ASU School of Transborder Studies Director Regents’ Professor Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez

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Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, ASU Regents’ Professor and director of the ASU School of Transborder Studies, is stepping down from his position. Vélez-Ibáñez looks back at his years as the director of the school.

José Cárdenas: The official launch of the ASU School of Transborder Studies took place in May 2011. Its mission back then was to develop cutting edge transborder knowledge for and with the populations of the U.S. Southwest-Northern Mexico region through socially embedded scholarships, applied research and rigorous instruction. ASU Regents' Professor and director of the ASU's School of Transborder Studies is leaving his position with the school. Here with me to talk about what the school has accomplished and how it has changed is ASU Regents' Professor Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez. Professor Vélez-Ibáñez, welcome back to "Horizonte."

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: Thank you

José Cárdenas: I hope we'll have other opportunities in the future, even though you're stepping down from your position. We're going to run a few pictures as we're talking, but tell us about that initial charge -- I mean, it was quite a mouthful that I read -- in terms of what the school was about and what it was intended to be, how did that come about?

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: Well, for a lot of years I'd been thinking about the border region as an entity, both sides of the border because, in fact, it's been an integrated economy since the 19th century. But everybody treats the border region as this borderline is sufficient to understand both sides, and it isn't. You have to understand the economic and political and social and ecological aspects of the region, so you can make good public policy concerning the most pressing problems we have in health and education and migration and immigration and community development. Those are areas that the populations on both sides of the border demand to be addressed and to be resolved in some kind of logical and certainly empirical manner rather than just responding to emotion about it.

José Cárdenas: That seems like a no-brainer, and yet the school was unique when you started it.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: It's still unique. As a matter of fact, there's nothing like it. It's the only one of its kind in the United States. There are some institutions, for example, in Mexico that do comparable things like El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, which is probably the best think tank in all of Mexico and certainly in northern Mexico. But there are other institutions that are looking at us as models.

José Cárdenas: Why are they looking at us? What are you doing that's different that hasn't been done before?

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: What we're doing very differently is treating the entire region as an entity, as a long historical developmental entity. Therefore, all public policy has to address that reality, rather than making decisions only based on nationality or only making decisions based on one nation or the other. But rather decisions have to be made in concert with both nations, as well as part of a regional entity, rather than separating it by a political border. That's what makes it different.

José Cárdenas: How has the mood changed with respect to how the border is regarded over the last couple of centuries? Because there have been ebbs and flows in terms of how we perceive the border.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: Well, the border itself, of course, is an interesting entity in and of itself. It was developed very shortly. It hasn't been around forever. The problem is that most people treat the border as if it were a permanent entity who existence is milliennial, rather than only 160 years old. The presence of the United States in this region is only 160 years old. When you look at the Spanish and Mexican present then it's much longer. But that doesn't give some kind of primacy to either one, but it does suggest that we have to understand this long term development over time. So that we have, for example, in the 19th century construction of cotton, cattle, mining, all of this, these kind of industrial modes of developing on a regional basis, not just on the American side or the Mexican side, but rather developing over time, so that people and labor and migration have been part of a much longer process. And with the advent of NAFTA and transnational economies, that accentuates the need for mor rational policies in regard to human population and labor, who actually, in fact, are the one who have to carry out these much broader economic and social processes.

José Cárdenas: But what's changed from the 19th century to now? I mean, obviously there are differences. How does that impact this? And I apologize but we're almost out of time.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: [laughter]

José Cárdenas: We'll have you back, I promise.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: Well, there are both obvious actions and reactions to both. Unfortunately, you have also an opposite trend, and that is a reliance on nationalistic kinds of notions of the border. The fact of the matter is the border has always had an evolutionary migratory round trip process since the 19th century. The border in this particular region was only established in 1853, at least the southern Arizona part. The rest was established in 1848. So, you've always had migratory populations moving back and forth, very much dependent on the economic structures that were operating at the moment.

José Cárdenas: But we haven't had a school like yours to study it, and it deserves a lot more time than we're able to give it tonight, but we'll have you back to discuss it before you're gone on your sabbatical. I promise you.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: Thank you very much it's a pleasure to see you.

José Cárdenas: That is our show for tonight, I'm Jose Cardenas have good evening.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez:ASU Regents' Professor and Director, School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University;

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