We wait in line.

Since arriving to San Diego on Sunday morning, I have crossed the border six times. Crossed the San Ysidro/Tijuana garita four times by car and twice on foot. By foot, its two hours to cross most days from the place I’m staying in Colonia Chapu, first by car, then walking to cross the border, then trolley, then bus, then walking to the Lab Fronterizo. The organizers, especially Cristina Rivera Garza, want us to experience the daily crossing of the border. I see why.

La frontera - long lines of people, thousands of people, thousands of cars and trucks in line. Two systems of transportation, two languages, a crush of humanity. Mexico, Mexico world cup shirts for sale on every corner. My stomach tight with god-knows-what emotion. The crossing, the millions who cross this border every day to go to work on the other side.

The stories. The immigrant trafficker killed right there, right there where they closed down the entrance to Mexico when the guy tried to escape from Otay, escape back into Mexico. The cameras on each side of each lane mark that place where they Migra shut the border down. We drive by, the place we drive through, the place we walk by, where they shot him down as he tried to get back to his country. On that hill, that hill right there where the Border Patrol shot down a man as he tried to escape from them. He, steps away from la Patria, shot down before he could cross back over. A new Tijuanense friend tells me what he heard from the Border Patrol-employed husband of a mexicana friend of his...that in training the Border Patrol agents are taught to shoot to kill, because a maimed person, an injured person, una persona balaceada, will cost more to the US government than a dead person. Dead not alive, entonces.

I don’t know where to start with this border, I don’t know how to get my head around it. It is at the limits of what is understandable.

A small detail: in Houston, when we listen to the radio, we switch between Spanish stations, English stations, Vietnamese stations, Chinese, more and more. Here, when someone speaks English on the radio, the signal is literally coming from another country, from across the line, al otro lado de la frontera. Borders are physical here, national, backed by a whole state system and it makes the borders we cross every day more visible.

The rush of people, the rush of commerce, the stench of car exhaust, the mountain in the distance, one side covered with homes, with concrete block walls, and visible traffic, glistening cars and up and down the hill and across on roads that network all across the mountain through dense neighborhoods. This Tijuana pushed up against the border fence. And across it, on the other side, the same mountain, the exact same one with nothing but shrubs and Border Patrol dirt roads and tracks that make a spiders web of beige lines on the desolate, empty hill. One hundred years ago, there were a few hundred people living in Tijuana, now more than two million. A hazy, green-tinted sky that unites us.

En la fila peatonal, the pedestrian line, the people cram up on you, from behind and in front, everyone sweating, some talking and happy, some bored, some clearly angry and frustrated. A line of fifteen people with their hands behind their backs files down the other side of the long hallway, filing back to Mexico carrying zip lock baggies with their possessions. Los deportados. And you walk forward to cross.

Some people, los que abusan del sistema, cut corners and walk ahead of you in the line. The people that walk ahead are of no particular type. They are from every background: a young black boy, alone, sipping his McDonalds orange drink in a baggy white sweatshirt, a family of white tourists the blonde haired, overweight mom talking loudly about how expensive houses are in San Diego now, how they can’t afford $240K for 900 square feet, the old mexicano man, with his baseball cap, hunched over with his cane, the military guys visiting Tijuana for a blast, the daily Tijuanense commuter the one who is probably late for work and doesn’t wait in line today...all these people cutting to the front past you, rushing past you.

And what do you do? What do you do in any situation like this, where you are doing what the system says, you are in the right, you think, following orders, though mind numbing and horrible and boring, there is something that says, yes, you do this, you do what you should do, you get the reward in heaven, or if you don’t believe in heaven, you get no reward but you still wait. See, it’s not just the people passing you in line, it’s humanity, it’s humanity rushing forward and unless you scream, unless you yell at them to get back, to wait in line like the rest of us, unless you protest, well, maybe even if you do, they rush ahead to the front. Get back here with the rest of us. Do you skip the line too? Or do you stay in it? Save some time, cut some corners. I stayed in my place, the guy behind me said, “Es una falta de educación, de ética, pues”.

It’s a metaphor, see, or maybe a synecdoche. Just a small piece of the puzzle, how we are as humans. Rushing ahead, putting up borders, trained to want to be a winner no matter whose toes you have to step on, no matter the people waiting in line, patiently 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It’s not just in the line, but at work, at school, en cualquier lugar pues.

We wait in line, careful, weary, cautious, watchful, we wait in line.

2 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

sounds like an annoying nightmare...i probably would have waited in line too.

though i jump cars in traffic all the time.

and i never remember what synechdoche is.

miss you at wg!

jp dijo...

a synecdoche is when one thing stands in for another, like a part for a whole. like say "hands" to refer to workers, "head" for cattle, "threads" for clothing, "wheels" for car, "mouths to feed" for hungry people, "white hair" for the elderly (examples stolen from wikipedia)...jp