As a current graduate student in History at the University of Minnesota, my friends and family from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York often ask me what it’s like here in the Twin Cities. I find myself thinking of the Chain of Lakes a few miles from my apartment; my favorite local places to study or get a drink with friends; even the Mall of America looms large, try as I might to avoid it.
Several miles from the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, a suburb just south of the Twin Cities, is the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport—the “cheeriest and most welcoming airport in the nation,” according to Travel and Leisure magazine. I use the airport often—in fact, I’ll be there in several weeks to fly back to the east coast for the holidays. But just a few miles to the northeast and only a mile from the Minnesota State Capital, if you look hard enough you might find one of several facilities utilized by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the purposes of detaining migrants in Minnesota. Though a typical visit to the airport may be uneventful for most, the nearby detention facility offers a stark reminder that this hub connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul to the rest of the world may for some be their last stop in the United States before being deported. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and its hinterlands are, like Guantánamo, landscapes subject to being retooled so that the U.S. government might pursue its national security agenda.
Since I began my work several months ago in the University of Minnesota’s graduate seminar on the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, I’ve found myself returning to Amy Kaplan’s essay “Where is Guantánamo?” In this piece, Kaplan explains how the U.S. has utilized the unique geography and political history of Guantánamo to create a “legal black hole,” where new categories (such as the now ubiquitous “enemy combatant”) justify the criminalization, apprehension, and detention of migrants not only at Guantánamo but around the world—including in Minnesota. Kaplan asserts that, increasingly, we see Guantánamo everywhere. With several ICE detention facilities in the state of Minnesota, as well as ongoing police surveillance of the local Somali community in the Twin Cities since September 11, several of my classmates and I found that if we wished to explore the question of Guantánamo being everywhere, we needed first to understand how Guantánamo is present in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
An internet search will uncover a map of Minneapolis and St. Paul and show where the Twin Cities are located in relation to the state of Minnesota, the United States, Guantánamo and so on. But what does such a map obscure? Though the Twin Cities’ lakes, roads, and notable local destinations might be legible, it is doubtful that an “official” map will highlight the locations of detention facilities in the state, reveal information about the numbers of people who move through and are detained in those facilities on a daily basis, or otherwise offer opportunities for locals and tourists alike to rethink their relationship with and reorient themselves in relation to this space, and the various kinds of policing that takes place here.
In what ways do practices of migrant detention and surveillance in the Twin Cities parallel the history of Guantánamo? How are these seemingly disparate sites connected? And if “Guantánamo is everywhere,” where is MSP? Difficult to answer as these questions may be, they begin first with recognition of the different stories the spaces surrounding us may tell.
I am now working with several of my graduate student colleagues in History, American Studies, and Anthropology on a collaborative digital project that seeks to explore the questions outlined above. Our project utilizes timelines and maps to convey how historical processes not only alter local, regional, national, and global landscapes, but also reshape our understandings of and relationships to the spaces we are most—and least—familiar with. We invite the public to explore with us how Guantánamo is manifest in Minneapolis and St. Paul—how GTMO can be seen, heard, and felt in MSP—and we look forward to participating in ongoing conversations about how increased trends in migrant detention and surveillance have impacted communities and the places we call “home” here, there—and everywhere.
Posted by Evan Taparata – Graduate Student in History at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities