- Introduction:Invasive Ecologies
during a recent collective research effort at the us-mexico border in Texas, some members of the group went to see a section of the border fence at a place called the Hidalgo Pumphouse. The Pumphouse itself is now a museum about early agriculture in Texas. The site is also visited because it is a World Birding Center, home to hundreds of species of migrating birds. Thousands of people come to watch the bird migrations that pass through each year. While we were there to interview a local activist about the border fence, we also were part of a disturbing moment in which two individuals, who had managed to climb over the border fence from the Mexican side to the American side and were hiding in the tall grass, were pointed out to US Border Patrol by some of the birdwatchers. Within minutes, the full force of the Border Patrol descended, and the two individuals were pulled up, handcuffed, put in a van with tinted windows, and taken away.
Not far from the Pumphouse, a century-old, tick-eradication quarantine line runs for hundreds of miles, roughly parallel to the border. Staffed by dozens of US government-funded horse-mounted cowboys, the purpose of the quarantine line is to keep tick-borne cattle fever out of the United States, largely by keeping stray cattle from Mexico from wandering north. The region also has a thriving population of wild Nilgai antelope. Along with the native white-tailed deer, Nilgai are sometimes a vector for the cattle-fever-carrying ticks, particularly when they cross the Rio Grande into Mexico and come back into the United States. Nilgai were brought to the region in the 1930s from India, and have since flourished in the wild spaces of dry Texan [End Page 167] landscapes. Unlike the white-tailed deer with whom they compete for rangeland, the Nilgai must face an open-hunting season. Increasingly, there are also government efforts to control their movements through the quarantine line, in an effort to ensure that the damaging cattle-fever disease does not affect local livestock populations.
I am wondering, still, how to think about the stark but swirling differences in that space, and about the ostensible invasiveness of migrants who, perhaps, were not from that far away; the abiding hospitality for migratory birds in protected natural spaces that also make border patrolling easier; the "invasive" label as attached to a species (Nilgai) that in no plausible way invaded local ecologies but was introduced and encouraged; and the many ways that invasiveness attaches to both human and nonhuman life. The three papers gathered here highlight for me some of the ways that we might want to think about the politics of invasiveness, and the practices both beyond the human and in intersection with various figurations of it.
One way we might think about invasiveness is in relation to a series of oppositions. Some of those oppositions can be politically generative in troubling ways, in particular in the opposition of invasiveness to nativeness and purity. This sense is frequently invoked, especially when invasiveness is discussed in an ecological setting, partly in debt to ecology's own language and history of thinking in terms of invasive species and native species, and with an eye to the troubling ways that this has sometimes been read from or back onto political projects of nativeness and purity.
But each of the authors, in their contributions here and elsewhere, also raise other oppositions, or antonyms, of "invade" that open a wider range of possibilities: to aid or assist; to help or protect; or to leave alone. Eleana Kim does this through an engagement with cosmopolitanism and hospitality; Hugh Raffles does so by starting with native plants and nativist politics but also via a "thoughtful and inclusive response" to invasive species in a basic condition of cosmopolitan impurity; and Fabio Parasecoli does it by considering ways to affiliate with small-scale bacteria, to create "pluralities, interdependence, [End Page 168] and innovation." These other oppositions to "invasive" raise a powerful series of alternative ways we might start to understand invasiveness.
This leads to a second general point about invasiveness...