By now, it seems, there’s hardly a corner of the world that hasn’t hosted a TEDx event. More than 13,500 of them have been held globally, with 3,174 cities across 173 countries (including Cuba) hosting the wildly popular series of talks in which speakers are selected to share “ideas worth spreading.”
Still, there’s room for innovation.
On Friday, September 4, the first-ever bilingual, binational, cross-border TEDx event will occur on the U.S.-Mexico border. Called TEDxMonumento258, the name references a monument on the Mexico side of the border that marks “the first point of demarcation nearest the Pacific Ocean, and signifies a common touchpoint between seemingly disparate cultures.”
The TEDx event, organized by the directors of TEDxSanDiego and TEDxTijuana and approved by US Customs and Border Protection, was organized to explore the theme “ideas without borders.” And yet, a very real border–the wall that marks the boundary between the United States and Mexico–will be a powerful reminder that ideas may be able to cross borders fluidly, but such crossings aren’t so easy for people.
In fact, organizers are using the border wall as a symbolic means to spur the cross-border conversation; some speakers will start their talk on one side of the wall and will drive across the border and resume their talk on the other side. They will also speak in English and in Spanish, an acknowledgment of their diverse audience– and their own diversity.
Rick Najera, one of the dozen speakers invited to participate in TEDxMonumento258, says he agreed to participate because he “wanted to address the topic of the border from a perspective of someone who is from that area.” Najera, author of the book Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood, says that the border–and the Tijuana-San Diego nexus in particular–has become a misunderstood political flashpoint.
The timing of TEDxMonumento258, Najera says, is perfect because the Republican Party–and Donald Trump, in particular–are “painting pictures of a border out of control.” This “broken border narrative,” he adds, “feeds racism and ignorance toward the 54 million Latinos in the United States.”
Najera will be joined by a roster of other speakers who represent the fields of activism, education, music, science, and cross-border policy. The TEDx event will also include a performance by a community youth orchestra that is part of an intervention program offered in high-risk communities in Tijuana, Ensenada, and Mexicali.
Organizers expect the event to draw more than 600 people to the border, with many more watching the talks online. Viewing areas will be set up in Mexico and the U.S., though Mark Lovett, the chief organizer of the event, says Customs and Border Protection are limiting audience size on the U.S. side to 100 people. Lovett, who is also the organizer of TEDxSanDiego, says that while there will be no video screens on which speakers will be projected, attendees will “have the ability to see the speaker on the other side through the fence and speakers in Mexico will amplify the sound.”
“We hope the story of TEDxMonumento258 will serve as an inspiration to border areas around the world,” Lovett says about his goals for the event. He adds that in the process of organizing TEDxMonumento258, he has met dozens of people, both individuals and those affiliated with community-based organizations, who are passionate about the border and want to improve livelihoods and relationships for and among the people who live on both sides. It is Lovett’s hope that Najera and other speakers will offer some ideas about how that objective can be achieved.