Saturday, May 21st
Ah, the weekend. But no rest for the weary… Or our group, in this case. We got ready early with our working clothes and sunscreen and drove south through Green Valley to Arivaca Road, where we drive twelve miles down to take another dirt road for Forever Yong farm. About halfway down Arivaca Road, a border checkpoint appeared and we stopped briefly. At Forever Yong, Yong and John put us to work on the farm. They were harvesting garlic, and some of us went out into the field while others waited by a set of tables to tie the garlic in bunches and hang it over ropes so it could be sold. We got nice and dirty and all smelled deliciously of garlic. After working for about two hours, we sat down near the farmhouse for a delicious, like WHAT in the world, almost totally vegan meal. Corn and black bean salad, rice pilaf, and the most intensely tasty butternut squash lasagna. The fresh iced tea was nice on our throats.
After lunch, John and a neighbor farmer sat down with us to talk about their experience with the border patrol. They described their area as a “constitution free zone”, one in which the border patrol roams free and searches their property without warrants. One of the most frustrating things for John was the BP’s neglect in trying to form relationships with the farmers, so they might understand the issue better. “It’s a hassle to even go to the grocery store with that checkpoint there,” John said. “We’ve protested it for months.” John also told us that while they still see migrants cross their farms, the numbers have decreased quite a bit. This is due to a few reasons, namely, that the Mexican economy is actually growing, and the real estate crisis of 2008 in the United States really effected migrants’ abilities to find work here, so there is less crossing. John firmly believes migrants are not dangerous, and mentioned only one farmer had been shot, but that he had gone hunting for cartel members. We thanked our hosts, dusted ourselves off, and began the rest of the journey down to the border at Nogales.
Nogales is a port city, and every day thousands of cars and pedestrians cross the border. Tourists cross into Nogales, Mexico to find cheap souvenirs, and workers with “green cards” drive sometimes several hours every morning to enter the US. The freeway ended, and we curved to the east where we parked next to a lot for customs workers. As we drove down the freeway, we could see the fence. It ran through hillsides, and we could see colorful houses on the Mexican side perched on the hill tops. One student sighed and said, “look at that big beautiful Mexican flag, waving slowly. It’s as if it is saying hello, beckoning to us.”
We parked and the giant steel fence stared us down. The fence is quite porous, though- a small child could fit through the bars. On the other side, buses line up to take people to other parts in Sonora, and shops advertised check advances and medical supplies. A family met on both sides of the border. They laughed and cried and we learned that the grandmother on the Mexican side hadn’t seen her grandchildren on the US side in 16 years. Up the hill to our right, a border patrol truck rested beneath a watchtower. A police man spoke to some of the students, revealing a tunnel from a house on the Mexican side to a house on the US side had been busted just last week.
We decided to walk to the crossing, and I went ahead. Ed’s Border Parking Lot sprawled to my right. Tears rushed down my face as my flip flops slid along the pavement. The wall, though domineering and darkly regal, was just a wall. And yet, it separates an entire lifestyle and set of opportunities. I thought about my friends, undocumented in this country, who could very well be reaching their hands through to touch mine. This will never be my story. I can’t pretend to understand or be in solidarity, so I hope to hold the image of the wall in my mind as a reminder of my privilege and my own narrative. But there’s opportunity to build community. Some kids play volleyball using the fence as the net. In El Paso, a joint Catholic mass happens on both sides every Sunday. The fence may be made of steel, but the border won’t stop innovation. I wrote this in the car:
The exit numbers keep decreasing. The temperature marker in our car increases. I feel butterflies. International border signs flash. No weapons allowed in Mexico, some say. I feel familiar tears.
When we park at the border I smirk at the parking lot name. Ed’s Border Lot. It’s funny how the exclusion of a border creates opportunity, capitalistic. I’m feeling sad. I can see Nogales through the fence, through the slits. Children small enough could fit through. I see a border patrol truck parked up the hill by the watch tower. It’s hot. We walk slowly up the hill. I watch a family greet each other through the fence and then a girlfriend and boyfriend. I see signs in Spanish across the fence, banks, markets, shuttles. The line of cars to cross looks congested and slow.
I feel as though I bought a movie ticket and created a display in my mind. It’s a guilty feeling. The power in human connection should not be exoticized but should be acknowledged. The border is not my territory, it’s my privilege to walk free without anyone questioning me. The migrants are invisible and hope to stay that way. They don’t want any trouble, but the migra do. They zoom around, all over the farms, acting like they’ll protect us from the big bad wolf. More like those who cried wolf. The checkpoint patrol agent gives us a light talking to, reminding us to carry identification. Freedom?
I think about putting my hand through the border fence and quickly negate the idea. Fences, fences, fences. Cars. Barbed wire. The colorful houses look over the fence that sit on the hills of Nogales. The fence cannot hide the view.
So many complications- such a Buddhist moment. One ripple causes several. A solution causes other issues, we have no answers though we think we might.
We stopped briefly at Tumacacori Mission before returning home. A beautiful church and historic site, Jesuits had used it to build up the Catholic community in the area. Warring tribes strained this though, and we learned that the whole property was abandoned for about 65 years. I felt distracted walking around. Across the street, I bought a delicious guacamole and carne asada mix at the Santa Cruz Chile Company. We drove home and Karin cooked us a fantastic specialty of hers, what she calls “feisty chicken”. After dinner we enjoyed a bonfire night, roasted jumbo marshmallows, and got to know each other through some quirky ice breakers.