Herstory: Crossing the MEX-US border (1994-1995)

This project was made for a Geography course taught by Sébastien Caquard in April 2017.

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Click here (or on the image above) to go directly to the STORY MAP page

Herstory: Crossing the MEX-US border (1994-1995) is the story of Leticia, an unemployed journalist from central Mexico who crossed the MEX-US border illegally to work as the domestic worker of a well-off ‘white’ family in Phoenix, AZ, from December 1994 to March 1995. Leticia’s story developed in ten geographic locations that were named according to the activity she emphasized the most. Colours were attributed to the emotions she identified for each location and moment within the narrative. She was also asked to select a song she felt represented or summarized her story.

I wanted to map an emotionally charged story and capture the multidimensionality of it. I also wanted it to be the story of immigration of a woman, preferably of Hispanic origin. Leticia was selected from a group of participants that took part in a workshop during QPIRG Concordia’s Learn to Resist, a teach-in and conference about resisting the far-right. She volunteered her time for a more detailed interview about her story crossing the MEX-US border as an undocumented immigrant. Because I did not want it be an exploitative, the story was contextualized as an instance of concurrent phenomena. The interview was conducted in Spanish. It was informal, performed as a conversation, consciously pursuing to counter the patronizing (and dehumanizing!) objectivity of Western academia. To avoid treating Leticia as a subject, the interview was conducted by phone. This way body language would not intrude in the processing of her story. Being in a place of personal comfort and safety also enabled her to open up and detach from the gaze of the interviewer (intruder).

Tripline and ArcGIS were selected to map this project. Tripline was my starting point because it is simple to use and effective for geocoding the story. It is also accessible for slow Internet connections. I was aware that it is very limited in terms of customization, reason for which I kept it as a geocoding tool that allowed me to quickly organize the story within a timeline that I then exported as a KML file. I used other platforms to polish the data (CARTO, Google my maps, and KML2GPX) and facilitate its visual rendering on ArcGIS. The latter is a powerful online tool to customize maps as it offers a good selection of basemap options and high compatibility with various files that can be easily imported from third party platforms as the formerly mentioned. Both approaches were selected because they are complementary to each other. ArcGIS is not a good choice for geocoding because it has to be done manually, whereas Tripline allows you to even input the date and more specific information about the location, such as a story and website—if applicable. It is also well design and functions as an interactive map with pop-ups when clicked on the placemarks. Thus, Tripline stands on its own as an approach unlike the other platforms that are more complex.

Comparative grid of selected criteria

  Criteria A. Tripline B. ArcGIS Conclusion
1 Geolocating place Easy for geocoding and storytelling purposes: user-friendly interface to input location, date, and story Difficult for geocoding since placemarks have to be added manually and/or have to be imported as a recognized file format (i.e. CVS) A is a much better platform for geocoding and storytelling due to its user-friendly interface and option to download as a KML file
2 Diverse basemap options Only one basemap option is available Ten basemaps available for free, including the option to upload your own B offers a wide range of basemap options compared to A, which only offers a default one
3 Ability to customize map design A max. 3,000 characters available for text. Images can be uploaded from computer, facebook or instagram accounts, or public photos from Flickr. Can include website, phone number, and exact address, as well as edit the title, date, and hour. Visitors can leave comments Layers can be imported from files (i.e. Shapefile files, CSV or TXT (up to 1000 features or 250 address locations), and GPX), the web, within ESRI, or as map notes (manual placemaking). The table can be edited/removed as well as the drawing style for the markers and polygons. Labels and pop-ups can be configured B has a variety of tools and options that make it easier to customize the design of your maps. Although complex, B is an effective free platform for map design
4 Accessibility for users with low Internet bandwidth Loads decently even when Internet connection is slow, which makes it relatively easy to edit also because it is available as an app Although it loads fairly when Internet connection is slow, the complexity of the platform makes it hard to edit without feeling the urge to quit A is a good option for users with low Internet bandwidth and also for people who tech-savvy since it is also available as an app
5 Associating places with emotions Almost impossible given the type of symbols available Difficult, but made possible by pasting pictures of the families who lived in the different places B offers much more possibilities for representing emotions


After geolocating the story on Tripline, the KML file was exported and imported to CARTO for data mining and clean-up, as well as the conversion of KMLs into shapefiles. Google My Maps served to trace road routes for GPS-like field data collection, and the resulting KML file was converted into GPX in KML2GPX. All of these files were imported into ArchGIS as layers. Two maps were created: one would focus on Leticia’s trip only (mobility type and time spent), and the other on her emotions. The pop-up windows were edited to include important details, and so were the markers and polygons in order to improve readability.

ArcGIS Map Journal application was selected to produce multimedia storytelling. This tool allowed me to pursue my goal to turn it into a multidimensional narrative, by implementing complimentary media that would immerse the viewer into the story interactively. The maps also compliment each other and can be zoomed in to further explore the journey of Leticia to the US. Context is provided in the introduction to understand the socio-political and socio-economic environments that led Leticia to venture into this journey. Importantly, she is portrayed as a human and not as a mere statistic.

Overall, in the process of story mapping online, Tripline is highly efficient as step one, and since ArcGIS renders everything into a piece that can be richly edited and customized for free, it is an excellent final step.


Tripline is okay as it is. It is easy to use and a handy geocoding tool. However, there is always space for improvement. For example, including CVS file option for download could make it easier to edit the data offline with excel or any other free spreadsheet software. Changing the pop-ups design to allow displaying more text than the current limit, and a cleaner preview of the attached images by increasing the display width to 100% of the pop up.

Adding a feature in ArcGIS to allow embedding audio and/or video in the pop-ups could lead to more interesting maps. Finding a way to make it easier to customize the text shown in the legend may as well improve ArcGIS’ user-friendly interface. Similarly, taking it a step further would mean implementing VR qualities, especially if Google Maps’s Street View is linked as a pop-up window that let’s you activate sound effects carefully cued inside.

I would have liked to incorporate smells and temperature, but it required more technical development and time I did not have, unfortunately. Perhaps this could be possible if Tripline had an option to input or automatically find the weather conditions for the date, time, and location specified in the map.


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