SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2008 Personal Memory Ethnographies
A Life-Changing Walk in the Desert
During my freshmen year of college, 2005, I was enrolled in an English 102 and Political Science 160 learning community specializing in issues of the United States/Mexico border. It was a very interesting and relevant class as living in Arizona this has become a huge topic of debate, especially in the past few years. We discussed issues for and against a closed border, read first hand experiences of illegal immigrants from Mexico, and had guest speakers specializing in the issue. However, it was the final project that really stayed with me and helped shape the opinions I have today concerning immigration.
The final assignment of the class was a field trip to Tucson to walk through known paths in the desert that immigrants often take when crossing the border. We also visited stops where “coyotes” often pick them up and followed members of the non-profit group, Humane Borders, which supplies water tanks throughout the desert. I will be the first to say that this was not a pleasurable experience. It was the middle of May, a blistering 100+ degrees, and there we were in the middle of the barren desert. It was such an eye-opening and shocking experience to see first hand the extremes people take to make it to the United States. I cannot even imagine traveling days and days in such treacherous conditions. The most heartbreaking experience came at one of the more frequently visited stops. It was littered with people’s personal belongings. Everywhere I looked were strewn baby clothes and bottles, backpacks and sneakers, identification cards and even medications, evidence that not only individuals but families had at one time been through there. What they left behind may be perceived as litter to you and me but these belongings may have been all that that person had. It is upsetting and heartbreaking to think that they have entered the U.S. with literally nothing. I cannot even fathom what these immigrants go through.
It has been five long, torturous days since I left my hometown in Mexico. Three of those I have been separated from my group after running from la migra. I miss my family, my friends, my bed. I came to the United States for better opportunities and a fresh start but so far all I see is a seemingly endless desolate desert. Nothing like I imagined. I want to give up so badly, to just call it quits and head back to a place that is familiar. I am so hot and thirsty. It is as though the sun is right above me, following me, laughing at me. My water and food ran out yesterday. Somewhere in the distance I can detect the faint stench of decaying flesh, whether it is animal or human I do not know nor do I want to. If only I could stop and rest for a bit. But no I must continue; I must do this for mi familia.
Wait! I hear people coming. For how exhausted I am, my senses are still so acute. I must hide quickly. It appears to be a group of young people, perhaps students. They seem to be harmless enough, just looking around. I can see one girl walking by herself, picking up some of my fellow travelers’ belongings. She has a look of compassion and empathy on her face. If only I could talk to her and ask for help, but mi madre told me not trust the white people. I wish I could tell them how lucky they are to be here and how I am not dangerous, I only wish to work and make money for my family in this place that was the home of my ancestors too. But I cannot, so I will just stay here hidden in the bushes and wait…
Around the time of my incident, illegal immigration was strongly contested, whether by those for or against it. Mexican migrants were crossing the Arizona border in huge numbers, some taking extreme measures. The terrorists’ attacks of September 11 had heightened concerns of an additional attack and the Patriot Act of 2001 increased scrutiny of certain ethnic groups. I completely understand the need to for increased security, but I do not agree with seeking out people just because of their race. The federal “Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005” was passed to restructure the immigration system and to deal with undocumented workers. Immigration was clearly affecting the nation’s demography. I was surprised to learn that by 2005, four states had non-white majority populations with the largest group being Mexican-Americans.
Looking at the historical roots of race and immigration, all those who now consider themselves “American” once had ancestors who were immigrants, with the exception of Native American Indians. The United States is a country built on immigration. Furthermore, the Southwestern U.S. once belonged to Mexico before the U.S took it over in 1848 as a result of the Mexican-American War. It seems very hypocritical that we are now trying to keep out those whose ancestors called the U.S. their homeland.
Before this experience, I did not have a definite opinion on border issues or immigration. Having lived in Arizona almost my whole life, I knew immigration was a major topic of debate. I had heard plenty of negative comments against illegal immigrants, such as they are stealing jobs from U.S. citizens, they are causing overcrowding, or that they are dangerous. However, this way of thinking only breeds further hate and violence. Overall, our class field trip shined a new light on the issue for me. I realize how much discrimination is placed on immigrants when in fact most only want to start a better life for themselves and their families. With all the current laws and regulations, it is no wonder immigrants have to go to such extremes just to make it into the United States. It is clear that these laws are not having a big effect by looking at the current population censuses. It saddens me to think that so many are dying unnecessarily when it could be prevented. Furthermore, I have a new understanding of the complexities of transnationalism. I believe such rigid borders, not only in the physical sense but also emotional and spiritual, need to be transgressed in order to create a “third space”. This “third space” would represent the blending of countries and cultures and function to move past borders and help bring about unity.
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