Skip to main content

To learn about the border is one thing, but to stand in front of it is a completely different experience that no classroom or book can ever prepare you for. Driving up to Nogales, AZ last week I could see the infamous wall from a distance stretching across “los cerros” that make up the Sonoran desert. It was defining, showing where one country ended and the other began.

The border wall in Nogales is not what I pictured. It was uglier than I thought, both physically and metaphorically. Its tall rusted posts daunted over, casting a shadow on Nogales, Sonora. I saw a barrier that split a once beautiful community in half. A wall that was at the heart of this community. Communities flourish on both sides of the wall just a few meters away from its presence. There are some houses that could have easily been on either side of the border. That wall decided which side they would be on, the United States or in Mexico, when it was built.

Two cultures clash against the ever-present wall. However, despite that barrier some Mexican and American culture manages to seep through the 4 inches between the rusted posts to either side. To be in Nogales, whether it be Arizona or Sonora, is to be in an international space where culture crashes together to form a culture of its own. A culture where being bilingual is the norm, where people live on both sides of the border, where the twin cities depend on each other. To live in Nogales is not only to live between two counties, but to live within two cultures.

This cross marks the place where José Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed.

It’s funny. As I look through the giant rusted bars, I saw Mexico. I saw the country where my family’s roots lie. The place that I would call home during the summer throughout my childhood. However, through those same bars, many Border Patrol agents only see “the other side”. The area they had to surveille. Perceptions matter, they influence actions. And we saw an example of that as we looked at the spot where José Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed by U.S. Border Patrol. We stood there looking down at where his life ended so abruptly. Where he was shot in the back and died on a sidewalk. Where a cross now took the place of his body. As we looked down we had the same vantage point that the Border Patrol agent had that day. We stood there near the same spot where the agent reached through those same rusted posts to point a gun and kill a 16 year-old Mexican boy. Standing there I felt so many emotions flood through me all at once; anger, frustration, sadness, shock, disgust, and powerlessness.

To see the border was a wake-up call. This experience taught me that it is not merely enough to learn about things, we must experience them and interact with the communities and people they affect. It is through these experiences and these interactions that we will be able to learn from the true experts.