A book about gender and sexual violence in the borderland written by Bernadine Marie Hernández, an associate professor in the University of New Mexico Department of English, has earned three literary awards in the past month.
In her multi-genre book, “Border Bodies: Racialized Sexuality, Sexual Capital, and Violence in the Nineteenth-Century Borderlands,” author Hernández argues that the bodies of women of color were the linchpins of capitalist production in the United States-Mexico borderlands. Through newspapers and periodicals, letters, testimonios, court cases, short stories, and photographs from 1834 to 1912, Hernández spotlights lesser-known stories of women in the Southwest.
Border Bodies was recently selected as the 2024 Book of the Year by both the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. The book also earned Honorable Mention in the National Women's Studies Association’s 2023 Gloría Anzaldúa Book Award and has garnered positive reviews in Ms. Magazine, CHOICE, and Axios among other publications.
“I am very grateful, honored and humbled that the book has won three prestigious, national awards,” Hernández said. “I am grateful to the award committees for reading the book with care, reading the book with love, and really thinking about what the book means in the broader contemporary moment.”
Border Bodies begins with the West Mesa Murders in Albuquerque before tracing a historical, sexual history of the borderlands in the years preceding statehood. Hernández chose to begin the book with a contemporary example of sexual violence to illustrate the ways in which women of color, sex and capitalism remain intertwined.
Published in June 2022, the book unexpectedly coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade and was quickly taken up by audiences interested in the autonomy of women of color. After spending years researching and reconstructing the stories of oft-forgotten Mexicana, Nuevomexicana, Californiana, and Tejana women who played pivotal roles in the development of the West, Hernández viewed the SCOTUS decision as another day in a long history of reproductive justice being taken away from women.
“It was really interesting because the book got taken up by a lot of podcasts and news outlets and I don't really do work on abortion studies, but because it was a book about the sexual history of the US-Mexico border, I learned a lot of people wanted to talk about the relationship between the economy, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the autonomy of women of color on the border,” Hernández said.
Hernández authored the first two chapters of the book for her dissertation and continued the work in the years after through grants and post-doctoral fellowships at Stanford University and University of California-Los Angeles. She visited archives across the country to research the book, including the Bancroft Library archives at University of California- Berkeley and the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection Rare Books and Manuscripts archive at University of Texas-Austin.
The book was published by the University of North Carolina Press and can be purchased as a hardcover, softcover or e-book online.