Euro-American depth psychologies are being bridged with psychologies of liberation that have arisen in the Southern hemisphere and also in the United States at the margins through both cultural work and community psychology. These approaches understand individual psychological suffering, and human misery more generally, in the context of social, political, and economic arrangements that generate and normalize such misery. In particular, they address collective trauma, imposed by a wide range of injustices. In the small group and community approaches nourished by various psychologies of liberation, border work is done at the interface of psyche and culture. It is intrapsychic and interpersonal, occurring both within and at the borders between. It turns to history to critically understand present misconstruals.
These psychologies have been my teachers, as I stand in witness to a devastating humanitarian crisis that is misrepresented as a debate on immigration and national security.
Perhaps the problem might be better understood as a humanitarian crisis. Can the mass migration and displacement of people from their homelands at a rate of 800,000 people a year be understood as anything else? Unknown numbers of people have died trekking through the extreme conditions of the Arizona and New Mexico deserts. Towns are being depopulated and ways of life lost in rural Mexico. Fathers feel forced to leave their families in their best attempt to provide for their kids. Everyday, boatloads of people arrive on our shores after miserable journeys at sea in deplorable conditions. As a humanitarian crisis, the solution could involve the UN or the Organization of American States. But these bodies do not have roles in the immigration frame, so they have no place in the “immigration debate.” Framing this as just an “immigration problem” prevents us from penetrating deeper into the issue.
In moving more deeply into the issue, I travel paths I have learned from the intersections of depth and liberation psychologies. This humanitarian crisis of unprecedented levels of forced migration requires us to move downward through the deep intrapsychic level until we emerge into the familial, community, cultural, and collective. We must also proceed downward from the level of the global to national politics, to city government, to community and neighborhood sites of reconciliation, all the while holding tight to how psyche shows up in these regions. When there is an impasse at one level of organization, such as national politics, it can help to shift work to another level, in this case, to that of the city, town, and community. It is not that one abandons the levels above (national and global), or those below (interpersonal, familial, and intrapsychic). Rather one works to understand their interpenetration. Would we be building a wall between our neighbors and us—between Mexico and the United States—if we did not live within psychic walls? Do not these psychic divisions reinscribe social, economic, and ethnic divides? Does not border crossing in one domain work to undermine the pernicious stability of walls in interrelated domains? Can the opening and sustaining of dialogue at the borders of our experience help to create sacred sites of reconciliation where walls now stand?