I can see Mexico from my backyard. It shows up as a bright band of twinkling lights on a hill to the south a few miles away.
I live on the east side of a suburb on the southern side of San Diego called Chula Vista. I’ve lived here about twenty years; my entire adult life. San Diego was my first duty station in the Navy. I met my wife here and stayed, like thousands of veterans do every year.
On the border.
There’s a wall between those twinkling lights on that hill and my home. But like any border town on any border in the world, the wall divides the material much more than it does the cultural. On the other side of that wall is Tijuana, one of the most dangerous cities on the planet. There’s a drug war raging there right now. Murder rates are soaring. Poverty and the drug and sex trade paint a picture of life very differently than where I live as outcomes on the two sides of that wall diverge. There is not much of a sense that the people are different there. Just the opportunity. And the outcomes.
About 60 percent of the people where I live are Latino. My wife is one of them. I’m just as likely to hear the cashier at the Target down the street from my house speaking Spanish to a customer as I am English. They switch back and forth seamlessly.
The food here is amazing. I grew up in a place where there was a family owned pizza place on every corner. Here it’s burrito shops. The restaurants serve beer in the morning and have raucous crowds for soccer games more often than they fill for Monday night football. But make no mistake, they love their Chargers, even if they did move 100 miles up the I-5 to LA.
It’s not obvious to me that I’m close with anyone that’s here illegally. In fact, the way one normally finds out that someone was, is that they get deported. The fallout is brutal. They have kids that go to school with my children and spouses left behind. The negative outcomes are more obvious when they leave than when they were here. That’s not a political statement. It’s a material reality. The pastor of the Tijuana branch of my church is one of them. After he was deported and spent time in prison, he found faith. And planted a church on the other side of the border where he lives now. It serves in some of the poorest parts of one of the poorest cities in the world.
People have homes and families and businesses on both sides of the wall. To them the wall marks a boundary of expenses. And institutions. And laws. Something to be crossed for their benefit.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is present the way normal police and first responders are in other places. People generally don’t view them with fear. Most of the border patrol where I live are from where I live. I once watched the coverage of the caravan “crisis” on the TV in a burrito shop with my friend Jose who had just finished his shift near the wall.
There isn’t much unique border political tension. Some people are conservative. Some are liberal. Here, though, where most identify ethnically as Latino, the lines are less clearly divided along culture. There are progressive Latinos. And there are conservative ones. And they think the same way about immigration that conservative and progressive folks do. It’s not about race here. It’s about control of who enters or doesn’t enter where you live.
Some want strict. Others want liberal.
Few here think much about the wall that divides the two economies and legal systems in philosophical terms. I’ve never heard anyone say it was immoral. I’ve never heard anyone say it needs to come down. I’ve never heard anyone say it needs to be higher. It’s a geographic function that defines parts of the culture and economy here, the way the beach or the mountains do in other places.
The main concern is that the border crossing stays open. The economy here depends on it. I have friends whose livelihoods depend on the orderly passing of people and goods through the port of entry.
There is crime and there are gangs here. Less than where I grew up, 2800 miles to the northeast. Some of it comes from Tijuana. Most does not. It’s safer now on our side of the wall than it has been for decades from a crime perspective. The contrast across the border is clear though. Things are murderous down there right now. They are not here. And in that regard, the physical border matters.
Last night the President addressed Americans in a live address from the Oval Office. He expressed that there was a humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border. He delivered a list of statistics. And read a list of crimes that “illegal aliens” had committed and then he asked me to”imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken.”
There’s volumes to be written about the state of political decay in America. And how two sides are fighting for two outcomes–to build a wall or to not build a wall–that matter far less in the grand scheme of things than the choice to shut down the government or signal to the world that we’re the type of democracy that simply doesn’t work any more. Many others will take that to task. For me, down here on the border, it’s sufficient to say that the crisis isn’t obvious. And that it’s not much different now than it has been for 20 years.
And as for the question of how I would feel if it were my child or my wife so cruelly shattered? It’s not obvious how much more broken my heart would be if whatever happened to them involved someone who was not here in America legally. It’s a bit of an odd question. The type asked by someone unfamiliar to personal hardship and loss. I find no comfort in the horrors committed every day in America being committed only by Americans.
Presently the American government has been partially shut down. And our leaders are reserving prime air time to address America they way it does when we go to war. Or when we take emergency government measures to avoid economic crisis.
And it’s not obvious to me why. And for the reasons stated, it should be.