16 April 2013
My home for the first 20 years of my life was located 60 miles south of the Canada-U.S. border. It is the longest international border in the world shared by the same two nations ~ 5,525 miles in total.
After military service, my home for the next 20 years of my life was located 60 miles north of the Mexico-U.S. border ~ more modest in length, but still substantial ~ 1,969 miles.
The contrast between the two boundaries is stark. Canada and the U.S. share similar cultures, both having once been colonies of Great Britain. Relations are friendly, English is spoken in both nations, and both nations enjoy relative economic prosperity. For many years (until heightened security following 9/11) one could freely pass back and forth between the two countries with a greeting and a question or two. Today at formal border crossings, a passport is needed, but there's still no feeling of entering into alien territory. Searches for contraband are rare, and about the only thing Canadians worry about is that Americans may stay and seek Canadian jobs.
The cultures of Mexico and the U.S. are more dissimilar. Mexico was once a colony of Spain, hence Spanish remains the unifying language, and Mexican culture is fairly distinct from the hodgepodge of U.S. culture. Relations are somewhat strained, since Mexico's economy is not as developed, and many poorer citizens seek jobs in the U.S. Things became even more complicated in recent decades with the illegal transport of drugs (especially marijuana and cocaine) northward to U.S. consumers, and the illegal transport of guns southward for sale to the drug cartels. As a result, crossing the border is sure to involve a close examination of documents and a higher probability of personal and vehicular searches. High fences, armed Border Patrol reconnaissance by ground vehicle, UAV, and satellite surveillance, and the potential for violence are the order of the day.
Here is an excellent description of borderlands culture.
Yet in spite of the language and cultural differences, most Mexicans share common values and aspirations with most of us who live in the U.S. or Canada ~ a desire to earn a decent living, a high value on close family ties, a wish for peace. It is unfortunate that borders tend to generate we/they thinking and misleading stereotypes. I've traveled freely and without fear in northern Sonora, back before the drug wars. I've also traveled freely and without fear in southern Alberta, as well as northwestern British Columbia and the Yukon.
Perhaps there's something to be said for a pan-American economic zone like the European Economic Community ~ with a shared currency, mutual support, and unrestricted travel between the nations of North, Central, and South America. U.S. Corporations already export jobs to other nations, and hire undocumented immigrants to perform menial labor which U.S. workers are unwilling to seek. Why not make it a two-way street with comprehensive immigration reform and the realization that in spite of U.S. isolationism, we are all dependent upon each other? Imagine being able to travel by car, plane, boat or rail between all those nations, with only cursory border inspections ~ something Europeans take for granted.
Realistically, that vision won't happen until those in power on all sides see a profit in it. Until then, one can only remember simpler days when, living near the Canadian border, visitors from the north on vacation were welcomed (and still are), and when, living near the Mexican border, visitors from the south seeking work were given water and friendly advice (but no longer are). It is up to each of us to temper we/they thinking, and to try to see this new person as a fellow human being.