photo: headshot of Alberto Rios, smiling and seated on couch

AZ’s Poet Laureate on Border

Alberto Rios remembers the day J. F. Kennedy was shot and the two Nogales changed forever—Ed

There was a time when the border between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, was actually a fence, something that might be between backyards. To either side of the two Nogales’ flimsy barrier were miles of land, open, unencumbered, looking much the same as they had for millennia.

Alberto Rios’ father was Mexican. As a teenager he crossed the border from Mexico through the Nogales port to live with his aunts, whose house was left on the Arizona side when the international border fence first went up. He joined the American service in World War II and during his deployment met the English woman who would become his wife. After the war the couple moved to Nogales, Arizona, where their two sons were born. The boys were American, but the parents had to follow the long, legal road to U.S. citizenship. Alberto Rios grew up in a bi-lingual, tri-cultural home, leaving him with an uncommon perspective on international boundaries and race relations.

Rios, a University of Arizona graduate with degrees in English and Creative Writing, has won numerous poetry and writing awards. Thirty-three years ago he began an academic career at Arizona State University he continues today.

Rios has published ten books of poetry, three short story collections and a memoir about his boyhood in Nogales.

In an excerpt from a longer interview Rios reminisces about the day John F. Kennedy was shot and why the U.S. border with Mexico was never the same after.

[click for audio file (5 min.)]

The poem below is embedded in the wall of Nogales’ new port of entry. Rios’ tenure as Arizona Poet Laureate extends through 2015. His poem stands as long as the wall.

Border Lines

A weight carried by two
Weighs only half as much.

The world on a map looks like the drawing of a cow
In a butcher’s shop, all those lines showing
Where to cut.

That drawing of the cow is also a jigsaw puzzle,
Showing just as much how very well
All the strange parts fit together.

Which way we look at the drawing
Makes all the difference.
We seem to live in a world of maps:

But in truth we live in a world made
Not of paper and ink but of people.
Those lines are our lives. Together,

Let us turn the map until we see clearly:
The border is what joins us,
Not what separates us.

Alberto Rios copyright 2003

Journalist + Photo: Norah Booth
Audio Tech: Peter W. Althoff

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2 Responses to AZ’s Poet Laureate on Border

  1. William Dennis November 23, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Rios always makes sense with heart.

  2. Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford November 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    BORDER LINES by Alberto Ríos has left me amazed by the visual imagery my fellow Nogalian – Nogalense has created with words which profoundly touch and tear at my heart; brash dishonesty and ugliness paradoxically become beauty and truth.

    Let’s heed these unifying sentiments and join together for the good of mankind – allowing lines to build bridges across cultures, countries and communication.

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