Güera X-ing

View from the ‘other side’ of the river Tejo, Gingal/Lisboa

This week I traveled to the borderlands of Tijuana/San Diego, Poland/Lithuania, Arizona/Sonora, Israel/Palestine, and within the more transparent yet present borderlands of the city of Los Angeles through the voices participating in the Library Foundation’s ALOUD panel. The program brought together writers, poets, linguists, cultural activists and artistic mediators to cross borderlines through conversation and collaboration. In sharing personal stories, the lessons of war, trials of politics, and visions for new definitions, I was humbled by their journeys while prompted to look at my own, and reminded of my position of privilege on this side of the border.

A few years ago I packed up my SoCal life for a voluntary emigration to the Old World of the Iberian Peninsula. (Just using the word ’emigrate’ alone proves how foreign it is for us Americans to think about people leaving this home to make one elsewhere. Emigrate is the same as immigrate, but from the perspective of the country of origin.) I landed in Portugal with my pockets full of resources: finances, a bit of local language, good health, courage and no immediate need to pursue economic endeavors. And yet with a suitcase full of these comforts-rarities to most emigrants, I still struggled along the journey. Complicated banking policies, residency status, Portuguese legal jargon, tax laws, and leasing agreements often left me exhausted and defeated. I stuttered my needs and questions in a thick American accent to the furrowed brows of unforgiving Portuguese merchants, stood in long lines at government agencies, and arrived late to meetings because I’d taken the wrong bus. At the end of the day, all that was left was the girl in my head; I turned to her for idle conversation, to calm the day’s anxiety, to memorize the day’s vocabulary so that I could implement it the following day. And yet, as grim as I might have made this sound, it was these challenges that grew me, that presented new perspectives, that questioned my assumptions, and broadened by view of borders. I was seeing things from the other side. I was the emigrant- by choice- and it was the first time I’d truly worn the shoes of a border crosser. I had gained a whole new respect for the 14 million people who have immigrated to the U.S. in the last decade alone.

And yet when the focus is turned towards our neighboring border with Mexico, I am stunned with the constant news of violence bleeding death and injustice on our doorstep. It wasn’t always like this; a lifetime of idyllic moments in Baja California are still fresh in mind. Those were the moments of border crossings that were done with such ease- free of passport, free of spirt. There were plenty an afternoon of lobster lunches in Puerto Nuevo, wine tasting in Ensenada, a desert expedition to visit the whales in Guerrero Negro, and horse rides on the shores of Rosarito. We’ve all had our moments in Baja, but the current one is far from those memories of the past. I no longer feel the same comfort I once did in crossing; fear now occupies its own space within the suitcase.

This weekend at a local Human Rights Watch gathering, I listened to the impassioned words of the compassionate Sister Consuelo Morales who works at a small human rights agency in Nuevo León. She spoke of her work with local families and authorities in trying to bring justice and accountability to the pervasive abuse that is ravaging the country. She reminded us that we have no choice to not do something- that no one else will do the work if we don’t do it. Our brothers and sisters are counting on us, and their days are numbered.

So in this week full of diverse borderland discussion, reflection, and question, I look within and ask myself -what borders am I upholding? Does my border allow for free-flowing dialogue; is it a fear-free zone, a portal to unity and community? Once again, through the voices and stories of border crossers, I am gifted a humbling reminder of how much work there is to be done right here at home, within the borders we build around ourselves.


~ by maureenmoore on November 13, 2011.

One Response to “Güera X-ing”

  1. A bit more on why we need to pay attention to what is going on with our neighbor: http://zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2011/11/13/you-may-want-to-ignore-mexico/read/nexus/

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