ROUNDTABLE: Crossing the Border
This past Thursday, we discussed immigration, specifically Mexican immigration, with Leah Sarat, a doctoral student in Religion and the Americas at the University of Florida. Leah shared stories from her recent research trip to an indigenous Mexican community in which many of the members had crossed the Mexico-US border once or several times. After making the vigorous and excruciating crossing at the border and seeing the more luxurious and anonymous America in which they’d arrived, these native Mexicans made the conscious decision to return and stay in Mexico. Leah lived with and interviewed many of them, expressing her desire to give voice to the unheard.
A striking oddity to many, and certainly to Leah herself, was the ritualistic simulation of a border-crossing, which had become a tourist affair in this part of Mexico. It was a simulation of the arduous journey, one in which participants did get tired, thirsty, muddy and blistered, even stopped by dressed-up border patrol! Leah said she “crossed the border” four times, and found it a tough experience.
The simulation was created by this community of former border-crossers in order to sustain themselves. This group had no resources to live off of, no trinkets to sell to tourists, but they did have some money and an idea, so they decided to pool the money together, buy the land, and create this experience.
What can we make of this, not only striking oddity, but seemingly pointed mockery of the journey many Mexicans have to undertake? In fact, Leah learned, it is more than that. Through her interviews with those who run the simulation, she learned that they hope those who come find more than just a mindless adventure. They want it to show, as upper class Mexicans make their way to the simulated border, that if they can make it through this arduous journey, as many do in the “real world” day after day, they can also pull together as a people and come up with solutions to the apparently complicated problems of poverty in Mexico and immigration to the US.
Leah was also surprised and intrigued by the notion that, in many cases, these men and women were not forced to come to the US, but had options and had chosen that path. The community she stayed with was largely made of those who, disillusioned by the US, chose to come back home. She read part of an interview in which the man was unsatisfied with the pay of his job in the US, the quality of housing and food, and the attitude which US Americans held toward the Mexican workers. In contrast, in Mexico the food was natural, his pay was better, and, surrounded by his family and community he had support and did not have to deal with the prejudices of the US.
After Leah’s presentation, we engaged in an interesting conversation about these topics surrounding immigration, touching on the failures of US immigration policy, the privileged status of some immigrants over others, other’s experience with immigration battles in the US, why some immigrants are welcomed by the US and others are not and the role racism plays in that, the impact of the US on other nation’s economies, etc.