what are we keeping out?

IMG_2952.jpgYesterday I wrote about visiting the wall on the US side. Today I crossed the border to Mexico. And as I do every time I cross, I found myself thinking, “Well, at least in terms of the wall itself, it’s a lot more fun to be on this (Mexican) side!”

The US side of the wall is barren, desolate, gray. White trucks with green stripes sometimes mosey by, the officers inside on the lookout. Tall towers with cameras stand out against the sky, their eyes ever on us. This is public land, and we have the right to walk near, and even right up to, the wall. But the people in those white and green trucks are going to pull up and ask what we’re doing. We’ll be a rare human form in a long gray zone of dirt and gravel. I almost always have at least a bit of anxiety as I walk along the US side of the wall.

Cross into Mexico, and suddenly life gets brighter – right up to the wall, and on the wall itself. People are selling wares along the road back into the US. A steady stream of cars and trucks pass by. Houses are only one street-width away from the wall – many colorful, some with plants and trees. Dogs and children, lovers holding hands, sisters deep in conversation, men deep in thought populate the sidewalks – some on the other side of the street, some right next to the wall.

Murals are beginning to take over the burnt orange/brown metal structure – murals that show hands grasped, a heart in flight, a baby eagle growing up to soar, birds disappearing into the blue sky above. The city has built benches to rest and small shelters of shade, they have planted trees, and even placed bits of exercise equipment along Calle Internacionale – which just happens to be right next to the “fence.”

And on this side, it feels more like a fence. It is being turned into a backdrop, an opportunity for beauty, a space for the community to use as they exercise, meditate, visit with loved ones, or just go about their daily lives.

In a class I taught last year, I asked students to create short cartoon strips responding to some readings we did about borders and walls. All of the artwork was intriguing, but one in particular struck me and has stayed with me. It showed a fence first keeping out snakes, then deer, then ultimately all animals.

This cartoon became, in my imagination, a related series: In the first frame, a low fence would keep rabbits (and snakes) out. In the next frame, the fence gets a little higher, keeping out deer in addition to rabbits. The third frame shows the fence growing even more and keeping out humans. And in the fourth frame, the wall becomes so high, it keeps out the birds.

In that final frame – of both the student’s original cartoon, and my own reimagining – it suddenly becomes clear that all life is on the other side of the wall – the side that the fence/wall-builders are not on. “Our” side is barren and empty.

These images call into question who the fence is serving, what it actually keeps out, and who, ultimately is being hurt.

As I drank coffee at a lovely cafe, as I saw the vibrancy of Agua Prieta’s restaurants and shopping, as we drove by preparations for a street fair and a city plaza filled with people at the ends of their school or work days, as we chatted with men painting a gate, and as I looked at the beautiful corridor created by the Mexican artists on top of the canvas of fear built by the US, I wondered: who is being hurt by this wall, really? What are we keeping out? And which side would we really rather be on?

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