I spent two weeks hiking the canyons and imagining life in the ruins of cliff dwellings of the 'old ones,' the original Pueblo people of the Southwest of the US. In planning my visit to one of my favorite sites, Canyon de Chelly, I realized it would take me into Arizona. I was confounded by how to make the trip...Canyon de Chelly is a more than three hour drive from Albuquerque and I wasn't sure how far from accommodations in the north or east. We were determined not to spend money in Arizona in response to their nasty immigration policies. I found them an embarrassment as well as insulting and our poor little dollars shouldn't go to support them.
It worked out because we could stay on the National Park in the Navajo-run lodge and minimize our contributions to the racism and classicism of AZ.
In retrospect if feels terrible to want to boycott a state. Although my meager spending has little effect I felt bad about the nice people in AZ. There must be many there who are protesting their state's policies. Ironically while on the trip I read (my favorite) Nevada Barr's newest novel, "Borderline;" it takes place in Big Bend National Park which straddles Texas and Mexico and it deals with the mean-spirited complexities of the border crossing issues.
Crossing any borders is always traumatic in some ways. The transition from one place to another, from being one kind of citizen to another is not an easy change. It is stunning to think about someone---a mother, a lover, a grandfather---deciding to escape the economic depression of a home country, shed the comfort of the known and make that transition to an unknown land and identity. Even when doing it through legal channels it must be daunting. But making that decision knowing it must all happen under the radar is a challenge I can't really imagine.
Once going to Canada to do a television talk show about my vampire novel I was questioned extensively in an immigration office. I was nervous as hell and I knew I wasn't doing anything illegal. But I was a woman of color and a lesbian with dreadlocks. I knew that made me suspect. My palms sweated as I tried to sound as casual as possible. After an hour I was sent on my way but I felt ill. I haven't been back to visit Canada since. One day I will and hope the feeling of trauma doesn't resurface. I like Canada.
Although I was relieved not to spend money AZ I also wondered what could be done to open up people's thinking. The shift of populations between our borders will always happen I don't care how high a wall you build. We and Israel have come to the most imperfect, not final solution. I have no idea, really, what the solution might be. But I feel what needs to happen now is dialogue not rhetoric; institutional change not reactionary construction; a shift in perspective not narrowing down to a single view. Perhaps a longer view so we can see the border more clearly and how the transit happens and what it means on both sides.
I'm not sure if this country is that good at that. Intellectual debate is not one of our country's strong points. And that flaw has worsened with the rise of people calling themselves 'tea baggers' another word for fascists as far as I can tell.
Anyway I wanted some kind of dialogue in AZ so people there don't feel 'carpetbagged' by people like me and some understanding starts to emerge on both sides. I know the conflict around undocumented workers is not simple...people on the US side of the border encourage it as much as anyone else, using those workers whenever they can to watch their kids, clean their homes and offices and cut their grass. I don't know what part the US plays in the drug cartels of Mexico which have such a strangle hold on border towns making people want to get out as quickly as they can but I can't imagine it's a small role given what we know of US history.
And since when is it dishonorable for hard-working people to immigrate to make a better life for themselves? When Europeans immigrated to the US, killing native people and stealing their land they thought it was heroic. Most of the people from Mexico just want a job. The old ones who were the original Pueblo people seem to have adapted to the influx of new life forms; they've transitioned into the thriving Navajo nation. What might we learn from them?