I just came back from the BINACOM Encuentro at the University of San Diego. Thank you Kristin Moran and all the people that came up to me to comment on my essay. I presented an essay on the border, politics and the problems that both the United States and Mexico faced. Overall, I had a good response from the audience. Here’s the transcript to the essay.
BINACOM Encuentro at USD
April 17, 2009
The Problem on the Other Side
Mike Vargas from Orson Welles 1958 film, Touch of Evil said, “all border towns bring out the worst in a country.”That sounds about right, considering the state of our region currently. We are neither Mexico nor the United States but a combination of both. I quote from Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands they are “where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrink with intimacy.” That intimacy, cooperation, at least with any results that benefit our regions I have yet to see. Like Anzaldua, many of us grew up between two cultures, trying to define our own identity, but we are now with awareness and consciousness of what happens in both countries. Residents of these borderlands grow up with two languages, two cultures, two traditions, two perspectives, two identities.
But what stands out to me the most is how close we are physically, and how far we have distanced ourselves from each other, how we have divided ourselves by a border, a wall, and our differences. That contradiction that a border divides our statuses as first and third world countries. We have isolated ourselves to handle our own problems. The United States is the leading superpower, that is a fact of life and we have to learn to accept that but how interested is the US in the rest of the world, they cannot afford to isolate themselves. With new technologies, globalization, we have to stay united. I remember Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s last film, Babel and if that film taught me anything is that we are all connected somehow, whether it is across the street, across the border, or across the world.
And now with this current economic crisis, we have more reason to stay connected.
I realize that both countries are codependent. We have always depended on each other, supply and demand. The United States needs labor and Mexico provides it. It’s all a question of economics. Mexico needs us as much as we need them. Throughout the years we have established agreements that facilitate collaboration between our two countries, like guest worker programs, and the NAFTA. We have been able to outsource jobs to Mexico thanks to the establishment of the maquiladoras.
We talk about creating community across borders, how can we do that? Acknowledge these people that leave their home in order for a better life that their country won’t provide them, talk about alienation. There’s no easy solution for immigration, we can’t let just anyone in, not with the threat of terrorism at large. There are rules and limits that we have to abide by in order to protect our border. It’s illogical that we keep open borders, Mexico protect their border with Guatemala. Now we can’t solve all each others problems but we are responsible to the problems that we are somehow directly or indirectly affected by. That level of interest determines our involvement. But we can at least collaborate and reach an agreement that works for both countries.
But at least here in the border, we can start with organized crime and drug trafficking. I quote from Fund for Peace, “a state that is failing has several attributes. One of the most common is the loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Other attributes of state failure include the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.”
That seems to be both our countries at the moment to some degree. In order to be able to attack the problem, we must accept it, like twelve step program. I remember this news story in Mexico that said that violence was only occurring in three states of Mexico. Not only is this denial a big irresponsibility from our authorities, but they are misinforming, lying to us to keep the social order. We are both affected. Mexico supplies the drugs; the United States creates the demand for them.
What can we do about it? Decriminalize drugs; tobacco kills more people than car crashes. How come drugs are illegal, because it’s a problem of coexistence, of living with each other, not only are drugs morally wrong, but they’re not socially acceptable as tobacco. Fast food and alcohol are bad for you, but we don’t prohibit them, we remember how that turned out in the 1920’s, same thing is happening with the drugs. So we either cut down on consumption or we decriminalize drugs, I know both countries have proposed it, but we have to do it the right way, by educating people on proper usage, limits.
Then the United States traffics guns and just adds up to the problem. We are both to blame. But the United States isn’t the cause, they’re just a symptom, the real causes are the economy, capitalism and globalization. I don’t intend to promote communism, as both political and economic systems have their upsides and downsides. But organized crime is a result of a capitalist economy and the maldistribution of wealth. People want more, and there are people out there willing to get it anyway they can.
But why don’t governments do anything to control the crime? It has gotten out of hand and now the drug cartels are at war. All these border towns are no longer safe, nobody wants to go there, or live there because no one will do anything to stop the violence. But what do we expect, when the police in Mexico are underpaid, ill motivated and clueless, and in most cases, corrupt. No longer is any border town or any city in Mexico for that matter safe to walk at any time of the day or without the fear of a criminal incident waiting for you around the corner. Kidnappings, shootings, murders, we hear of these incidents on the news. And it’s the first headline on a newspaper or news broadcast. A police was killed, a businessman was kidnapped, a shooting in front of a department store in plain daylight.
Going back to the news coverage, bad news are always first, especially in Mexican news, it’s on the front page. When I turn on the news, all I see are bad news, because tragedy sells, it brings back the viewer. Rarely do I see good news, I don’t remember the last time I saw a story about a man that just did his job, I mean is nothing good happening around us? Instead I get to see that 100 were killed so far in the last week, 200 in the last month 500 in the year for example. How many today? 15, that’s normal.
Then there’s another thing; we’ve grown used to violence, impervious to it and see it as part of our daily lives. That’s not right. But the news is also a cause for this terrorism. They create a fear on society. I watch the news, now I’m scared to go to Tijuana. Business has gone down, restaurants have closed and again the economy especially the service sector has been affected. On this side of the border, we hear from American news about the ongoing violence south of the border. The United States Department of State sends out travel alerts to not go to Mexico, and if we do take precautions. It’s common sense, and sometimes it’s just hype, and there’s always been violence, and we’re as likely to be victims of organized crimes as any city in the United States.
To those who partner with organized crime, they now who they are, and you and I know who they are. There’s always been corruption on both sides of the border. What do we do? The question is what the authorities should do. Both Mexican and American authorities must work together to solve these problems. The problem of organized crime and all its related activities such as drug trafficking and the street violence. I watch TV spots from the Mexican government stating they’ve confiscated x amount of drugs, captured several drug traffickers but I see no results. There is still violence, there’s still poverty, and drugs are still on the streets. If we really want results, both countries must work together, setting borders aside, with an open mind and all parties, both Mexican and American have to work together if we want to progress.