Wednesday, October 13, 2010
JUAREZ DOESN'T STOP AT THE BORDER III
Today I am posting the third (and final) part of the lecture I presented at Truman State University, "Juarez Doesn't Stop at the Border." I was grateful for the opportunity to put some of my thoughts on paper regarding a city I love. I suppose when you love a city, you want others to love it too. You want others to understand. I suppose that's the way it works. I get offended when I hear people refer to Juarez as "seedy." Like many people on the border, I wait for the day that Juarez resurrects. We wait for Easter. Meanwhile we live in Lent.
Almost twenty years ago, I returned to the border. To live, to teach, to work, to write. I do not regret coming back to live on the border. I am destined to live in the crossfire between two nations that continuously misunderstand each other. I am profoundly sad at the state affairs on this border in which I live. I am profoundly disgusted by the Mexican government’s corruption and incompetence. I am equally disgusted at the demonization of the Mexican people in the country that I call mine.
Let me make a crucial point here—a point that we cannot lose sight of: there is not only apocalypse in Juarez—there is a great deal of normalcy. The people of Juarez continue to work for wages that are not worthy of them, continue to sing songs of love and songs of protest, continue to dance, continue to create art and do all the things that living requires of them. There is not only death, there is life. There is a generosity that exists among the Mexican people that is admirable and moving—though many of us who live in “El Norte” refuse to be moved.
Less than a month ago, some friends of mine from Juarez opened a library in a very humble neighborhood near the Juarez airport. Laura turned the front room of her house into a community library. She and Ivonne gathered books, built shelves, and opened up a space for the children of the neighborhood. They invited me to go as a guest on the day they opened the library. I helped cut the ribbon. They held a celebration. There was tacos al carbon, there was a mime who entertained the people of the neighborhood who gathered for the event. It was my great privilege to read one of my books to the children. Juarez is not only overflowing with the twisted and grotesque hearts of violent drug dealers—it is also filled with the generosity of a people who love their own communities. Juarez is teeming with people who are incapable of losing hope among all the chaos. Yes, chaos exists in Juarez. But there is also order.
Some are busy tearing down a city. Others are busy building it back up.
I am a writer by discipline, by desire and by disposition. A writer who lives on the border. I cannot and will not avert my eyes. It is my job to articulate what I see and attempt to turn it into an art that will perhaps add a civilizing affect on the society to which I belong.
I want so much for you to see what I see. I want so much for you to at feel what I feel. There are times when I am lost in the poverty of my own words. I want you to understand that building walls will solve nothing. I want you to understand that hating Mexicans will not make us a better people. I want you to understand that Juarez does not end at the border. I know you do not believe this but I will tell you anyway. We are all Juarez. Juarez is a microcosm of what the world is becoming. I want to so much to believe that we are better than this.
I know that it is naïve and utopian to believe that borders can be torn down. But we should at least acknowledge that borders are the constructions of peoples who have a need to separate themselves from others. We fix borders for political and economic ends. The earth has no lines written on its back. It is we who draw those lines. I live in a part of the world that used to belong to the native peoples of the Americas. It was later claimed by Spain. And then, it was taken over by Mexico. And now, it is part of the United States. My home state of New Mexico is not called “New Mexico” for nothing. The history of the ground on which I stand tells me that borders are more fluid than we’d like to believe.
I want to make this one final point about borders: they exist to keep poor people out. For the rich, there are no borders. Let us be honest about this rather obvious fact. We all find ourselves living in a confusing and contentious historical moment. Too many of our citizens believe that the border between the United States and Mexico is a fixed and static reality. Millions of poor Mexicans who have come here to work and to survive. They have refused to sit back and die. They have refused to accept the status quo of a world that has stacked the deck against them. They have deconstructed the very notion of a static border. But even if we cling to the notion that the line we have drawn is part of the natural order of things, that line will not keep the United States and Mexico separate.
Mexico and the United States belong to each other.
Juarez and El Paso belong to each other.
I don’t know what it will take for the citizens on both sides of the border to understand this harsh and beautiful fact.
This is the Mexico that haunts my imagination: The Mexico that is yet to be. The Juarez that is yet to be. Someday, I tell myself, Juarez will become the political and cultural center of the Americas. Juarez will become a city worthy of its people. Mexico will become a great nation where justice is not just a pretty word. Mexico will create a judicial system and a government that serves a populace that is starving for justice. Mexico will stop sacrificing its workers at the altar of a cruel economic world order and tell the United States and the rest of the world that it’s citizens are worthy of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s labor. And all of those Mexicans who died with the word Libertad on their lips will not have died for nothing.
We in the United States keep telling ourselves this lie: Mexicans are a barbaric and violent people. But even as barbarism and violence pervades Mexico, the Mexican people are very much like us. They want to work and love and live in peace. I need not remind you that in our own country, violence and barbarism coexist and compete with our more generous democratic and egalitarian impulses.
Every country is in constant struggle. Every country lives out its contradictions. Someday, the two countries I love will live up to the promises of their Utopian ideals. But not today. Today I live in that unenviable space where the dead and the living of Juarez haunt me and follow me onto the page. For me, there can be no borders.
—Benjamin Alire Sáenz