Monday, February 9, 2009

¿Frontera? ¿Que Frontera?

Tom Miller, author of On the Border: Portraits of America’s Southwestern Frontier, has an interesting piece in yesterday’s Washington Post called Twilight Zone. A self-described “border rat”, he laments that the frontera has become “pancaked between a collapsed economy to the north and brutal drug thugs to the south” and “there’s that ugly wall scarring our beautiful borderland, whose repulsiveness will surely outlast its short-term usefulness.” He reminisces about a time when Mexicans and Americans freely moved back and forth, knowing “where the tortillas are thinnest, where the music is jazziest, where the cops are friendliest and where the crossings are easiest.”



Last month, our mini pastoral group from the Mexican American Catholic College went down to the frontera and crossed back and forth between Brownsville and Matamoros, McAllen and Reynosa. We saw that ugly muro, but what sticks with me is how artificial and arbitrary that wall really is. Without it, it would be hard to tell where the United States ends and Mexico begins. We visited shrines and taquerias in southern Texas that were Mexican in every aspect save for their zip codes.



For a spiritually and linguistically bilingual soul such as myself, the frontera is paradise. It is a place where I no longer have to choose half of my persona at the expense of the other. The days flowed comfortably in a mixture of English and Spanish. I embraced that “Hola, ya’ll!” life wholeheartedly.

I love frontera culture, its literature and music. During the three years between the time I decided to go to MACC and the day I actually made the trek, I devoured the words of Luis Alberto Urrea and Fr. Virgilio Elizondo – a fascinating experience of observing the same mestizaje space through the lenses of fiction and theology.



I listened to Manu Chao who, though European, is mestizaje incarnate. He sings in Spanish, French, English, Italian, Portuguese and even occasionally in Arabic, among other languages, and he often sings about the immigrant experience. “Welcome to Tijuana. Tequila, sex, or marijuana?”, he greets the newly arrived in a sinister voice. “Con el coyote, no hay aduana.” And:

El viento viene
El viento se va
Por la frontera
El viento viene
El viento se va
El hambre viene
El hombre se va
Sin más razón
El hambre viene
El hombre se va
Ruta Babylon...
Por la carretera...


And at the end of the song, you can hear that wind freely crossing the border as the people can no longer do…

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