On the Border

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There was an interesting piece the other evening on NBC News, with Mark Potter reporting. It was about the drug violence along the US-Mexican border, specifically about the “spillover violence” that is affecting the lives and livelihoods of American citizens along the border. At least, many ranchers and farmers from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific claim it’s affecting them. The government, in the person of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, claims the southwest border is, “…one of the safest areas in the United States.” NBC News showed a clip of President Obama poking fun at the people calling for greater security along the border: “Maybe they’ll need a moat. Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat. They’ll never be satisfied.”

I was raised—until her too early death—by an extraordinary black lady back in pre-civil rights Washington, DC and Virginia. I remember the signs: “White Only;” “No Colored.” I remember my family being turned away from a motel one night because the proprietor wouldn’t allow the black lady who shared my bed during childhood illnesses to sleep there. I remember a car full of teenaged boys, called hoodlums in those days, yelling, “Hey, nigger!” as they sped past. So when Barack Obama was elected president I was so incredibly proud of my country, so proud of how far we had come, so full of hope for what might be.

But I also know some ranchers along the border in both Texas and Arizona. The ones I know are, to a man and to a woman, the epitome of all that is best about America. They are the living embodiment of what Hollywood tried to portray with John Wayne: fiercely independent, self-reliant, inventive and stoic in the face of adversity, proud, immensely capable and competent over a wide range of skills, and only a fool would question their courage. If those ranchers and farmers are calling for help, it is because they are in serious trouble, and to hear them ridiculed by the government whose primary constitutional mandate is protect them, to hear their fears derided and dismissed, is as offensive to me as it was to hear those words yelled from the window of a speeding car so many years ago. 

I remember too the words of an earlier president, when an American citizen was in trouble, as reported by the New York Times: “…in 1904, when a Moroccan bandit named Raisuli kidnapped American businessman Ion Perdicaris, Theodore Roosevelt sent battleships to the region with the instructions: “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.’”

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