Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reflections of the Border

Nogales Arizona on the left, Nogales Sonora Mexico on the right

With so much in the news and the national elections about "securing our borders" I find it very interesting to spend time on the US / Mexico border. I had the chance to visit Nogales HIPPY, the only HIPPY site in Arizona and reflect a little on the similarities between the border in Arizona and Texas. Here are some of my thoughts:
The border towns in Arizona and in Texas seem more similar to each other than to other towns in either Arizona or Texas. That is to say, there's a distinct "border culture" in both. One example, I heard more Spanish than English on the border. People are often surprised when I speak fluent Spanish because I don't "look Latina" (meaning olive skin, brown eyes and dark hair. As in Laredo, in Nogales I saw and met a lot of fair skinned folks and some African Americans and Asians who are fully bilingual, either by "birth" or by virtue of growing up on the border. It was refreshing to not have that register of surprise that I speak Spanish.
I learned that the border is no big deal to the people who live along it. It's a simple fact of life, and crossing it once or many times a day is very common to people living on both sides. Often commerce is cross-border, and I'm talking about legal commerce! Crossing the border legally is very easy and involves a short stroll into an official building, showing your papers and walking through. They even have a term for it, la linea or "the line" in Nogales (there's no river, just a line) and el otro lado or "the other side" in Laredo. Life on the "other side", ie. Mexico, seems a lot more colorful and lively. While there seem to be equal numbers crossing either way, once you cross everything is within walking distance in the Mexico side. A lot of shopping and eating is available immediately as you cross into Mexico, whereas the US side is a lot more spread out. Most people have family on both sides of the border, and live their lives on both sides of the border. This has even gotten into the lingo, Nogales on either side is dubbed ambos Nogales "both Nogales" and in Laredo they call it los dos Laredos "the two Laredos" or cleverly LareDos...
I learned some interesting differences in my visit too. Arizonans seemed a bit more resigned to the creation of the fence than Texans. I dug a little deeper because I couldn't imagine it was simply a matter of Texan's fierce independence...it turns out that the great majority of the border lands in Texas are privately owned, whereas in Arizona they are government owned land. Therefore, there really are not as many opportunities to protest and fight the fence in Arizona, even though people I spoke with were not happy with it. Another difference which was amazing to me was the imbalance of population on the Mexico side in Arizona. Nogales MX is a city of over 200,000 whereas Nogales AZ is 25,000. While I'm not sure of the exact figures in LareDos they weigh in more evenly.
Haven't talked much about HIPPY though, have I? Well, I found the program to be in excellent order. I got a chance to see an excellent parent meeting, as well as two well implemented home visits, family files and meeting with administrators. The new staff is highly energetic and is focusing on not only stabilizing the program but growing it to serve additional communities in the area. They are in a perfect position to do so as they have a few years remaining in their current funding source. Hopefully I'll have a chance to visit again in the future and support them as they progress.