End of the borderline

This entry is cross-posted from The Seedbed, a group blog I was asked to participate in … lots of great women writing over there. Check it out!

I hope it comes in my lifetime: the day when a bunch of people “Berlin” the walls erected by Homeland Security between the US and Mexico. I don’t happen to agree with the goals of the wall in the first place: I could write volumes of disagreement about “security,” “border,” “barrier,” “immigrant,” and “illegal,” among other notions. But even if I did think that somehow US security was a valuable goal, and stopping people from entering the US from Mexico to find work was a key to that goal, building a wall would be not be at the top of my list for how to accomplish said goal.

One of the many problems with this sieve of a securitization attempt is that — wait for it — it’s not on the border. In many places, it runs a mile or more north of the actual border. Wherever that is.

Here at the eastern end of the borderline, the Mexico/US boundary is “marked” by the Rio Grande River. The Rio Grande has been a capricious marker for the duration of its service, so variable in its shifting flow that ranchers on either side of the river could and did find themselves losing or gaining land or cattle through any given season of flooding. Now that the flow of the river has been reduced to a trickle by upstream draw-downs for agricultural irrigation, it is an even more ludicrous excuse for a border, especially where it widens into a sandy, silty delta through and outside the town of Brownsville at the mouth of the river.

So, where ya gonna build the wall? Well, not in the river … and not in its flood plain … and not in Mexico … so, yeah, just a little north of all those problem areas. Which has created the situation described in the latimes.com article, “Texas landowners stuck on wrong side of border fence” which describes the plight of folks whose lands, properties, livestock, orchards and families are on the “wrong” side of the fence (h/t to resistracism for noting the article):

When the Homeland Security Department began its Southwest border buildup four years ago, erecting barriers seemed a straightforward enough proposition. The international boundary is ruler-straight for hundreds of miles from California to New Mexico, and planners laid the fencing down right on the border, traversing deserts, mountains and valleys.

But here, where the border’s eastern edge meets the Gulf of Mexico, the urgency of national security met headlong with geographical reality. The Rio Grande twists through Brownsville and surrounding areas, and planners had to avoid building on the flood plain. So the barriers in some places went up more than a mile from the river.

Welcome to the South Texas borderlands, where the border has been crossing people for centuries now. Thousands of Spanish ranching families woke up one day to find themselves citizens of a new country, Mexico, resident in the state of Tejas y Coahuila. Those same families later woke up to find themselves citizens of the United States, resident in the state of Texas, after the Treaty of Guadalupe ended the US war of aggression on Mexico.

Mexico attempted to protect the rights of its citizens through that conflict and its “resolution,” but by most accounts, it was already too late. During Tejas’ revolt from Mexican control, Anglo colonists — many of them illegal immigrants into the Mexican state of Tejas y Coahuila — had expelled and driven out Mexican families living near their colonies. Mexican families, apprehensive and under pressure, sold over 1,500,000 acres of land, with over 1,300,000 acres shifting to Anglo hands.

(Which may be part of the reason why the latimes.com article is illustrated by an Anglo woman named Pamela Taylor … or maybe it was necessary to picture a white woman rather than a Latina so we’d give the story a look.)

It’s an old story, and the most apt handle on it is still Gloria Anzaldúa, who spoke of this region as an open wound …

… una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the First and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture.

— Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 25

I grew up in that border culture. It runs through me still. And when I think with my body, I know this: wounds this deep and intractable cannot be stitched together or bandaged over or walled away. They can only heal from the inside out, and in the meantime you live with the wound in your body, keep it clean and protected, and love the parts of yourself that are struggling to come together.

The people mixing and laughing and loving and crying and dying and working and living in, on, and around the border are the Body, the wounded Body doing its best to heal. This wall won’t help; the mindset it represents and springs from won’t help. And someday we’ll have our Berlin moment, and it will come down.

In the meantime, let’s spray-paint this everywhere we can:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. — Leviticus 19:33-34

And maybe this one, too:

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. — Leviticus 25:23

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