By Patrick Alcatraz
McALLEN, Texas - Gone for much too long, I returned to the Rio Grande Valley last winter with a great hunger for recapturing my youth, days in high school when everything seemed possible and everything seemed here. But what is here today? It's hard to connect it with my past. I see trouble. I see danger. I see unrest, and I see something foreign. The Rio Grande Valley, land of my ancestors, has segued into something Middle Eastern. A wall is going up where I used to go hunting for snakes, there just this side of a river that always welcomed my dives and leaps off that rope we set up off a tree at a state park west of Mission. What hath Valley Man wrought? This Border Wall, a fence to the distant federal government, has brought a scene out of some foreboding Kafka novel - a story of rape and pillage and plunder. How the local populace has allowed this to happen is the so-called $64,000 question.
Last night, I accepted a friend's invitation to go see The Wall, a documentary film quickly gaining support as a major work of journalism. The project of California director Ricardo A. Martinez, it is a moment-in-time put to film. It is at once informative and tragic. I am somewhat familiar with the wall, although having lived afar, it never really entered my questioning conscience. Geography does that you. The film brings a mountain of information every citizen of the RGV needs to know about this pitiful undertaking, from the shenanigans of the Bush Administration to the fight the government found in many area citizens and elected officials. The tragedy lies in the fact that perhaps there should have been more opposition, as in serious vigorous in-the-streets dissent.
The wall is up in some places along the northern banks of the passive Rio Grande, there in all its ugliness and wonderment. It isn't needed, not there dividing two countries with a long, long history of mostly-positive relations. That it is policed by more than 30,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents is the other aggravation. This is made painfully clear in The Wall, which drew more than 200 people to Cine El Rey here on a hot and humid Friday night. It deftly noted that the government counts barely 5,000 such agents along the longer Canadian border to the north.
The film is a compilation of both interviews and informatrion offered via charts and video clippings showing federal officials, congress folk and bureaucrats, doing their damndest to explain something that should never have been considered or constructed. It featured property owners aghast at the idea that a 50-foot monstrosity was being considered for their backyards, and it featured a fight by Brownsville resident Bob Lucio, owner of a golf course the government wanted to dissect with its fence.
The culture fights in this country are a big part of our history. We tend to want to divide ourselves from time to time just to show we can do it. If it hasn't been the Irish, it's been the Italians or the Poles or the Asians. At present, America is wrestling with the Hispanic - the undocumented immigrant and the accomplished citizen. It is not without reason that some in this country have made a career of stomping on Hispanic immigrants (former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo comes to mind here) and on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, a Puerto Rican by descent, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fear rules some of these people. Fear of seeing their English language become a secondary language, and fear of seeing Blacks and Hispanics and Asians rise to positions of power in the government. The wall is nothing more than yet another rallying cry for these insecure Americans. It isn't Jesse Jackson posing the immigrant threat, nor is it former Hawaiian U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye. It is another American fronting this fight, the racist. Everybody knows it, because their fear is being worn on their ever-ragging faces. Commentaror Pat Buchanan, a Republican, is a perfect example of this American. You can't erect the wall fast enough for the Buchanans, and it has been Buchanan who has been vigorous in trying to discredit Sotomayor.
So, it is for that reason that films such as The Wall are needed. Everytime it plays here or elsewhere, the ful power of the truth is brought to bear. I am proud of director Martinez, a graduate of the New York University film school. He has delivered a timely blow to those who would merely push a horrible piece of Nazi-like work on a population that has done much for this great land and that deserves better. This was brought home to me in a scene where a Border Patrol agent fires a shot into the head of a would-be immigrant in a dusty road running alongside the fence somwhere west of here. The gasps that rose from the audience last night was haunting, as much as was the video of that North Vietnamese having his head blown off during the Vietnam War. There is something wrong and awful in that. It speaks of a barbaric act sanctioned by us, the so-called last, great freedom outpost on a God-abandoned planet.
There is no honor in the building of this wall.
How that cannot be evident to every American is beyond me.
I suspect that the fate of this wall is the same fate that is meeting a similar monstrosity built by the Israelis to separate themselves from the Palestinians they hate: The long-oppressed Palestinians have taken to blowing-up chunks of it into the harsh lands they live in, chunks of concrete flying off into the desert in clouds of dust that seem to carry the entire weight of what it means to be civilized. This wall along the Texas-Mexico border should be torn down and its scrap metal sent to the bottom of the deepest ocean.
Let me repeat: There is no honor here...
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