By Ieva Jusionyte
When I was growing up in Lithuania, at the time the country transitioned from the Soviet rule to independence, my grandmother and I used to watch Mexican and Venezuelan telenovelas together. There was one called Simplemente María, and another—María Celeste. I don't remember the plots, except that they were Cinderella-like stories with strong gorgeous women as protagonists and that at least for those few fortunate people love healed social wounds inflicted by steep inequality. What sticks with me more, however, is that shared experience of watching the programs day after day with my grandmother. Initially, they were all dubbed in Russian, a language which I never learned, but thanks to my grandmother translating to me the details of the intrigues that unfolded in remote Latin American haciendas I can at least minimally understand. I had no idea at the time that Eastern Europe was one of the biggest export markets for Latin American telenovelas. And I certainly had no idea that my future career in academia would take me to Latin America and to the border between the United States and Mexico, where I have been interviewing migrants whose names may indeed be María or Celeste or maybe even María Celeste.
Ieva Jusionyte, an assistant professor in Harvard's Anthropology and Social Studies departments, is the author of Savage Frontier: Making News and Security on the Argentine Border (University of California Press 2015) and the forthcoming Threshold: Emergency and Rescue on the U.S.-Mexico Border (University of California Press 2018).