i’ve had my shirt off at work recently and people are all like, “WHAT’S THAT THING ON YOUR BACK?”
i just tell them that it’s the major river systems of the United States— and they’re all like, “WELL THAT BARELY LOOKS LIKE THE UNITED STATES… OR ANYTHING AT ALL.”
and i just smile. because that’s the point. (i hardly ever tell people why i got the tattoo because they are turned off by my explanation.)
but when i explain, i say: “it’s a critique of nationalism, of borders, of conceptions of space. it’s a promotion of fluidity in cultures and in the self.” i state that my tattoo is inspired by the writings of Gloria Anzaldua on border cultures and border peoples (both actually and conceptually), but most folks are unfortunately unfamiliar with her writing.
but there’s also my geographer side to it. i think it’s cool that John Wesley Powell once stated that the places we live would be better off demarcated by the watershed we live in (even though i dislike the concept of demarcation). few took his thoughts seriously on the matter, so now we have many national and state borders found in rivers (like the Rio Grande or the Ohio). this really doesn’t make sense because rivers are the centers of their watersheds and greater ecosystems, not the harsh edge. to have a river on the fringe in this way highlights the disregard humans have concerning viewing themselves as part of the environment in which they live and the disregard colonialism often has for the surroundings in which it usurps.