Migration & Culture/Koptiuch
Nogales Fieldtrip Reports

Nicolle Walker

Human Rights in the Borderlands

I was in Nogales for the first time with Dr. Erfani’s Global Political Economy Class one week before we took our trip with Dr. K.  While the trip with Dr. Erfani took me on a tour in a state-of-the-art Maquila, we did not meet with the Grupo Beta.  It was an interesting experience to see both sides of the border within the Borderland of Nogales: the side of big foreign business vs. the human side of immigration and human rights.

The purpose of the first trip was to gain a better understanding of global economic system and their effects on the Global South.  We toured a brand new Maquila (Moen) that the Mexican government built in order to entice new companies to open shop in Nogales.  It was probably done with some of the money the government is saving since they eliminated food subsidies for the people of Nogales, forcing them to shop in stores that charge sometimes more than what Americans pay across the border.  The family we met with this time was actually pretty well off for Colonia standards.  The lady owned her own shop and proudly told us that she was the wealthiest woman in the Colonia.  She could send her kids to school, and life was not that hard for her.  I felt a sense of wishful thinking hiding behind a veil of Latin pride.  She would always finish her sentences with, "Oh, but my sister in L.A. can go to the salon and buy new dresses every week," as if L.A. was her ticket out of the Colonia.

The experience that made the biggest impression on me, as a human rights activist, was meeting Grupo Beta and seeing how the group had changed from armed military based INS-type agents to human rights defenders armed with sympathy and empathy.  I left Nogales feeling a sense of hope that maybe President Fox could finally make a difference in this Borderland, but was disappointed after reading a recent article in the Republic about the assassination of a Mexican human rights worker.  Apparently Fox hired a former military leader to head his department of defense and has done nothing to condemn the killing of the human rights lawyer.

The Borderland is an interesting case study in humanity and human rights.  It provides us with two lenses to see life through: one is the lens of the Global economic system that is growing intensely (and the benefits and tragic pitfalls it brings), the second is a lens of displacement, hope, and a search for a new identity and sense of place.  Taking both trips was an amazing contrast in these two visions.

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