Jude the ObscurePart IIt is a scandal, of course, that north and south should be divided like this. The cultures of the southwestern United States and Mexico have so much in common: the same land, the same climate, much of the same history, many of the same peoples, some of the same loves and hates. Yet we are forced to go through the gauntlet every day, across the scar that fear and naked jingosim have placed between two great neighbors. An asphalt, smog-filled, car-ridden nightmare division between two political entities, a gash passing east and west 2,200 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico --- a gash keeping people who should be together from being together, from mixing in a way that, before now, had been done so easily.
The border, the fence, the guards, the gates, are an international scandal. For good reason the Mexicans call the ten-foot fence limning the two countries La Pared Berlin --- the Berlin Wall --- and with the U. S. military-style helicopters, the mercury-vapor lights burning the countryside into a moonscape, with serious defoliation on the north side of the border, and patrols and uniforms and army vehicles, it has become pure DMZ: North and South Korea, Iraq and Kuwait, what was once East and West Berlin.
There are, right now, thanks to the laws put through by several of our jiongoistic legislators to the north, not one but two fences separating the countries --- with plans for a third. The hostility that these fences embody is always revealing to new visitors. They represent a hate crime of the highest order against an entire indigenous culture, and some say that the representatives who pressed so hard to have them erected should be brought in once a year just to look at them, so they can contemplate their message of Hate The Foreigner.
The United States, as usual, seems insensitive to the affront created by this prison wall --- but those of us who pass it every day often wonder if we are keeping the good guys out or keeping them in? In any event, the message is unmistakable: we dislike your culture, says The Land of the Free --- so we'll put these brutish barriers up to remind you that you are not welcome, no matter what your excuse.
The first and oldest fence is constructed of pieces of a landing strip left over from old, forgotten military operations. It's about as attractive as it sounds. The corrugated pieces have rusted, turning even more ugly than when American military planes were using them to defoliate North Viet Nam. Only on the Mexican side has anyone done something to mitigate the sheer vulgarity of it. Ten or twelve primarias (local public schools) have volunteered time to bring in school children by bus, gave them paints, and let them paint heart-wrenching child scenes on the bleak metal.
Thus weedy, trash-strewn wilderness that abuts the fence is now, one one side, surmounted by colorful suns with red and yellow rays, moons setting, stars glimmering in turquoise skies, white angels (with wings), green dogs, blue burros --- and the ever-present Virgin of Guadalupe, her a shiny black face peering morosely at the detritus. All the pictures are interlarded with a loud, noisy, and friendly patina of fuschia, magenta, and pale yellow.
Just a few feet from these child pictures, American border agents are patrolling back and forth in their Broncos, complete with four-wheel drive and shotguns, stopping and searching those Mexicans who try to cross over the Tijuana River. Those who have been caught from time-to-time are forced to put their hands up on the roofs of the INS vans while they are being searched; others are forced to kneel, hands cuffed behind them. These indignities have been filmed by the various Tijuana television stations --- and each time there is a news program about yet another upset at the border, these videos are run again, just to be sure that the people of Tijuana will be familiar with the culture to the north, the one place in the world that engraves the lines "Give me your tired and your homeless" on its national statue.
Those of us who have more than a passing affection for Mexico and its people keep hoping that the United States will someday see the folly of trying to stop the flow. One study, commissioned by the University of California, found that 95% of what they call "the illegals" were people who were going north for temporary jobs, or to visit their families. With something called Operation Gatekeeper, many of these visitors --- including women and children --- get forced into the barren desert mountains to the east of San Diego. There, each year, in the bitter cold of the winter or the appalling heat of our summers, some 150 - 200 Mexicans routinely die from exposure. The body count, of course, only includes the ones whose bodies are found.
INS and Customs (and our representatives) have stated repeatedly that they need more money and more agents and more trucks and more fences because of "The Menace of Drugs." Those of us old enough to remember have heard of many --- too many --- Menaces to aan orderly America over the years. Fifty years ago freedom of speech was set aside and America's economics were skewed because of "The Menace of Communism." Before that, our society was jeopardized by "The Menace of Alcohol." Before that, it was "the Menace of the Kaiser," or, "Anarchists," or "Copperheads," or "Witches." Menaces are always easy to find, good for rousing the electorate, and astonishingly good for generous, and generally overweening, appropriations.
Drugs --- like communism, booze, political unrest, and the rest --- are a problem, always have been, always will be. But to pervert a potentially amiable joining with our neighbors to the north and to the south (along with perverting what's left of our liberties) because of the drug needs of lawyers in New York and entertainers in Los Angeles and rich kids in Houston, Chicago and Seattle is a scandal of the first order. The paranoid style of American Righteousness is, once again, wrenching relations between us and the countries that should be our best friends.
We accuse Mexicans of not being militant enough in the pursuit of narcotraficantes, and of allowing or even encouraging the passage of drugs through their borders. We are scolding them as if they were naughty children --- saying that their easy-going way of life is wrong, that they should become a military state like America, become immersed in a no-holds-barred, no quarter given war on illegal substances. If they don't cooperate fully enough, we threaten to punish them with congressional sword-rattlingand sanctions in trade.
We are, in effect, trying to poison their lives as we have poisoned our own. We use the excuse of "The War on Drugs" to assail them for their lack of frenetic Puritanism. We thus ignore the fact that for years Mexico has had (and continues to have) a consistently lower rate of drug use and addiction, compared to our own.
Herbert Spencer famously said that "Absolute morality is the regulation of conduct in such a way that pain shall not be inflicted." The results of American's Puritan stance shows that our "absolute morality" is an abysmal failure, and is one that inflicts endless pain on ourselves, and on those who should be our friends.--- Carlos Amantea