Walls take many forms. They may be words, glances, or actions that distance oneself from others, or physical structures that protect from the weather or the vulnerable from further harm. But the walls we saw at the Arizona/Mexico border, on the Christian Peacemaker Teams borderlands delegation, were made of concrete, metal, or stone, or even threats, meant to deprive of rights or shut out the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—the people we’ve prided ourselves on embracing.
There were walls made of steel slats decked with concertina wire. In some places it ran parallel to a second wall of layered metal mesh. In areas where water flood through arroyos during monsoon rains, large iron gates let the water flow through. Farther from towns were just the barbed wire fences constructed in 1880, with added razor wire, and sometimes crossed over with old rail road rails, called the “Normandy fences.” All are fortified by heavy technological surveillance.
Postured as a means of security, they’re actually a form of violence, monuments to fear and racism, and an extension of U.S. history of colonialism as the U.S. claimed half of Mexico’s territory after the 1846-48 war. They’ve been a tool of control, keeping non-whites in an inferior place and maintaining white supremacy. They cut through the lands of indigenous nations—violating their sovereignty and disrupting communities and ecosystems. Billions of tax dollars go to wealthy, private companies that build walls and run detention centers. Maria Padilla, member of the Mayo indigenous nation, and emergency room worker, reminded us that the nation-state operates as policeman on behalf of the rich—who have no border—while patriotism is expected of poor and working class, who are led to believe it’s for their benefit.
The border wall isn’t intended to keep migrants out, only slow them down to catch and detain them. With its increased militarization, migrants
who feel desperate, but can’t cross legally, need to travel longer and in more dangerous areas to bypass detention. So there are more deaths, trauma, and more people locked up, whose only crime is that they felt desperate about migrating. Lupe Castillo, retired history professor with indigenous Hispanic heritage, termed this criminalization system “the invisible wall.”
These are walls to tear down.
In contrast, are many creative organizations and dedicated people along both sides of the border protesting and resisting the affects of the wall by caring for and assisting migrants in their journey, sometimes risking their own safety. Several cooperative businesses are creating alternatives to the economic deprivation and oppression that cause many to flee their homes.
Also resisting the wall are brightly painted murals on it near ports of entry. They tell the truth about the wall, “erase” it, minimize its power, and not let its ugliness define what role the border should take. So butterflies depict the freedom of flight migrants should have (as well as the plight of wildlife whose paths are interrupted,) wall slats evolve into piano keys, and a painted open door symbolizes the alternative we must work toward.
We left the border feeling an urgency to tell the truth and find creative alternatives as we work toward a more just, welcoming, and less brutal society that builds—not more militarized walls—but more doors!
–Peggy Gish, Feb. 2019