Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Crossing the Walls of Fortress America 

I’m back. Leah requested a travelogue, but this is the best I can do for now…

Went down to Old Mexico last week on a business-pleasure trip. The pleasure was to accompany a friend and once again enjoy the little town he’s from and his family; the business was his (no, not dope or maquilas). If he wasn’t a native of Old Mexico, this trip would have been even worse, I’m sure. I hadn’t been down since 9/11, and I was wondering if things were worse now. (And they were plenty bad before, mind you, going all the way back to Operation Intercept back long ago, which just happened to coincide with my first trip below the border.)

First, you get stopped at least two times in the last two hundred miles to the border by underpaid, overworked and nervous US Border Patrol agents. Especially if you’re in a van or truck. They search your vehicle (perfectly legal to bust you for anything they find that’s illegal, too, even though there was no overt reason to stop you), they check your papers, and then go double check everything again on their radio. With any luck, you don’t resemble anyone who’s wanted for anything, because if you do then it’s a long ride to the office while there’s more checking.

Then you get closer to the border. First thing you notice coming in are the signs on the private property outside of the US border town—“STOP THE INVASION,” “SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL POSSE,” “DRUGS AND WETBACKS ARE THE SAME PROBLEM” and so forth. You hope you don’t run into any of these people, and you hope that the people crossing tonight don’t either. Closer, over the hill looking down, looking ahead to the actual border, is a thing that looks like an arroyo or a ditch. You get closer, you realize it’s a steel wall. It’s gotten bigger in the last three years. There’s a goddam steel wall about twelve feet high there, and now it’s running for MILES in each direction. You briefly wonder where Israel got the idea, or was it the other way around? Every so often, there’s a camera mounted on a tall pole, pointed at you. You wait in line, but not too long. Nobody’s too worried about what’s going IN to Mexico. Show ID. Why are you going? Where are you going? When will you be back? That’s about it.

Once you’re in Mexico, there used to be usually nobody to wave you in on the other side, just the usual warning signs (no guns allowed, e.g.). But now, even at the tiny crossing we went to, there were two guys who asked the same questions. They didn’t look very happy.

Old Mexico is still the same. Immediately, you’re hit by the contrast in wealth. An artificial line across the desert, with a steel wall, separating poverty from wealth. In the border towns, desperate unhappy people hanging around wherever they can, waiting for a run across. Bars. Drugstores. Vendors. Usually, the bars and drugstores are swept clear of the poor so that Nortamericanos will shop there. Once you’re past those, it becomes much clearer.

Folks will tell you that it’s dangerous. I guess in some ways it is, especially in some places. But it’s all about poverty and corrupt cops. But once you get past the border towns, most of the people I’ve met are friendly and helpful. They invite you in to eat or drink. They don’t laugh at your Spanish (much). They tell you they’d rather stay in their town or village instead of going to the north or to the cities. But then they tell you there’s not much choice. Is any of this sounding familiar to inner-city dwellers in America?

Tom Tancredo and his ilk make me want to puke. What’s the solution to an artificial border drawn in the sand after military conquest? A line now drawn with a huge steel wall, and patrolled by armed police and private agents? More agents, more guns, higher and wider walls? Coming back across the border was a real trip. More on that later.

Call me naïve, but it might be time to start rethinking the existence of the line, and how it separates the haves from the have-nots. It’s completely unjust. And more on that later, too.

corrente SBL - New Location
~ Since April 2010 ~

~ Since 2003 ~

The Washington Chestnut
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