Future Histories and Cyborg Labor: Reading Borderlands Science Fiction After NAFTA

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Rivera, Lysa. "Future Histories and Cyborg Labor: Reading Borderlands Science Fiction After NAFTA." Science Fiction Studies 39.3, "Science Fiction and Globalization" (November 2012): 415-436. Rpt. Rob Latham, Science Fiction Criticism: An Anthology of Essential Writings.

"Starting with the observation that "The post-movimento 1990s saw a […] pronounced interest in science fiction — more specifically the subgenre cyberpunk — in Chicano art and literature" (in Latham, p. 530), Rivera covers a number of works simultaneously cyberpunk and postcolonial — or critiques of the neocolonial — and set in some version of the Borderland(s) of the states of northern Mexico and the south-west United States (in other contexts, El Norte), and in the period of neoliberal economics that reached one high point with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) coming into force in 1994.[1]

A central work for Rivera's analysis is "Mexican writer Guillermo Lavín's 1994 short story "Reaching the Shore" [Llegar a la orilla], featuring Mexican maquiladora workers who are "the living cogs-in-a-machine" that keep running the "ominous factories" of the "transnational capitalism" encouraged by NAFTA. "Lavín's laboring body is a cyborg body, the quintessential posthuman hybrid prodced by the intersection of technology and humanity. His cyborg, however, functions metaphorically to symbolize not only the dehumanization invorlved in turning a man into a stoop laborer — a being into a bracero; it also coments on the invisibility of Mexican or indigenous labor" in the Borderlands (in Latham, pp. 533, 534, 535). More specifically, the Mexican father in "Reaching the Shore" works for "a US 'leisure company'" that "mass produces a virtual-reality implant […] that attaches to the base of the cranium and provides virtual fantasies of consumption and recreation" (in Latham 535).

Continuing the bracero theme, Rivera goes on to discuss Alex Rivera's short spoof film, "Why Cybraceros?" and full-length SLEEP DEALER, q.v. as linked. Lysa Rivera describes SLEEP DEALER (2008) as "a cyberpunk dystopia that projects life in the urban US/Mexico borderlands into a nighmarish near future where most of Mexico's indigenous population, once in control of over 80% of the nation's national resources, lives in abject poverty" and can be tempted to find "employment with" a firm like "Cybertek, one of the many 'virtual reality sweatshops'" in "Tiajuana (and presumably all of the Northern metropolises in Mexico)" (in Latham, 539-41; quotation on p. 539).

RL concludes her detailed discussions with Lunar Braceros: 2125-2148, written by Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita, illustrated by Mario A. Chacon, a short book in the cyberpunk tradition but looking at "racialized power and labor practices" as well as "information technologies" and "multinational capitalism" (in Latham, p. 543), supplying points of view of colonized and neo-colonized peoples (Latham 545).