I live and work en la frontera, on the border between the United States and Mexico. From my university campus, I see Ciudad Juárez, across the traffic of I-10 and passed the border fence that sits just this side of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. I can see the two-story green buildings that were once the officers’ quarters at the old Fort Bliss. The Sierra Madre Occidental rises in the distance. Thousands of homes fill the landscape, some painted yellow, green, pink, white. Others are unpainted cinder block.
In 2008 when the government began building the border fence, one man stood there day after day with a sign that said "NO WALL." The late Justo Rivera, a Vietnam vet and community activist, believed that the wall was inherently racist and unnecessary.
Living on the border, on the periphery of two nations, border people know that we can never separate ourselves from the community just across the highway, the fence, the river. Families move back and forth from generation to generation. Daily, thousands cross to work and to shop. Right now the lines at gas stations in south El Paso are long because of the "gasolinazo," the increase in gasoline prices in Mexico. Juárez drivers cross the international border to save $1 or $2 dollars per gallon. Because of NAFTA, trucks line up at the ports of entry to transport goods, so many that south side school children suffer the effects of heightened contamination from the truck emissions. The recent peso devaluation has had devastating effects on El Paso's economy because Mexican shoppers can no longer purchase what they could just a few months ago.
Sometimes we make fun of each other’s' language or customs. Mexican American kids tell immigrant students to "speak English." It is not uncommon for my students to aspire to work for the Border Patrol; it is one of the best jobs in El Paso. Sometimes I meet people who have never crossed the border to visit Ciudad Juárez. I don't have illusions that we are “better” or “more compassionate.”
But I do know that fronterizos have something to teach others.
On the border, the connections among us are clear. We can see them, feel them, experience them in the most visceral of ways. In these times of increasing fear, suspicion, and “America First,” may we remember that we are all connected.