I was recently standing on the US-Mexico border for an international art and music event. When I say that I was standing on the border, it’s exactly what I mean.
It was one event divided by large metal bars. Somehow, just standing there, watching people on both sides, hearing them talk to each other, the bars became uglier and uglier.
The communities of Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, are much alike and still quite different. The people seem the same. They are happy, generous and family orientated. The people I know, having lived in that corner of the world for 20 years, are hardworking and honest.
And the communities are two worlds apart. One side is larger but poorer. The other side is better built, modern, with better access to government resources. The differences seemed to fade away the longer I stood at the border and as I peered through the bars, the similarities where strengthened.
Big, metallic, rusted bars are interesting things. They feel protective but not in a warm and comforting way. When you touch them, you get the feeling that you were just told — no, you can’t do that. You can’t go forward. You can’t go back. You can’t visit family, enjoy a different place, make new friends.
Walking up and down the borderline, the space between each bar was filled with laughter and sharing. Then there was chess. A large chessboard right up against the Mexican side of the fence. Someone would make a move in Mexico and the next move would be made by someone on the other side. Just an arm reaching over, grabbing a piece and making a move.
No words were necessary. The differences in language were gone and somehow much was said between two people who shared a handshake and a smile.
It was a game of chess where all the moves were friendly and no one played long enough to make it to checkmate. In a game where strategy is king, each move was filled with good intention and a common interest. It didn’t matter what side was victorious, and if the game ended as a draw, all the more fitting.
My guess is most of you haven’t stood at the border, right where the bars stand, and I suggest you do it someday. Touch the bars, get a feeling for them and let them touch you. The experience will give you insight on the families and lives that see bars as part of their everyday landscape.
Borders are necessary. They mark differences, make things clear, protect identities. Mexicans are proud to be Mexicans and Americans are proud to be Americans. The same is true for Mexican-Americans, they are proud to be Mexican-Americans.
And for this hyphenated group of people that live all around us, the chance to once live in a world without old, rusty bars is like a game of chess. We’re not waiting for checkmate. We’re hoping for a draw.