What A Wall Means For South Texas

Let’s talk about the Wall. I’ve capitalized it because the Wall has become more than a physical object. It’s an idea looming over the landscape of South Texas, where I live.

The Wall is not a new idea. We’ve been talking about it since at least 2006, when the second Bush approved a bunch of fencing along the border. Eleven years ago, the Wall was merely an item on the long wish list of conservatives, like free college for liberals – it’s something we really want to see happen, but it would be challenging to actually put it into place. Well, since 2007, the Wall has become a promise. It’s a promise that elite conservatives make to their much poorer constituents. The Wall, these elites say, will decrease illegal immigration and ensure that you, the poor and huddled masses, continue to have jobs that these illegal immigrants are taking from you. There may also be some discussion of crime rates and security.

The Wall became a way to solve the problem of unemployment and has become conflated with national security. I mean, we all know that Mexico is only “Sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with [them]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” But some might be good people. Just ignore the low crime rates in border cities.

The focus on Mexico is appropriate, since it’s our closest neighbor whose citizens immigrate here. In 2014, Mexicans accounted for 52 percent of the undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, with many of them settling along the Texas border, which shares the longest stretch of borderland with Mexico. If the Wall were to be built, it would alter the landscape of Texas forever.

Now, for people who live in the heartland or on the coasts, unauthorized immigration is an abstraction. They swallow whatever news outlets print or TV channels air.

Let me be clear: the border between Texas and Mexico has always been fluid. Part of this has to do with geographic history. After all, what we now call Texas was Mexico once upon a time. An additional component to this history, though, is culture. When Mexico lost the Mexican-American War, it ceded large swaths of its territory to the United States. However, there were plenty of Mexicans living in this territory, even when the deed was transferred, so to speak. These Mexicans didn’t just go away and they didn’t move further south (though, they might’ve been better served by doing so).

Instead, South Texas became a forge for a new culture: Tejano, or Texas Mexican. Tejanos are a breed unto their own, blending primarily Mexican culture with American (but mostly Texan) habits. To live in South Texas is to exist in a state of between-ness. We are between the United States and Mexico. We are between American patriotism and mexicanidad. We are between Tejano and Anglo Texan culture. We are between indigenous and European. We are between brown and white. Gloria Anzaldúa puts it best:

The struggle is inner…our psyches resemble the bordertowns and are populated by the same people. The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”

However, the Wall represents an affront to this between-ness, a denial of this mixing and blending. It’s a refusal and a refutation of the culture and lives that blossom in the Texas heat. “No,” Wall supporters say, “this is America, and we must guard her. There is no room for anyone else. Speak English. Wait your turn.” Of course, that attitude is absurd.

As anyone who grew up in a large family knows, there’s always room at the table. There’s always room for one more. Then another. And the next.

The land is a physical representation of our consciousness. People who’ve never lived on or near a border should not be able to decide what is erected here. You’re concerned about immigrant crime? Really? When we’re likelier to be killed by right-wing terrorists in the United States than by ISIS? We should all be skeptical of the “immigrants commit crimes at higher rates” argument because immigrants have been cast as criminals since at least the start of the twentieth century. Like the Wall, blaming immigrants is not new for Americans who think that America should always come first, that America was once great and needs to be great again.

I used to be able to laugh about the idea of a wall. It’s too expensive, I’d say, too impractical. Republicans are too cheap, too money-grabbing to ever try to finance it. Money is really the only thing these people care about, so I thought. But, it turns out, Republican legislators are turning out to be more racist than fiscally responsible. Certainly, we could regale them with stories of poor immigrants desperate to escape violence or extreme poverty in their country or stories of our own family members who have made stable lives for themselves here in Texas. As the recent advancement of a bill to abolish sanctuary cities shows, though, Republican legislators do not respond to emotion. They don’t care about the human element, the damage their policies cause to real people. In a way, I think undocumented immigrants are less real to these red politicians than the Wall.

For them, the Wall already exists. They just have to bring it to life.


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