Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
- Community Blog
- Between National Boundaries
Between National Boundaries
Imagine a line drawn in the sand. It's drawn in a mostly arbitrary spot, to do nothing more than make a distinction between one side and the other. So how did our identities and emotions become tied to it?
Imagine a line drawn on a map. The lines are visible mostly because on this particular map one side is pink and the other is blue. What if I was born on the pink side and you were born on the blue? Would it make any difference to you? Would you care if I died? Or if my tears were dried on my face as I tried to sell you four little sticks of gum? Would you blame me if I tried to make a living on your side?
As I sit here at the border, waiting to get back to the United States-- I mean the Homeland-- I feel my head start to throb with pain. And it's not the two hours of traffic or the annoying digital billboards. It's not the noxious carbon monoxide seeping into my car through the vents and into my lungs. And it's not that the place I'm returning to is now referred to as "The Homeland." Or, maybe it's all of these, and more.
It's clear that something is horribly wrong here. A long time ago, a line was drawn in the sand, which turned into a checkpoint, then into a small fence, and then into a big fence in a militarized zone that stretches into the Pacific Ocean! Thousands have died trying to cross this line in the last two decades-- thousands.
Of course there are reasons for this. An advanced industrialized economy exists on one side, and much fewer opportunities with much less compensation lay on the other. A history of xenophobia and discredited racist sentiment lingers on one side, while disenchantment and the struggle to survive gives impetus to the other. Meanwhile, politicians manipulate the former, while largely ignoring the latter.
I can't ignore it. I see an endless line of brake lights. Elementary school kids dodging cars as they anxiously inch forward. These kids are clearly impoverished. They are clearly desperate. They are clearly endless in number. And their parents are somewhere close by, hoping that their child can get enough change because they fail to make enough themselves. They have been pushed to the edge by the industrial age, but wish to find a place in it-- I imagine. Who knows the depth of their collective stories prior to this surreal present.
Apparently, I have had a different, more fortunate existence on the blue side. At least my day to day survival does not seem-- and has never seemed-- to be at risk in this modern world. Yet I see shadows and souls walking in between cars-- in between nations--waiting to sell ceramics, and we are the same. We are connected. Perhaps because we are human beings. Perhaps because we are in the same place: a transnational no-man's land. We are at that place where borders blur and imagined divisions are shattered by this realization: this is not our fault. Our notions of nations have been shaped by others. Patriotism and nationalism are as much an imagined and unnecessary creation as this ridiculous borderline and the traffic around it! Our emotional connections are to the human beings closest to us-- not to those born on one side a line or the other.
So why is this taking so long? What are those guys in green uniforms checking up there? 'I don't have any drugs and neither do the 150 cars in front of me! I'm pretty sure Islamic terrorists are not driving truckloads of suicide bombers into San Diego!' I have seen these green uniformed people before many times. They tend to act like they are special. They are very serious. Their demeanor speaks volumes. Though they didn't create these deep feelings of national division, they help preserve the distinction. In a way, their job is to make an imaginary line on a map a very real one.
But it is not their fault either. These people in green uniforms are just like me and the people dodging cars at the border-- thinking about crossing it some day. We are trying to survive in this industrialized world, selling our time to make a living. Some just happened to be born on the pink side, and others on the blue. At least we are all connected, if only for an hour or two, because of our suspended existence between national boundaries.