Isaac Espósto: Mapping the Architectures of Borderland Confinement


May 13, 2024

For Isaac Espósto, a 2023–2024 Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, the borders and walls along the U.S. and Mexico represent far more than just territorial boundaries. Their research looks at how the very architecture and spatial design of the borderlands purposefully produce categories of race, gender, and citizenship status that enable violence and determine whose mobility is criminalized or allowed. 

"The power to organize space is the power to organize people," Espósto says.

At the core of Isaac Espósto’s dissertation work, tentatively titled "The Architecture and Algorithms of Borderland Confinement," is an examination of how human-built spaces like detention centers, border wall checkpoints, and the historical Spanish mission system have structured hierarchies of access and marginalization. 

Their research traces back to the 16th-century Jesuit missions established in the Sonoran Desert region of what is now southern Arizona. Espósto analyzes how the missions' physical layouts and divisions inscribed Western gender binaries onto the Indigenous communities such as the Opata people, whose cultural traditions recognized more expansive gender identities and roles. "Literally in the foundation of these missions—these Adobe blocks—is this gendered violence, this separation and erasure of Indigenous gender expansiveness," Espósto explains.

The desert photo by Isaac
Photo Credit: Isaac Espósto

This historical precedent resonates in contemporary border regimes like the bifurcation of the Tohono O'odham Nation by the U.S/Mexico border after the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. As Espósto describes, such borders function as "false demarcations of space" that are deployed to legitimize exclusionary nationalist ideologies of who belongs and who doesn't.

Mapping these interconnected "architectures of confinement" reveals how the seemingly mundane infrastructure of walls, checkpoints, and detention facilities is purposefully engineered to produce racial and gendered geographies of criminalization, family separation, and even death for certain bodies labeled as "other." Espósto reminds us: "All Western settler-colonial borders are thefts of Indigenous land." 

The desert 2 photo by Isaac
Photo Credit: Isaac Espósto

Through poetic and scholarly analysis, Isaac Espósto’s work asks how to reimagine and reorient our relationship to space toward more liberatory modes of movement and belonging across the borderlands. For Espósto, "[Border] divisions of space create very real implications for who is left to die and who is allowed to continue to live"—a reality their research endeavors to rewrite. 





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