Skip to comments.As U.S.-Mexico Ties Strengthen, The Border Blurs For Residents
Posted on 09/11/2001 5:53:58 AM PDT by tom paine 2
LAREDO, Texas -- It would seem nothing could be more American: a baseball game at Veterans Field on a sweaty summer evening.
Yet little is that simple along the U.S.-Mexico border. Here the game opens to two national anthems: the U.S.'s and Mexico's. The home team, Los Tecolotes, has home fields on both sides of the Rio Grande -- in Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
On the world's only binational professional baseball team, the manager's instructions are given in English and Spanish to players who come from as far afield as Guadalajara, Mexico, and Sioux Falls, S.D. Fans pay for their snacks in dollars or pesos. They down their hot dogs with horchatas, a traditional Mexican rice-based drink, and they do the wave to "Rock the Casbah" and "Juana La Cubana."
"It's beyond baseball. The team epitomizes the border," says Goyo Lopez, manager of Veterans Field, where the minor league team plays host to half its home games. "It's something we cherish because of its uniqueness."
Long shunned by both countries as a disreputable way station wrought with corruption, bandits and brothels, the border has come into its own, booming from the rise in trade and forging an identity as a region with its art, music and cross-border way of life.
From a distance, hundreds of miles of wall and barbed wire look like a determined effort to keep peoples apart. Yet up close, the 2,100-mile boundary is swamped by the ebb and flow of everyday human activity, a quarter-million vehicles and countless pedestrian crossings every day -- so much so that the border strip has mutated into a sort of country of its own with more than 10 million inhabitants spanning both sides of the line.
"We sew the border up every day, weaving from one side to the other," says Marcos Ramirez, a sculptor in Tijuana, across from San Diego, who like many along the border has lived and worked on both sides.
"A new nation is being built here that is neither American nor Mexican, where the language is not English or Spanish, but a mix of both, and where the food is more like Tex-Mex than anything else," Mr. Ramirez says.
While a new era has dawned for U.S.-Mexico relations, with President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox repeating at the just-completed summit their desire for more cooperation on all levels, people and nongovernment organizations along the border started integrating long ago. Churches, human rights groups and individuals have built ties forged by more than a decade of U.S. anti-immigration policies.
The number of people who cross the border daily and who have friends and family on both sides is growing at such a rate that the day is nearing when Mexicans and Americans working on either side "will seem like nothing out of the ordinary," says Ernesto Ruffo, Mexico's border commissioner.
There are countless ways in which those who live along the international boundary blur the line.
A couple kept apart by immigration laws kisses through the bars sealing the border. He's in Calexico, Calif.; she's in Mexicali, Mexico. Farther west, where the fence becomes a wall and plunges into the Pacific outside Tijuana, a family spreads beach blankets on either side of the barrier, chatting through its worn metal.
Along the Arizona border, residents on opposite sides play a binational game of volleyball across the frontier wall. In Laredo, couples marry on the U.S. side and hold their reception on the Mexican side to keep costs down. Down the Rio Grande, Mexican women make their way to midwives in Brownsville, Texas, to give their children U.S. citizenship -- then return to Mexico to raise them.
At times the communities do not make sense to either country. Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, celebrates Fourth of July, shooting off fireworks. In Tijuana, a restaurant bearing a striking resemblance to a U.S. fast-food chain offers "Kentucky Fried Buches" -- chicken necks.
Despite pockets of vocal anti-immigrant sentiment on the U.S. side, a recent poll conducted by the California-based Tomas Rivera Policy Center and Mexico's University of Tamaulipas said Americans and Mexicans living in the region favor a more open border where people can work and study on either side. The poll questioned 2,002 residents in 20 communities along the border -- from Brownsville to San Diego in the U.S., from Matamoros to Tijuana in Mexico.
Even if that doesn't happen on the books, border residents already are making it a reality by living a life that straddles the line.
"Integration has happened despite Mexico City and Washington," says Jorge Santibanez, director of El Colegio de La Frontera Norte in Tijuana.
A study by Santibanez's institute found 54% of Tijuana's residents belong to binational families, meaning one or more members crosses the border daily to work or study, or has an immediate family member living on the other side.
Jorge Ruiz, 33, is a U.S. citizen but has never lived in the U.S. His mother went to "el otro lado" -- the other side -- to give her son a future. He was born in Chula Vista, Calif., and raised in Tijuana. As a U.S. citizen, he was entitled to get a U.S. passport for his baby as well.
"It makes me laugh to see my daughter's passport," he says. "Sofia Ruiz, U.S. citizen, born in Tijuana."
"Sometimes we don't know who we are," says Mr. Ruiz, a radio DJ. "In Mexico, they say we're more American than Mexican, but that doesn't bother us. I love the diversity. Everything fits in here. I am Mexican but I can't deny being influenced by American culture, so you could say I'm American as well. We balance the two cultures."
Mr. Santibanez says people have learned to "find the loopholes to be able to live life together and function around the roadblocks' that the federal governments set up."
Such loopholes have produced creative, surreal lifestyles.
Outside the HEB supermarket in sun-broiled Brownsville, Ramon Segovia, 43, father of two, waits in a slice of shade next to his souped-up dolly wrapped in cardboard with the scrawled letters "El mas rapido" -- the fastest. He is one of a dozen men who cart groceries and goods back for Mexican shoppers who can't drive across the border because they don't have U.S. car insurance or don't have a driver's license.
"You do what you can to survive," says the Brownsville resident who crosses the Rio Grande 15 to 18 times a day loaded down with shopping bags, charging $3 a trip.
Some have taken more extreme measures to beat the barriers.
In Bisbee, Ariz., residents let illegal migrants sleep on their couches. Others quietly leave water jugs out in their yards. Some give rides to the duffel-bag carrying travelers. Taking the attitude of don't ask, don't tell, they don't inquire why their passengers hunch down in the back seat, hiding under the windows.
Thousands of migrants have poured through that remote frontier area as tougher U.S. border enforcement prompts crossers to take more perilous routes to avoid detection. In May, a single group of 14 migrants died after smugglers abandoned them in the Arizona desert.
"You can't turn your back on something that's in your face every day," says Kim McGee of the Bisbee-based Citizens for Border Solutions, a group of residents seeking "peaceful, legal solutions" to border problems.
The group came about after area ranchers angry over the increase in migrant traffic started patrolling their lands and detaining border crossers at gunpoint. Bisbee, a former mining town brought back to life by artists and hippies, responded by sending a crew of residents every week to clean up the trash left behind by migrants on the ranches.
Pressures from the border's booming population are forcing communities to deal with each other more and more.
In July, sewage from Naco, Mexico, flowed downstream into the streets of Naco, Ariz. The two towns have since reached an agreement: Naco, Ariz., will treat the sewage the next time the aging system of its Mexican sister city overflows, and the Mexican government will install a new treatment system.
Drug rehabilitation experts in San Diego are helping Tijuana deal with addictions -- a problem, in part, stemming from the passage of drugs to the U.S. side, where drugs are more widely used. Drug abuse in Tijuana is the highest in Mexico and three times the national average.
Ciudad Juarez and El Paso have joined to deal with problems ranging from smog to drought to crime. Mexicans comprise at least 10% of the student body at the University of Texas at El Paso.
"Juarez's problems are El Paso's problems, and El Paso's problems are Juarez's," says William R. Thompson, curator of the El Paso Art Museum, whose collection includes art from both sides of the border. "We're conjoined. We share the same water table, breathe the same air and see the same sunsets every night."
Even so, cross-border relationships are not always smooth.
In San Luis Colorado, Mexican federal officials impounded a fire engine from Yuma, Ariz., after it responded to a fire on the Mexican side.
Residents of Presidio, Texas, recently blocked international bridges to protest against Mexican police arresting a Presidio businessman and charging him with killing a journalist in Ojinaga.
In San Diego, TV reports warn parents not to let their teen-age children go to Tijuana, painting it as a lawless land.
Despite the voices against integration, the reality is that "the level of dependency is becoming more evident and is only going to become stronger over the next 20 to 25 years," says Santibanez of El Colegio de la Frontera Norte.
"Locally we're starting to see the border as something binational, where one side can no longer ignore the other.''
Copyright © 2001 Associated
We would have to change the 14th Amendment in order to stop the practice of "dropping" babies over the border.