Through it AllPosted: May 31, 2016
Nogales: Through it all
The first day of our semester we went to Nogales, Arizona to have our first experience in the shadow of a wall. A wall that metaphorically you can find, more like a concept that signifies separation, along the whole border between the US and Mexico, and that physically exists for four miles in southern Arizona, dividing the Nogales of the United States of America from the Nogales of the United States of Mexico.
For me, this experience gave me a frame of reference for the whole of my time in Ambos Nogales and even for my entire semester with the Border Studies Program. I came as an American, ignorant, someone who had only flown in a plane to La Ciudad de México and had never crossed a border so obvious and explicit, so strong and impotent, so transcendent. A border where you don’t even have to show papers on one side, but on the other you have to wait for an hour, carry suitable identification on your person, and undergo scrutiny at multiple checkpoints to cross back.
Today, the wall is made of tall bars in place of the solid barrier that used to divide the land it sits on. Standing next to the wall, I felt the magnitude of that day. I was standing on top of a small hill, and at the bottom was México. It was cool, one of the special days for me before the heat of the spring arrived in Tucson. I looked through the bars, looking down at everything below me: everything under the colossal power of the United States of America, everything under the privilege with which I came and with which I come today. Through the bars, México looked like a zoo, a jail, an exhibit: trapped. I felt the wind blowing through the bars and saw the sun rising between two of them. Even a wall this tall (12 feet) cannot combat the natural forces of Mother Earth, just as it can’t combat migration which itself is a natural force, an inherent behavior of human beings. I also felt the presence of the cameras mounted on the tower pointed at México. I felt like as if of my movements were being recorded, as if the officers in the Border Patrol truck with the tinted windows were watching me.
Today it’s very easy to identify which side you’re on based on what surrounds you. On the US side there are Duty Free stores, wide streets, and corporate fast-food joints. On the Mexican side there are cheap pharmacies, dental clinics, and street vendors selling tacos in the crowded and narrow corridors surrounding the Port of Entry. But time is impermanent, and things have changed a lot here. I remember hearing stories of parties in the central plaza of, what for many years used to be named, Ambos Nogales, where residents from both México and the US would visit family and celebrate their shared city. I remember hearing stories of Mexicanos passing Cuban cigars and alcohol through doors and windows to the US side during Prohibition. Things have not always been how they are today. The land has a memory of millions of years without a wall cutting through this small spit of immense desert. And there is a future here: the possibility of change.
I have spent a lot of time now on these two “sides” of this small area of our world. I have stood next to the monument to José Antonio – a fifteen-year-old boy who was shot to death by a Border Patrol agent through the bars of the wall – and imagined the impossible task of throwing a rock over it – the official reason for such a use of force. I have heard stories of people climbing up alongside buses, falling off the wall at night onto the other side, breaking knees or legs and getting to Tucson in need of medical care they cannot legally seek out. I have heard of the 50-foot wall and the 51-foot ladder, a common symbol used to describe the worthlessness of building more or taller walls because people who want will always find other ways to cross this 2,000 mile-long stretch of Borderlands.
Maggie, one of the compas of our group, ruminated once about the “coexistence of normality and injustice”. This refers to the idea that, day after day, it’s possible to forget what has happened that was unjust in the specific moment in which it happened. Through it all, life goes on, and even such a significant thing as the wall becomes “permanent” with a little bit of time. One day, a little boy called to me from a school on the Mexican side as I was standing in the US: “Hi! What is your name?” For him, this was a normal day. But while life goes on with this temporary understanding of Ambos Nogales, the struggle also goes on. The struggle against this separation between human beings, and the denial of the right to work, the right to eat, the right to live. The right to our own land. Both sides. All of it.