Day four was jam packed in every sense of the term. We started with a long drive to the border, stopping briefly in Douglas, a small historical town in south Arizona, to meet Randy, a volunteer for Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian border ministry focused on education and aid in Arizona and northern Mexico. With Randy, we visited a small community center in Agua Prieta, Sonora focused on education and independence for women in the area. After visiting the community center, we went to Café Justo, a coffee shop that grew out of a coffee farmer co-opt developing good coffee at good prices. Then came the border wall, our fist visit to the gigantic steel beams that we’ve been studying for months and that have haunted our travels these last few days. We got up close and personal with them, driving on a potentially restricted road with Randy’s guidance to visit some amazing vantage points. The day ended with group participation in a Border Vigil that honored the deaths of immigrants in the region by holding up crosses and declaring the deceased’s names. We crossed back through the checkpoint into Mexico and got dinner, talked, and went to bed at a community center in Agua Prieta.
WHAT WE HEARD:
The noises of day four really began with the women of Agua Prieta recalling their stories to us through the medium of a translator. It was the first day that translators were necessary, and it presented an interesting dynamic that up until this point hadn’t been considered. To us, the women’s stories seemed disjointed and were only understood to many in the group through the efforts of Evie’s interpretation. Jason De León claimed in The Land of Open Graves that a crucial essence of communication is lost when taken through the double vice of translation and interpretation, and that was clear to all of us today. We encountered some further difficulties in back-and-forth communication regarding who to direct our comments to (translator or intended audience), and the variation in Spanish fluency amongst the group served as another challenge to unimpeded understanding with the women of Agua Prieta. During our vigil we payed our respects to this land through our audible recollection of the names of deceased passing migrants. Each name was inscribed on its own cross, and during the walk each was shouted aloud by its carrier, and met with the crowds simultaneous ‘presente’. Hearing the names out loud gave us a cue to connect to for each migrant, and was met in response with passerby’s beeping and vocal gratitude. The sounds of the day carried with them a lot of weighted emotion, but our consensus is that it was not what we heard, but what we did not hear that left us moved. Today’s sounds were punctuated by long segments of silence as we stood together along the expanse of the border. Randy set the somber tone by announcing about the ground we stood on: “this is holy land, its consecrated with the deaths of those who died there”.
WHAT WE SAW:
In terms of sight, Wednesday morning began like every other morning: dim light viewed through squinty eyes. After that though, complex and amazing images started to come through like the cowboys’ overdone, commercial costumes in Douglas or Randy’s intense years of wear and tear that brought forward so much wisdom. Once we got to the border, so much radically changed. People frantically tried to wash cars lined up to cross the barrier. Every car filed through, got looked over by the border guards’ peering eyes, and, seemingly arbitrarily, got selected for further screening or was let through. That was, assuming you weren’t in the fast lane, an almost Disneyland like separate pathway for quicker travel. Once we got into Mexico the entire surrounding area changed: the architecture was different, food stores appeared almost endlessly, names brands faded away into personalized stores, and paintings and murals covered the border wall to commemorate the hope so seemingly washed away on the American side. Beside us were dozens of small kids walking to school, appearing as if the border crossing was a regular daily occurrence for them instead of the exceptional act that it so clearly was for all of us. Once we arrived at the community center in Agua Prieta we saw the amazing garden, livestock, and home that the women there had built and maintained independently, speaking so amazingly to their strength in coming together and creating something unique. It wasn’t until we really saw the border that we noticed how, well, massive it was. It was like a scar cutting through the earth, destroying the land immediately around it and juxtaposing the sky, with its clear lake of a line, so much that it almost seemed artificial or made up. The border’s steel beams, which we later learned were made from railroads and old Vietnam War landing strips, seemed to extend for miles, riding the hills up to and beyond the horizon. The land was all that could overpower it, but it sure as hell did. It reminded us, collectively, of what existed before the border was placed there and what will continue to exist, fighting against the unnatural wall between two interlocking regions. All along the border path were border patrol agents, sprinkling the landscape with white and green trucks. One agent seemed to almost pose for us, standing next to his truck and looking through his binoculars for an oddly long period of time while we were close before driving off in the other direction. The attached photo tries to capture at least some small bit of the grandness we saw there. The final ceremony, the religious vigil, floored many of us, communicating the sheer volume of deaths form the border with the massive number of superficially identical but specifically different white crosses, each of which defiantly spoke to a life lost but never forgotten. A lot of these images have burned into our heads, materially existing only in memories and pictures but driving us to accomplish something more in the future.
WHAT WE FELT:
Today’s tone was set early when the group took in the site of an abandoned copper mine. The destroyed earth and the upheaval of the land stood as a bold testament to the exploitative capitalist system we live in, the remnants of which were palpable at the border. It seemed like the only valuable thing in the town, as per the townspeople, was the memory of what had once been, deeming all of the present and future as almost worthless. Then Randy showed up. Oh Randy. Randy immediately sent a ray of sunshine into our group, his respect, compassion, and understanding of all involved parties was a compelling testament to the possibility of progress, and left us feeling optimistic about our activism. Our visits to the Agua Prieta co-op and Café Justo further emboldened this feeling of optimism as both institutions offered a place for independent development of Mexican communities against the type of exploitative capitalism that creates the drive for northern migration in the first place. While standing at the border the group agreed on the arbitrary feeling of its location, both physically and in its place in the dynamics between those who live north and south of it. The manager of Café Justo left us with a powerful message about the reality of the border as a physical space, while contrasting this image with the fabricated nature of borders as they exist between people. The vigil continued to foster this feeling of connection by vocalizing not the nationality of the passing migrants, but their names. While each’s history was unclear, the vigil leader announced about each lost migrating human that they “were made in the god’s image, and were beloved by god”. While the religious imagery was not necessarily a critical part of the message for our group, the sentiment about human equity continues to resonate in our hearts and minds.