Humanizing Acts: Resisting the Historical Erasures of the Global COVID-19 Pandemic across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

by Ana Elizabeth Rosas

“Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society.”

– Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Beginning in the Fall of 2022, my Foundry guest editorship titled Humanizing Acts: Resisting the Historical Erasures of the Global COVID-19 Pandemic across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands moved me to invite interdisciplinary artists, students, and researchers to contribute to UCHRI’s project of “Recasting the Humanities.”1 contributors worked together to consider how the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic across the U.S.-Mexico borderlands have rendered recognizing, discussing, and/or creating, researching, teaching, and writing about the realities of the pandemic a formatively humane, generative act towards contributing to the future of the humanities. This humane engagement entailed working together to consider how the enduring loss, contexts, connections, erasures, relationships, responsibilities, silences, vulnerabilities, and weight of the pandemic informed our approach to our artistry, creativity, research, teaching, and/or writing, especially as pathways to generatively humane accompaniments, connections, creativity, relationships, research methodologies, and/or spaces.

During the pandemic, the loss of millions of lives and the rigorous re-configuration of borders, boundaries, dislocations, disruptions, employment conditions and terms, invisibility, protocols, relationships, silences, visibility, and vulnerabilities has elevated the importance and meaning of working together. This humanizing engagement supports a transformative awareness, and connections that refuse to underestimate the pandemic’s enduring influence across a diversity of historical contexts, connections, emotions, feelings, interactions, relationships, struggles, and spaces that connect and stretch across the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

“This humanizing engagement supports a transformative awareness, and connections that refuse to underestimate the pandemic’s enduring influence […] across the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.”

To support the participation of Humanizing Acts contributors, I invited each of them to consider how the pandemic has impacted their approach to their artistry, creativity, research, teaching, and/or writing. Which connections, contexts, erasures, relationships, silences, sources, spaces, vulnerabilities, and/or forms of engagement had grown in importance when pursuing artistry, creativity, research, teaching, and/or writing as they navigated the accountability, realities, relationships, responsibilities, rigors, and/or vulnerabilities of the pandemic? What did reflecting upon the pandemic’s influence over their artistry, creativity, research, teaching, and/or writing allow them to experience, recognize, and/or understand? In October 2022, we met together via Zoom to share our answers to these questions, and perspectives on how this engagement and its influence on our special issue contributions emerged as generative humanizing acts. During this meeting, most of us acknowledged the uniquely restorative dimensions of meeting with each other to share and discuss the ways the pandemic needs to be accounted for, discussed, and written about to avoid reproducing inhumane erasures, invisibilities, and silences.

Our investment in working together as we created, researched, and/or wrote our contributions inspired us to meet via Zoom in February 2023 and discuss and comment on our special issue contributions. Sharing how the pandemic has influenced our approach to creating, researching, teaching, and/or writing about accompaniment, borders, boundaries, dislocations, erasures, humanity, intergenerational connections and histories, invisibilities, loss, research methodologies, silences, sources, spaces, and vulnerabilities resonated as a generative act to expand the humane potential of our consideration and dissemination of the expansive and consistently underestimated gravity of the pandemic.

On May 24, 2023, contributors and I held a conference event at UC Irvine, to talk about this work. This event provided almost all our special issue contributors with an opportunity to reconnect for the first time in person, to share our special issue writing process and contributions, as well as to learn from audience comments and questions. This event also allowed us to better understand and experience the intergenerational and interdisciplinary diversity and depth of the investment with which each contributor had pursued the writing and presentation of their contribution. During their event presentations, many contributors addressed the personally revealing qualities of participating and contributing to this special issue and event, stressing that it had encouraged them to prioritize reflecting, creating, discussing, and writing about important feelings, processes, realities, and vulnerabilities that often are not the easiest to recognize and discuss when addressing the pandemic, especially the loss of loved ones, family relatives, and friends.

As special issue guest editor, my efforts to recognize the diversity of historical contexts, connections, emotions, feelings, relationships, sources, spaces, and vulnerabilities underpinning each of the contributions comprising Humanizing Acts have informed my organizing this special issue into three sections: Intentional Exchanges and Visibilities, Humanizing Connections, and Diversely Emotional Accompaniments.

“The organization of each section comprising Humanizing Acts strives to afford audiences a careful consideration of the humanity with which each contribution has been produced.”

In the Intentional Exchanges and Visibilities section, each contributor advances our understanding of creativity, research, teaching, and/or writing that examines how the pandemic has influenced the accessibility, feelings, and interactions across a diversity of spaces, knowledge sharing processes, and generations with humanity. Dan Bustillo unpacks the methodological lessons they have learned from their pursuit of trans*border research during the pandemic in Baja California, Mexico. Mario Alberto Obando, Jr. identifies and discusses the emotional impact of the pandemic on his approach to researching and teaching generatively humane pathways to the pandemic. Angelica Flores Valdivia reflects on how during the pandemic, a series of experiences grounded her collaborative approach to an artistic partnership and project that showcases enduring aspirations and dreams.

In the Humanizing Connections section, each contributor expands our understanding of the diversity of ways in which the pandemic has influenced how we create, experience, research, see, and write about the inner workings of a diversity of intergenerational interactions, sites, and spaces. Sue Cronmiller’s paintings and poem render creativity that recognizes the diverse traces of the social distancing of the pandemic. Amy Sanchez Arteaga and Misael Diaz’s (Cognate Collective) multi-media approach elucidates how the pandemic has re-oriented the economic, cultural, and social exchanges that make public markets in Mexico and the United States vital sites for knowledge sharing and social exchange. My contribution centers on how the pandemic has reaffirmed the humanizing potential of learning from intergenerational neighborhood life, labor, and history.

In the Diversely Emotional Accompaniments section, each contributor amplifies our understanding of how the pandemic inspires us to reflect on loss, research methodologies, and/or personally meaningful connections, contexts, knowledge sharing, relationships, responsibilities, and vulnerabilities as integral to facing the emotional configuration and impacts of the pandemic. Alice G. Terriquez’s poetry reveals the emotional intensity of longing and loss during and beyond the pandemic.  Christian Paiz considers how the pandemic has moved him to reflect on the humanizing dimensions and limitations of researching intergenerational loss and struggles. Similarly, Adrián Félix illuminates the urgent relevance of a diversity of accompaniments towards understanding with humanity migrant suffering across a diversity of emotional and political contexts, relationships, and spaces during the pandemic.

The organization of each section comprising Humanizing Acts affords audiences a careful consideration of the humanity with which each contribution has been produced. We also show the diversity of accompaniments, connections, contexts, emotions, feelings, interactions, questions, relationships, research methodologies, sources, sites, and vulnerabilities that special issue contributors identify as formative towards understanding a diversity of humanizing acts that can address and account for the expansive configuration and impacts of the pandemic in our creativity, research, teaching, and/or writing—our contributions to the humanities.

Intentional Exchanges and Visibilities:

“Trespass: A Reflection on Trans*border Research,” Dan Bustillo 

“…después de la tempestad viene la calma…”: Cariño in the Archives of Mortality Project,” Mario Alberto Obando Jr.

“Revelatory Aspirations and Dreams: Striving for Generational and Artistic Connection and Co-Creation,” Angelica Flores Valdivia

Humanizing Connections:

“Tianquiztli: Reflections on Border Markets in Times of Crisis,” Amy Sanchez Arteaga and Misael Diaz, Cognate Collective

“In 2020—Seeing Clearly,” Sue Cronmiller

“Neighborhood Emergency Contacts: Intergenerational Neighborhood Life, Labor, and History during the Global COVID-19 Pandemic,” Ana Elizabeth Rosas

Diversely Emotional Accompaniments:

“Grief: Navigating Loss on Both Sides of the Border During a Pandemic,” Alice G. Terriquez 

“There is More to the Recording: Oral histories and Grief in the Coachella Valley,” Christian Paiz

“The Fetish of Migrant Suffering: Necro-Ethnography as Political Accompaniment,” Adrián Félix

To learn more about the collaborative process underlying the series, listen to the “Humanizing Acts: Researchers’ Roundtable” podcast, written and edited by Mario Alberto Obando, Jr. 


This publication was partially funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  1. Humanizing Acts guest editor and contributors would like to thank their loved ones, family, relatives, and friends, and UCI’s Departments of Chicano-Latino Studies and History; UC Irvine Humanities Center’s Building Intellectual Community Grant and Worldmaking through Embodiment Grant; and the University of California Humanities Research Institute for their invaluable support of this Foundry special issue and conference event.