Dia de los Muertos: A Binational Procession

On Friday the 2nd of November, el Dia de Los Muertos, we gathered at the BSP office at 3.30 in the afternoon with instructions to dress in white. We were headed to a cross-border procession in honour of the recent deaths of José Antonio Elena Rodríguez and Ramses Barrón Torres, Nogales natives who lost their lives to the guns of Border Patrol agents in October 2012 and January 2009 respectively. The vigil also intended to protest the crime of their deaths, the lack of a thorough investigation into them and the lack of justice for the families of the deceased. The procession would begin from two points- one from Nogales, in Arizona, and another from Nogales, in Sonora. They would converge at the massive row of rust coloured bars- the wall that prevents both cities, and both countries, from merging into one.

It was here that José Antonio Elena Rodríguez was shot at the age of 16 by an American Border Patrol officer through the slats of the wall, on Mexican territory. The details of what happened are not that clear- officers allege he was throwing rocks. What is clear is that he was shot seven to eight times in the back through one of the four inch gaps in the wall.

We gathered at a street corner a short walk from the Border wall with images of the dead, placards, banners, candles and lilies and walked mostly in silence to the area where José Antonio was killed, walking alongside the wall. The wall in Nogales, and the fact that you can see through it, are becoming a familiar sight to us. We came to Nogales on our second day of orientation and walked alongside it, on the other side, during the day. It was the first time any of us had seen the US/Mexico border. To repeat that after having been to Nogales a number of times, and having seen the Border in its differing manifestations in El Paso and Big Bend National Park, is to realize that the militarization of this Border is both an uneven but ongoing process and a brute fact.

Another group gathered on the Mexican side of the Border and when we reached them everyone stopped walking. We pushed our faces through the gaps and said hi. People handed flowers and candles back and forth. Banners from one side were hung from the fence on the other. Many spoke to Jose Antonio’s family through the bars. Guadalupe Guerrero, whose son Carlos Lamadrid was killed by US Border Patrol in March 2011 as he attempted to scale the wall to enter Mexico came out of the crowd and gave her condolences publicly to Jose Antonio’s mother, Araceli Rodriguez. Songs were sung, solemnly, and both sides joined in with the same chants, speeches calling for accountability on the part of Border Patrol given.

We have been reading, in Dying to Live by Joe Nevins, about the maintenance of a state of what he calls “apartheid” between Mexico and the US, and about the human tragedy of that. Nevins states that there has never been a time when this Border has been so militarily blockaded as it is. And yet there has never been a time when more people and goods, legal and illegal, have crossed it. The tragic irony of the situation is that this wall ostensibly enforces national sovereignty when it has never been more irrelevant to the way the global economy works. Labour in the US will be sourced from the enforced idleness of dispossession in Mexico because third world desperation works for less pay, but workers can work in one country and live in another. It makes sense. The US government, and its associated corporations, calls the shots whatever side of the border we might talk about. Imperialism that pretends.

To militarize the Border is to pretend to the ordinary people of the US that their sense of besiegement that comes from ever lower wages, loss of livelihood, and no net of security to be caught in when you fall is unavoidable, and not engineered. It is also to make desperate, and quiet, the people who circumvent the walls and walk through deserts to work in secret at jobs it pretended didn’t recruit them. Standing at that procession equally close to people on both sides, only with obscured vision, it seemed inconceivable not to think that this “apartheid” could be said to be the pretence of sovereignty in an era when there is none. How can it be anything but a farce when a Border Patrol officer can walk to the line between countries, clearly demarcated, poke his gun through it, and shoot a teenager dead?

– submitted by Sophie Gregg


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