BORDERLAND LIFEWAYS IN THE AMERICAN EXCLAVE OF POINT ROBERTS, WASHINGTON

Borderland Lifeways in the American Exclave of Point Roberts, Washington

Geographical Review Early View

Mark Bjelland

The border from the U.S. side with a Canadian house in the background.

American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?

Mark Bjelland: While Point Roberts, Washington is a geographic anomaly, it offers a window into the lived experience of borders. This study examines the changing economic functions of this rural exclave, the characteristics of its permanent population, and its relationships with the nearby Vancouver, Canada metropolitan region.

American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?

Mark Bjelland: Frequent border crossings are a way of life in this tiny exclave. Thus, the NEXUS trusted traveler program is almost an everyday necessity for residents of Point Roberts, WA. Limited work opportunities, restrictions on transporting fruits and vegetables across the border, and difficulties in obtaining skilled contractors and health care services are major concerns of residents..

American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

Mark Bjelland: Functionally, the exclave of Point Roberts, Washington resembles Catudal’s description of the Italian exclave of Campione d’Italia. Both exclaves have developed borderland economic niches and obtain a mixture of services from both countries. 2) Where Spark has argued that the NEXUS trusted traveler program creates a privileged business class of frequent border crossers, this study found that in Point Roberts use of Nexus is widespread since everyday functions such as attending school or obtaining medical, dental, or government services require multiple border crossings.

American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?

Mark Bjelland: Point Roberts has shifted from a resource extraction frontier to a vacationland for
Vancouver residents to a hybrid borderland with a significant permanent population.
2. Point Roberts had developed an economic niche as a U.S. service center for Canadians. Retailers sell Canadians inexpensive fluids: gasoline, beer, wine, and milk. With the growth of online shopping, Point Roberts has developed a thriving parcel shipping and receiving business niche. The number of Canadians with registered mailboxes in Point Roberts exceeds the permanent population of Point Roberts by a factor of forty.
3. The challenges of crossing borders, making a living, and educating children on Point Roberts influences both the population structure and the look of the landscape. The border’s presence allows an unprotected rural landscape with pockets of decay to persist on the doorstep of the densely populated Vancouver, Canada metropolitan region.

Maple Beach in Point Roberts with the Vancouver region in the background beyond the concrete marker.

Maple Beach in Point Roberts with the Vancouver region in the background beyond the concrete marker.

American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?

Mark Bjelland: 1. The persistence of exclaves such as Point Roberts, Washington, where everyday life is complicated by the presence of the international border, challenges simplistic
notions about the disappearance of borders and nation states.
2. The international border simultaneously isolates Point Roberts and creates unique transnational economic functions.
3. The presence of an international border, even the world’s longest undefended border between two highly similar countries, exerts a powerful influence on the look of the cultural landscape.

American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?

Mark Bjelland: 1. Borders are among the most important of political geographic phenomena.
2. Small exclaves are borderlands with hybrid transnational identities and functions that defy notions of the bounded state as the container for social and cultural life.

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