Friday, January 25, 2013

Let's Cross Borders!

  Are you feeling claustrophobia?  Have you been locked inside the US too long?

Cross a border--drive over to Canada or Mexico.  Listen to another language.  Feel the mood of another country.

Too many of us live our whole lives never leaving the good ol' USA.  Others of us fly to Europe but rarely visit our next-door neighbors, Mexico and Canada.

While I was at my nephew's wedding in San Diego last weekend, I wanted to drive down and check out Tijuana but didn't have time.  As it happened, I left the hotel room too fast, forgetting a couple of items in the closet and thus having an excuse to drive south again with more time to cross the border.

Mexico is just 150 miles from my front door, but I haven't been down to Baja California for over ten years.  I haven't taken the house-building trips with Amor Ministries that my church organizes annually.  I haven't had any out-of-town visitors who wanted to visit Tijuana or Ensenada.

The big increase in shootings and violence associated with drug cartels has been part of the reason for my visits being fewer in the 2000s than in the 1990s, but lately interest in border issues has propelled me to Nogales, Arizona, and today to Tijuana, Baja California.

I've been appalled to hear about deaths of people trying to cross deserts illegally, and friends encouraged me to check out the ministry of groups like the Tucson Samaritans, No More Borders, and ___, so I drove to Arizona in early January.

Today was my chance to make a quick visit to Tijuana--why?  As George Mallory said of Mount Everest in 1923, "Because it's there."

I drove down Avenida Revolucion and down a few side streets filled with tiendas opening on the street with racks of clothing for sale, then back on Avenida Juarez toward the border.  

I missed the correct lane for San Diego on my first try, circled back, and was just turning back onto Avenida Juarez when a man selling newspapers asked in English, "Are you looking for the way to San Diego?"

"Yes," I confessed, quite obviously an American tourist.

"Turn left here," he said, "and then take the second lane from the left, even though the San Diego sign seems to be over the third lane."

"Oh, thanks!" I laughed.  "I made that mistake just now, taking the third lane from the left."

One small moment for him and me, but one step forward in international understanding.  People in Tijuana tend to speak excellent English and to be kind and helpful.

The line of cars to reenter the US happened to be very short at 2:45 pm, only a fifteen-minute wait.

Passing up most of the items being hawked by sellers walking up and down the lanes of cars, I bought one thing: a pair of yellow and orange metal flowers cut from a soft drink can and standing in the end of the can as a base.  The artist was a man in a wheel chair.

I passed a very short woman holding a baby swaddled in blankets and asking for money, then another similar woman.  Are they indigenous--pre-Hispanic? Their sad faces stay with me.

The US customs agent asked to see my driver's license and then asked if I have a passport.  

"Good! That will make things go faster," he said when I handed it to him.

I drove three hours up I-5 and was home, but that short visit changed me.  

Serious poverty is so close at hand, without much of a safety net, and Tijuana in the daytime is not that dangerous if you stay in the right part of town.

Alta California (now in the US) was once owned by Mexico, as were New Mexico and parts of Texas.  

Do we really need a wall topped with barbed wire to separate us?  

Is it ethical to live with luxury so close to intense poverty--and ignore what's on the other side of the border?

I propose that we all exercise our right to cross the US-Mexico border easily.  Let's cross often; let's have crossing demonstrations, one hundred of us at a time.  

Let's visit the wall often and become familiar with what it means to those on the other side.  

Let's have candlelight services at the wall for the number of people who died trying to cross the border in the last year.  

If we who live so close to the border ignore these problems, it's like ignoring the body bags that return from Afghanistan.  

We must never forget.

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