Section 3: Yuma to Nogales
Day 38 - 40
We have a new friend! We met Arielle a couple days ago on her bicycle as we were walking into Nogales and made plans to meet up later that week. After a couple days off, we met her for dinner and walked to the Mexican side of Nogales.
Our first time in Mexico on this trip. Isn't it about time?
It’s hard to get over how casually border town folks treat visiting another country! Arielle was full of info. She had only lived in Nogales for one year, but as a reporter for the local newspaper she had much to say about the city. We lapped it up. Her apartment happened to be on the same street that Arizona’s first Latino governor lived on, Raúl Héctor Castro.
When we got to the port of entry we easily walked into Mexico without encountering any trouble or really even a checkpoint. Arielle told us that the port was very old and had not been built to accommodate the amount of vehicles that constantly came through. The city was built around it though and there was no more room to expand. She also talked a little about education and how a lot of parents on the Mexican side buy property in the States so their kids can go to a better school system. The city is basically split in half by the US/Mexico border so the community is largely Spanish-speaking and primarily democratic.
After crossing the border we walked a short distance to a taco stand where we ordered some food and drinks. The roads on this side contour to much steeper and twister terrain than the US side due to laxer building codes and the Mexican side is far more labyrinthine as a result. After we finished eating, Arielle led with purpose back to the border wall. The buildings grew plainer and the streets emptier the farther we moved from the port. The ground also sloped down on the Mexican side so that the wall stood a good twenty to thirty feet above our heads, and the space between the vertical bars was covered with a thick mesh. Apparently the mesh was added when more and more people and families would gather to have conversations and picnics, etc on opposite sides of the fence. It reminded us of the Friendship Park in San Diego; a spot where the conflict between community and border security is particularly apparent.
Arielle stopped at a large painting mounted on several posts. Even though the mural stood maybe 6-7 ft tall it was dwarfed by the overbearing wall. The painting depicted the face of a young man named Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. In 2012 Rodriguez was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent for throwing rocks through the fence at the officer. Apparently BP agents may fire their guns when there is an “imminent threat of death or serious physical injury.” Rodriguez was only 16 when he was killed and his features filled the mural so that we were face to face. It felt heartbreaking to think of how the scenario unfolded. How the the rock thrown must have lost force by the time it reached 20 ft above and how unfair it all was. Arielle thought the family was still fighting the court case years later.
After stopping at another streetside stand for dessert we made our way back to the US side. We weren’t sure what to expect with US customs but it was surprisingly easy and quick. It was just busy enough for a line but the agents kept it moving, giving only a cursory glance at our passports. It helped that we were on foot and carried nothing with us.
This was our first time on the Mexican side and it was strange to see the wall from this perspective. It felt militarized and unwelcoming and it loomed over us like some kind of hostile Big Brother. Even when you’re doing nothing wrong it feels like you shouldn’t be close. We were in Mexican territory but it felt like the US was in control.
And how could it not be when patrolling armed guards can shoot you from above?
Does a border by its nature create an uneasy and militarized space or is there another way of imagining this kind of division? We’ve got no idea but we’ll definitely be thinking about this in the months to come! (And thank you Arielle for bringing us here.)