Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Migrant Trail Walk
A camelbak filled with ice cold water, sunglasses, cell phone, a team of volunteers providing me with food and more water. With all these resources at my disposal what kept me free from fear of not being able to make it through the desert was a piece of paper in my pocket.
I had the pleasure of participating in the 3rd Annual Migrant Trail Walk. While most volunteers spent the week walking 73 miles from Sasabe, I jumped on the bandwagon for the last 7 miles and mc'd the post-rally.
It was a great opportunity to talk with good folks and see old friends. I was speaking with a great professor from Arizona State University and we both commented on how in the future this period of our history will be looked back upon with great amazement. I believe that there will be a day when children read in thier history books about a time when people were not free to move across borders in search of work. The children will certainly be amazed that thousands of people lost thier lives and hundreds of thousands were forced to risk thier lives walking through the desert for days or getting on a raft and hoping you do not drown.
I am sure that the children will also be amazed that not more people stood up and did something about the horrible situation. They'll wonder why people were so afraid of reaching out and lending a hand to their fellow human being.
Perhaps they'll understand the fear (prosecution from government), but hopefully they will not accept the fear has a valid reason for not doing more.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Back from the Desert
I just recently got back to El Paso and found that the weather ain't the only thing getting hot. There is a crazy Sheriff named Leo Samaniego who is running around acting like someone promoted him to the position of Chief of the El Paso Sector of the Border Patrol (ie, local sheriff is enforcing federal immigration law and scaring the community).
In addition to Leo the Lion out looking for people's papers, President Bush calls for 6,000 troops to come down to the border. Thousands of more troops will not keep people from crossing the border, but it will make it more difficult. People will be forced to cross in even more remote areas and even more will die.
It's pretty amazing that the strategy of intense militarization has been going on now since Operation Hold-the-Line here in El Paso in 1993 yet we keep finding more ways to militarize the border. (Authors note, militarization started way before 1993, but people like to point to Operation Hold-the-Line as the start of the latest wave, or should I say tide or flow of militarization)
The picture on the right was taken on the U.S. side of the fence in Nogales, AZ. I think the pictures shows the strategy of militarization pretty well. You see the huge fence and two agents just down the way. This is in the middle of the city and if you keep driving down the road you'll eventually be in the middle of the desert where the large fence shrinks considerably and you are less likely to see Border Patrol. In other words it is a signal to migrants to not cross in the city area, but to go out into the desert and risk their life.
I think the picture also shows another aspect of militarization that is often overlooked. There is a young girl walking down the fence with her backpack, presumably just come from school (though if you ask the Minutemen she's probably carrying drugs). I didn't talk to the young woman, but I wonder what the psychological impact of that huge fence, seeing large towers mounted with cameras, and having to walk by armed federal agents everyday must do to her.
When I was her age I think the fence in Douglas was still just a small chain-link fence with holes everywhere and the chance of seeing a border patrol was pretty slim. No, I didn't have to walk up hill both to and from school, what I am saying is that it was easier for me back in the days.
I took the picture while showing some friends of mine around Nogales. We are working on a paper and we were returning from a focus group we conducted at the Migrant Center in Altar, Sonora. It was a great trip and we did 5 focus group in 4 days, in 4 cities, 3 states, and 2 different countries (Ciudad Juarez, El Paso, Agua Prieta, y Altar).
It was quite refreshing to go from a long-month out in the middle of the desert to sitting calmly and talking to migrants about their journeys and their thoughts about politics and the U.S. society. There is a lot of scholarship on the issue of migration and every day more newspaper articles, but they all seem to be missing a key component, the thoughts of migrants.
This is not to say that migrant voices are absent, I think in most mainstream media there is a quick soundbite that paints the migrant as victim and has them telling why they are coming across and how difficult it is. At least these are what the 'good' articles try to do.
I think the liberal coroporate media pretty much looks for this soundbite from a migrant, "I just want to come to work to support my family because things in (insert country in Latin America) are difficult."
With the mass demonstrations I think migrants finally forced people to hear a little bit more, statements such as, "I am not a criminal" and "I pay taxes that support this economy."
I was thankful to be able to listen to many people very eloquently say so much more and look forward to the thoughts, opinions, and world-views of migrants coming more to the forefront.
Friday, April 07, 2006
First Week Back in the Desert
As we sit late at night observing the Minutemen, the lights emanating from Tucson give off a sense that the sun is setting to the east, and I know that what is currently considered 'civilization' is only a few miles away. When I say it feels like we are years away from reaching civilization I am not referring to paved streets, corporate chains, and shopping malls, but a truly civilized society that respects human rights and upholds human dignity.
While the day-to-day life continues to occur in city areas the phenomenom of migration continues through the desert as it has for thousands of years. Only difference is that now people have to look out for Border Patrol agents, sensors in the ground, helicopters, pissed off ranchers, and crazy vigilantes.
While the migrants now have to bare the physical brunt of suffering, it is also those who are documented that suffer. We don't have to walk through the desert for days and fear asking for food and water, but we do have to fear aiding someone who is in need.
Imagine seeing a person so dehydrated that they are carrying a jug half-full with their own piss. Skin so burnt that you couldn't even guess their ethnic background and their feet are so blistered they can neither walk or run, but only waddle. Imagine seeing blisters on the persons feet the size of softballs and then when the person asks you for a ride, you say no.
The mental and moral anguish from a privileged person should not be the main focus of this growing human rights movement, but it certainly should be part of the discussion. Whle many animals migrate, humans are the only ones who go through great pains to keep the migration of their fellow beings from occuring.
You don't see a group of butterfly Minutemen trying to keep more Monarchs from flying into Cananda from Mexico.
Trying to follow a bunch of armed people who don't really like you is pretty absurd, but not quite as absurd as the thousands of deaths in the desert and the call for more militarization that will only increase the number of deaths.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Military On the Border
Here's a photo that was taken while we were out legal observing in October. It's the National Gaurd driving down the highway through Hachita, New Mexico.
The photo is very relevant today seeing how there is a great deal of talk about putting the National Gaurd on the border. Of course the vigilantes have been crying for the National Gaurd for quite some time, but nonetheless I was quite shocked when Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D) called for putting the National Gaurd on the border in her State of the State Speech.
Certainly the Governor had some good plans, like charging vehicles with low emissions less to register their vehicles (which makes me wonder how much the Governor's plan would make the tank pay for tags to drive down Highway 80 in Arizona), but calling for placing the National Gaurd on the border was an ill-designed attempt to gather points for her political career. As a Governor with high ambitions to become a National figure, she is certainly taking great advantage of the recent increase in paranoia and fear related to our southern border.
Timothy Dunn points out that the doctrine of low-intensity conflict has come home in his book 'The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border.' It appears now that the Governor and other anti-immigrants have gone beyond low-intensity conflict and are calling for an all out war.
The impact of Gov. Napolitano's call for the National Gaurd goes beyond bad border policy and demonstrates how our society is quick to see aggressiveness and possible violence as a solution to just about any problem. Whether it be the military-industrial complex or the prison industrial complex, we are quick to use punishment or force as a tool of social control. There are over 2 million people in U.S. prisons and jails, per capita we incarcerate more people then any country on the planet. Last year alone we spent $7.3 billion dollars on border-related expenses and now have more sensors, fences, armed agents, helicopters, and cameras on our border then we ever have in the history of our nation.
Certainly there are also practical reasons one would not want the National Gaurd on the border. I remember stopping late one night and seeing a group of about 20 migrants being held approximately 30 yards from one of the tanks. I slowed my car and was going to get out to talk to the migrants when someone in complete camoflauge came running over with a very mean scowl on their face. Before I could explain myself I was told by G.I. Joe to, "get the hell out of here." Seeing as he had the tank and the guns I decided to drive along.
The demeanor of this individual was something I had never seen before. With his military fatigues, guns, tanks, and other high powered equipment he was not simply playing war, he was in a war. The fact that he was on U.S. soil and was only a few miles from a city made no difference to him.
Say what you want about Border Patrol, but at least there primary training is not to kill. I have run into plenty of rude, racists, and angry Border Patrol Agents, but for the most part I have not got the sense from them that they think they are in a war zone.
On May 20, 1997 Ezekiel Hernandez was murdered by a U.S. Marine. The Marines were working with the Border Patrol under the project Joint Task Force Six, hoping to assist stopping drug dealers. Instead they ended up killing an 18 year-old U.S. citizen who was out herding goats.
Let's hope that Gov. Napolitano's attempt for political points does not leave another family without a child.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
My First Post
I prefer mindless rant.
Since there really has not been much information in the news lately about the border (one wonders if it still exists) it seems as if I have a lack of materials from which to draw from. So, I'll go with my favorite source of material; personal experience.
I got back into El Paso yesterday after taking a trip to Mexico City. I was in the beautiful town to show Rights on the Line: Vigilantes at the Border at El Primer Congreso Multidisciplinario sobre Inmigracion Mexcio-Estados Unidos: Los Multimedios en Las Zonas Fronterizas. Which is quite a mouthful for a conference and I had to pull out the certificate they gave me for participating because I could not remember the entire title (by the way mom, i'll be framing it and sending it to you soon!)
In additon to presenting at this conference, the documentary Crossing Arizona was showing at Mexico City's premeire film festival FICCO (I don't feel like writing the entire name). Along with co-produce Daniel DeVivo and activists Mike Wilson and Kathleen Ferguson, we did a question and answer segment after each screening. I was anxious to meet activists in Mexico City and hear about their work and how we could collaborate, but each night once the theatre lights were turned on all that was in the audience was a see of light-skinned, light haired individuals, many of whom asked their questions in English.
If someone had hit me over the head and dragged me into the theatre and then asked me to guess what city I was in, I probably would have guessed somewhere in the United States. I hadn't seen audiences this 'white' since I did a presentation at Iowa State University, a campus which by the way is 98% Anglo.
Now you might be asking yourself, were these tourists simply there for the film festival? No, turns out they were Mexico City's own; the privileged and wealthy for whom the possibility of having to walk through the desert for four or five days never crosses their mind.
I spent the weekend visiting family and friends in between screenings and hung out in the more upscale neighborhoods in Mexico City, or should I say North America. Polanco, Zona Rosa, Chapultapec Park, Coyoyacan, and Santa Fe were my stomping grounds. Somewhere between the Hotel Sheraton next to the Angel de Independencia and the 'VIPS' restaurant is where my Crackberry Handheld Wireless disappeared, and I am still suffering from withdrawls, but now have a new excuse not to call people, oops, lost my phone and that is where I stored your number.
Not really seeing anybody with skin as dark as mine or as big of an 'indio' nose that i have at any of the screenings, and after receiving plenty of stares from the wealthy Mexicans as I walked through their prestigious neighborhoods I wondered if I would have had the same opportunities for education if I had been born a mile to the south of where I was born.
On the way to one of the screenings the taxi I was in was pulled over for making an illegal turn. It certainly was not an illogical turn and the no-turn sign was pretty well hidden, but the two police officers were waiting on the side of the road and for the 20 minutes I was there I saw them pull over 5 different cars. After listening to the taxi driver and police man argue for awhile we were finally let go after the taxi driver slipped a hundred pesos (10 bucks) into the palms of the fat pig.
Needless to say, the taxi driver was pissed and when I asked him if this was typical, he said yes, that the even the pigs in Mexico City are 'demasiado' corrupt.
While I have never had one person recommend actually taking a taxi in Mexico City, I was happy to have many good conversations as I was zipped through town. I preferred to talk because it kept me from thinking about how fast and aggressive everyone was driving. The first taxi drive who dropped me off at the hotel told me he hated the United States and has and never had any desire to live in a country where all they care about is money and everyone is so busy they don't have time to enjoy life. My hotel was right next to the U.S. Embassy and he laughed when I was getting out of the car and told him I was back in the belly of the beast.
Another taxi driver expressed the same disdain for the United States. He said the U.S. thinks they are the 'best' and 'strongest' country in the world, and this in turn leads them to be racists towards people who are not like them.
With all it's racial problems, congestion, and smog, I was still sad to leave one of my most favorite cities I have ever visited. The amazing architecture, culutral gems, great food and the feeling that you are in New York City on meth is quite addicting and I look forward to my next trip to el D.F.
My journey home took me by airplane from Mexico City-Ciudad Juarez. There was not a single empy seat on the flight and the vast majority of people had skin as dark, if not darker then mine, and were dressed in dark clothes and carrying only a small backpack. Though I was one of the last to board i knew I would not have trouble putting my suitcase in the overhead bin.
I flew back into Ciudad Juarez and took a taxi back to where I left my car at the El Paso airport. For pretty much everyone else on my flight, I don't think their trip across the border was as easy as mine.