Cherokee and Latinx Futurities in WNC: Borderlands Theory, Birth Justice, and a Reorientation of Southern Appalachia

This paper foregrounds Borderlands theory to examine Latinx, Indigenous, and Latinx-Indigenous human locations in southern Appalachia. To be non-white in southern Appalachia is a continuity. It is also a contradiction. For thousands of years, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have called the mountains of western North Carolina home. Southern Appalachia’s agriculture-based economy gestures to a past of enslaved labor (Black) and a present of migrant labor (Latinx). Yet in the collective American conscious Appalachia is white. This destructive misinformation has a utility: to claim a mythological white ancestor and thus naturalize claims to land. It also enforces borders of belonging. I use Gloria Anzaldúa’s Chicana feminist concept of the Borderland to examine how imagined social boundaries—those not defined by state-lines and those which are fuzzy and porous—fracture the human condition and inscribe an unstable relationship to place. Central to this study is the work of birthing. In western North Carolina, birth rates are uneven across racial populations with people of color having the highest mortalities. My research’s interlocutors are migrant farmworkers from Mexico, Central and South America as well as tribal members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). These interlocutors seek to use doulas and midwifes with knowledge of their respective material and spiritual traditions for the healthy birth of their children. Through this study I ask, how do southern Appalachia’s Latinx, Indigenous, and Latinx-Indigenous peoples practice a politic of well-being to negotiate birth justice amid racial, cultural, and medical hostilities? How does birth transfer and transform the psychic life of borders? Furthermore, how can Anzaldúa’s framework spark a new ontology for Appalachia that disrupts an entrenched whiteness and pushes open the interstitial location of Latinx, Indigenous, and Latinx-Indigenous humans?