Mexico and Texas in 1842We used to go to Mexico a lot when I was a kid. It was an easy family vacation. You could get a tourist pass at the border – no passport required – and my parents spoke enough Spanish to deal with restaurants and hotel rooms.

I haven’t managed to make it across lately, even though I only live about 300 miles from the border. But I’ve been down to the Rio Grande Valley and out to the high desert country near Big Bend National Park on several occasions.

And every time I’ve done it, I’ve been stopped at a border patrol station about 60 miles inland from the border and asked if I’m a U.S. citizen.

I don’t have any problem at these stations. I’m Anglo – Texas-speak for non-Hispanic white – and I look it. Plus I can do a pretty good Anglo Texas accent when I want to; it’s my native tongue. That’s just as well, because I never remember my passport unless I’m actually leaving the country.

I haven’t crossed the border, but I get treated as if I have. And I don’t like it.

Partly that’s because I’m a white, middle-class Texan-American and therefore think I should be able to go anywhere in the country without being hassled by the police. My rant against this treatment is based in the white privilege I’ve always had. Lots of other folks in the U.S. don’t have the luxury of even thinking they can go places without risking hassles.

But the other part of my problem with the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border is that I know the history. Texas used to be part of Mexico. (You don’t have to have been subjected to Texas history classes, as I was in the eighth grade, to know that; the theme park “Six Flags Over Texas” should give you a clue.)

So did New Mexico, Arizona, California, and big chunks of other parts of the U.S. southwest. Of course, before the Spanish explorers trampled across them, they were already inhabited by a variety of indigenous peoples. Mexico ended up with all that territory in 1821 after they kicked out the Spanish.

Come and Take ItIn Texas, Anglo settlors came along in 1822 (the Old Three Hundred). By 1835, they had started a revolution, which culminated in a defeat of the Mexican Army at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

That made Texas a republic for about ten years, but the rest of the southwest still belonged to Mexico. When Texas became part of the U.S. in 1846, hostilities ensued. The U.S. won the war with Mexico, and ended up with New Mexico, Arizona, California et al.

I don’t know how the people of Spanish descent living in that country saw themselves, though I’m pretty sure the Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, Navajos, Hopis, Pueblos, and all the indigenous nations of California didn’t see themselves as Spanish, Mexican, or part of the U.S. But after that war, a border got drawn and rules got made.

And people who thought of themselves as Mexican – or at least, as people with some Spanish heritage – lived on both sides of that line. And had relatives on both sides of that line. In Texas, folks of that background use the term “Tejano.”

I don’t know how many Texas Tejanos trace their heritage back to before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but I know some do. I do know, from looking at the Pew Research Hispanic Trend Project’s demographic survey that 70 percent of the Hispanics in Texas were born in the U.S. and most of them are of Mexican heritage. (In New Mexico, 83 percent of Hispanics were born in the U.S., but New Mexico has a much more developed Spanish/Mexican history than Texas.)

Knowing those things, I find it really hard to take the border all that seriously. In many ways, the people who live here and the people who live just across the Rio Grande (if you’re in Texas) or just across an artificial line in the desert (if you’re west of here) are tied together.

The geography shows the relationship, too. Texas may be divided from Mexico by a big river, but the country on either side of that river is pretty much the same – a lot of desert, some of mountainous. And that particular river runs through the middle of New Mexico until it gets to El Paso.

I’ve been reading an essay by Rebecca Solnit called “Thirty-Nine Steps Across the Border,” which talks about the geographical similarities. (Found in her collection, Storming the Gates of Politics.) She describes the border as

not so much a line drawn in the sand of the desert, but in the imagination, a line across which memory may not travel, empathy may be confiscated, truth held up indefinitely, meaning lost in translation.

I wrote a story set along the Texas border, called simply “Borders”. It’s available in Walking Border Wall at the Pacific OceanContradiction and Other Futures. In it I posit that people on the Texas side of the border have to cross into Mexico every day to work at the maquiladoras, because the jobs have been exported to Mexico. If I were writing the story today, the workers would have to wait in long lines to come home every evening, because there would be lots of Border Patrol officials checking to make sure they qualified as Americans.

I haven’t been down to look at the border wall. The very idea of it depresses me. The Flatlanders sum it up nicely in the song “Borderless Love”:

A wall is a mirror that can only reveal
One side of a story that passes for real
But break it all down it all becomes clear
It’s the fearless who love and the loveless who fear.



Borders — 7 Comments

  1. Hey, it’s the Canadian border, too. In Washington state, we had La Migra harassing brown people on the Olympic Peninsula. See: and The ACLU got a judgement against the practice, but I am not sure the changes promised will be enough, or even implemented.

    Surely the Department of Homeland Security just La Migra raised to cabinet level?

    It is possible we are watching the devolution of the nation state. Physically and socially, borders are ever more porous.

  2. Immigration is the issue everywhere on the globe. The hysteria matter around which the crazies find perfect political recruitment and money. For instance, see the Virginia creeazoid who beat out arch-creepazoid Cantor in the primary.

    In the meantime at least 70,000 kids, alone, without parents or any adult, no family here, some as young as six with a four-year-old sibling are coming across the southwestern borders via Mexico from Central America. They are fleeing hunger and violence.What are we going to do? It’s happening everywhere. So the violence from which they are fleeing is answered with violence to where they flee too.

    But again, how many immigrants can anyone handle, particularly when the whole globe is migrating due to climate change, which helps fashion religious and political extremism of all kinds.

    The world – 99% refugee camps, vs the 1% who owns it all.

      • Texas has dumped its captured unaccompanied minors on Arizona, which is now forced to find ways to care for them all. Tucson just freed up a vacant hotel and is eyeing another, while Nogales has been literally warehousing them and struggling to feed and support them.

        Meanwhile Tucsonans and Native Americans with families across the border have been sundered from them, because there’s no longer any legal way to move freely back and forth.

        So much cruelty. So much corrosive fear and hysterical hatred among the ruling classes.

        • I think the thing that haunts me the most is that so many people have family and ties and history on both sides of the border. And then there’s all the wildlife that move back and forth — and are blocked by the wall.