architectural competitions, the borderlands, Latin American/Latinx architecture, Pan-Americanism, and world’s fairs. His research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the CCA Montreal, and the Graham Foundation.