Sunday, January 20, 2019

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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. . .”


Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat was published in 1963. Environmentalist and Activist Mowat describes how he drank enough water to allow himself to pee at each spot the wolf he was observing had peed to show his understanding of the boundaries between his camp and the camp in which the wolf pack lived. What took the wolf just a few minutes took Mowat hours.

Regardless of the differences between the two species, they peacefully established their boundaries and respected each others space. They did not need fences to map their territories, they used the smell of their pee.

Creating borders to protect personal space is a condition of life. Some species do it as individuals, others in groups. Some groups stay put, others occupy and vacate space as they migrate land and sea in search of food. Humans are an integral part of this cycle, even if they are easily distinguished in many ways from other species.

Clearly, establishing boundaries is natural, but as the speaker in Robert Frost’s “The Mending Wall,” wonders:

It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

In America today, President Donald J. Trump and what Nathan Smith in the article “A World Without Borders” would have the nation believe we are walling out the immigrants who “lower wages, dilute the local culture, and pose a threat to national security.” 

Smith reminds us that when the Statue of Liberty was erected in 1886, most of the borders around the world could be traversed without passports save for in “backwards tsarist Russia.”

On the plaque mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the last lines of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, “New Colossus” reads: 

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These lines have become iconic and synonymous with how Americans have seen themselves and how the world has seen America, the place where opportunity gives people a chance at a good life.

But as with everything in this world, America has two faces, much like the Lakota figure Inog-Ite with a face of unbound beauty and a face unbelievably ugly.

Smith suggests that the emergence of nationalism and socialism after World War I gave rise to borders that were “explicitly racist—such as the national origins quotas of the 1924 U.S. Immigration Act—the restrictions were also motivated by bona fide national security concerns, as well as a desire to protect native wages and welfare states from immigrant competition and foreign dependents.”

One of the biggest arguments for building a wall at the Mexican border in America today is the potential threat to national security the immigrants pose on the American people — from drug cartels to Middle Eastern terrorists — Americans need only look to the opioid epidemic and the 9/11 attacks to believe we must secure our borders. With a wall. Between Mexico and the United States. 

The United States of America thrives on amnesia, conveniently forgetting that its foreign policies, direct hands in staging military coups, corporate plundering of natural resources and human life, and creation of and benefiting from massive imbalances caused by trade agreements, have helped to create instability, poverty, and third world living conditions in many Central and South American countries.

“‘Una necesidad nos obliga,’ a 20-year-old man told the Washington Post. Necessity obliges us to leave,” writes University of Toronto Professor Jerry Flores in The Conversation.

The quote comes from Flores’s article, “Why does the migrant caravan exist? And how did it come to be?”

Flores reports that Guatemala, one country from which people in the caravan came, is a country “of 17 million, many of whom are of Indigenous descent,” that “elected their second democratically chosen president in 1951.”

President Jacobo Arbenz passed a series of laws that interfered with profits for American companies such as the United Fruit Company, and so the CIA orchestrated a coup, ousting Arbenz and installing a series of military dictators who would secure American interests.

“This crackdown included dropping napalm on Indigenous villages thought to contain guerrilla fighters. Additionally, military soldiers were ordered to “desaparecer” or “disappear” anyone suspected of opposing the government,” Flores explains, and this turmoil and violence has persisted over time.

Coupled with environmental changes that have caused even greater economic strife for people, and the violence of drug cartels in mainly, but not solely, Guatemala and Honduras, people have chosen to leave their homelands to seek asylum — safety — in other countries, like Mexico and America.

U.S. has a long history of manipulating and eliminating indigenous people. The Monroe Doctrine, also referred to as Manifest Destiny, justified colonialism the Americas, and gave Americans — themselves immigrants — license to take land from indigenous people.

Slave trade was not reserved for Africans.  In the Southwest, slave trade directly impacted the Navajo people.

“My people remember and tell stories of the time when Spaniards, Mexicans, and Texans stole Navajo women and children, selling them to haciendas in Texas and Mexico. We have stories of women escaping their captivity and journeying back to the People. We also have stories of women who were stolen and were lost forever,” said Journalist Alaina Beautiful Bald Eagle.

The reservation of the Tohono O’odham tribe in Arizona is split by the U.S./Mexican border; yet, no matter the border or forced national identity imposed on them, tribal members identify as Tohono O’odham, and not as “American” or “Mexican.”

“People forget that the caravan of people are indigenous and have indigenous blood in them. They are our relatives. I think of the Navajo women and children who taken by the Spaniards, Mexicans, the Texans, and Americans. Their blood was passed down and is still alive, no matter if there is a border,” said Beautiful Bald Eagle.

Most recently, on December 1, the Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye was invited to the Mexican Presidential Inauguration in Mexico City. Of all the dignitaries and special guests present (U.S. Vice President and Ivanka Trump among them), President Begaye was the only American invited on stage to give speech during the inauguration.

During his speech, President Begaye said, “We here in this country, the United States, we’re your northern family, your northern brothers and sisters. We pre-exist the United States of America, like indigenous people from Mexico and other countries in Central America.”

Later in a separate interview, President Begaye said, “The Americas have always been one nation for us. Boundaries don’t define us and should not define us. These are our ancestral lands.”

Like our fellow species, we humans may always have boundaries, but the question is much like the question Frost raises in his poem — what are we walling in and what are we walling out?

Will building a wall really keep Americans safe? We think not. But it can keep people — other humans — out of our seemingly fortified country. The wall can keep “those” people and their children in harm’s way, so that people in this country can feel safe, even if a wall will not truly make Americans safe.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,/That wants it down,” Frost writes, eloquently and timelessly, seemingly describing a version of President Trump’s efforts to wall out the world in the last lines of his 1914 poem:

. . . .I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

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