Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Crossing the Border

Hola amigos! Don`t worry, that`s the only Spanish you`ll have to struggle through today. Autumn and Nathan reporting here to give you an update on our journey.  Today (March 5, 2012) was as busy as it was complex and meaningful. After getting up early we made the hour drive from Tucson to Nogales, Mexico. En route we observed U.S. Border Patrol taking several young men into custody on the side of the road.  As we passed by we saw the men face down in the median with their hands behind their backs.  Taking place just minutes from the border, this violent scene served to highlight the sharp contrast between the warm welcome we received from our hosts in Mexico and the reality of border enforcement in the United States.
The wall stretching off into the distance...

The border itself gives physical form to this boundary.  Massive steel bars, nearly a foot thick and rising some 20 feet high, mark the divide between the city of Nogales, Mexico and Nogales, Arizona.  It was troubling to contemplate our own sense of easiness knowing that we could cross back through this boundary at any time, but that for many people it is a far less permeable barrier.

The border wall.

At the point where these two cities meet, small homes on the American side sit just yards away from the main streets of the bustling Mexican city.  And yet, despite this physical closeness, they are quite distant from one another.  As soon as one moves across the border this separation becomes obvious.  All of a sudden the architecture and building materials change dramatically.  Houses and businesses crowd the streets of the city in a haphazard manner.  The stark obviousness of the contrast in quality of infrastructure highlights the disparity in economic power between the United States and Mexico.

Our first stop in Nogales was the Grupos Beta station not far from the border.  Grupos Beta is a Mexican government agency that provides humanitarian aid and information to migrants crossing the border north to the United States.  While Grupos Beta does not encourage migrants to make the journey, they do attempt to convey the risks involved and provide the most basic aid possible to migrants.  Generally, the people they interact with have been recently deported from the United States.  We were fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with some of the migrants seeking aid at the station.  Their stories, which were both painful and inspiring, were similar to some of the anecdotes we had studied from afar in our classroom in Gambier.  The human side of this issue is sometimes lost in our more academic studies.  Being able to interact and listen to these stories, related by individual people, helped personalize and humanize the plight of migrants while cementing them in reality.
Looking out into the Colonia from Marycruz's porch.

Our next stop in Nogales was the home of Marycruz Sandoval. Marycruz provided us with a delicious lunch at her home in the Flores Magon colonia and shared stories about her time in the city and her experiences as a maquiladora worker.

A print-out hanging on the fridge.

Following the generous hospitality of Marycruz we met Kiko Trujillo, a local humanitarian and former maquila manager.  Kiko currently helps run a vocational school in Nogales which provides unemployed residents with free training in several trade skills.  Kiko spoke to us about some of the political dynamics which contribute to and reinforce major economic imbalances between the United States and Mexico.  These imbalances, combined with ill-conceived legislation such as NAFTA, have contributed significantly to the rapid growth of migration (authorized and otherwise) northward.  Mr. Trujillo's tremendous knowledge and passion made his presentation engaging and left us with a clearer understanding of the complexities of migration.

Our last activity for the day was a purchasing power exercise at a local grocery store.  The activity began as an investigation into the differences in pricing between Nogales, Mexico and Tucson, Arizona.  While racing through the aisles of the grocery stores, some of us (Autumn, Michelle and Simon) had difficulty finding the items on our list.  Eager to beat the other groups to the finish line, Simon attempted to question some of the other shoppers as to the whereabouts of chorizo sausage.  While his inquiry was met with only limited success, we did learn a valuable lesson about the difficulty of communicating and interacting in a foreign country.  The language barriers continued when Simon attempted to order Autumn fruit-filled frozen yogurt.  This task proved particularly difficult as both Autumn and Michelle speak Chinese and Simon chose that moment to choke on his Spanish.  Fortunately, the day was saved when a bystander politely interceded and translated for them.

Entrance to the HEPAC compound.

The final stop was the HEPAC dorms where we spent the night.  After we arrived the whole group took a break and experienced first-hand the ecological compost facilities at the compound (and boy did we need it!).  Before dinner we played with some of the children who attend the school at HEPAC.  Maggie and Autumn represented KCWB on the basketball court and impressed their competition... Mexican youths 10 years their junior.  Meanwhile McKinley made friends with a dog, Emma climbed a tree, Jenny wandered around aimlessly snapping photos, and Nathan reached new heights on the swing-set. Before bed we were treated to an energetic guitar performance, ranging from flamenco to Led Zeppelin, the Eagles and America, by one of the professors. Exhausted from our long day, we fell asleep to the sound of dogs barking and roosters crowing. 
The captive audience.
The day draws to a close in Mexico.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful pictures and good information about crossing the border. We haven't done that yet, but we will be sure to research the rule and be prepared.

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