Giving Gracias on the Border

4 Feb

I was looking through some old stuff on my computer, and found my application for the fellowship that brought me here last year.  It reminded me why I`m here, and why learning Spanish is both a huge opportunity and responsibility.

When I first decided to learn Spanish, it was because I wanted to say “thank you.” I had arrived, sleeping bag in hand, at Blanca’s door just moments earlier.  I would be staying in the cinder-block house of this family of maquiladora workers in Nogales, Mexico, as part of a trip for a college course on the U.S./Mexico border, and I couldn’t even say thank you.  I had, of course, said gracias as Blanca, the mother of the household, began serving dinner that first night, but that garbled attempt seemed inadequate coming from a privileged American student who had literally just been airlifted into the lives of this struggling Mexican family.

I still remember the pregnant silence that descended over the table arrayed with bean stew, meats, homemade tortillas and guacamole; so many conflicting emotions and thoughts roiled in my head, but I was deaf and mute, unable to communicate with my hosts.  Unable, that is, until Blanca’s sister Carmen joined us.

Carmen could speak some English, and upon learning I was in Nogales to learn about the border, she began recounting painful stories of migrants attempting to flee poverty and hunger in Mexico.  She told me of children drowning in the moat-like canals lining the border as they tried to cross with their parents, of old women being abducted and robbed by smugglers, then left to die in the swaths of desert engulfing much of the border, and of cesarean sections performed with kitchen knives in Chiapan homes due to the lack of basic health services in rural Mexico.  She told me that Carlos, her son, had lived in the U.S. since age two, but was expelled by the INS just after being accepted to a visual arts school when he was 18; he now earns less than two-hundred dollars each month driving a forklift at a landfill in Nogales.  She told me it was too painful for her to go to the side of town where a twenty-foot corrugated metal wall separates it from Nogales, Arizona, and by the silent watchfulness of the rest of the family, I could tell she was speaking for them, too.

As the meal ended, Carmen, in tears now, thanked me for coming to Nogales and listening to her stories.  Sick to my stomach and on the verge of tears myself, I found some small piece of redemption in her gratitude.  Blanca’s family had given me so much and I had so little to offer in return, but maybe, for an American to travel to Mexico, to listen to the humanizing, heart-breaking stories of the people many Americans dismiss as “illegals,” was an offering in its own right.

you can see the border wall bisecting the neighborhood in the background


6 Responses to “Giving Gracias on the Border”

  1. isaac Fisher February 7, 2010 at 2:48 AM #

    hey Dylan… I just read this and really liked it… we do often forget about the stories behind the people and dismiss them as ‘illegals’. It is sooo sad that a lot of Americans dont understand this part.

    You are good with word and I enjoy reading your blog!


  2. dylbeano February 7, 2010 at 5:25 AM #

    Hey man, thanks for the comment! I think your right…if people realized that thousands of people from mexico and central america make the perilous journey to the us every year because they are seeking a better life for themselves and for their families, that their suffering is real, and human, i think the national tendency to scapegoat immigrants wouldn`t be so strong.


  3. commonsensetoo March 16, 2010 at 12:08 PM #

    MS-13, narco-drug traffickers, kidnapping, murders, TB, terrorist, and open borders. Why can’t we just all get along?


    • dylbeano March 16, 2010 at 6:11 PM #

      Thanks for your comment. I`d like to address your points in turn.

      First, for the record there are no recorded instances of “terrorists“ crossing the U.S./Mexican border (if I`m wrong on this let me know). I met with Minute Men from the Douglas, AZ chapter in 2007, and they admitted this.

      As for cross-border violence, we can use Ciudad Juarez as an example. Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, was the most violent city in the world last year, whereas El Paso`s violent crime statistics were below the U.S. and Texas average in every category. It seems that the idea that drug-related violence is “spilling over“ the border seems to be more sensationalized in the media than factual (see here:

      While Mexico has a higher incidence of tuberculosis than the U.S. (around 20 cases/100,000 people vs. around 5/100,000), many countries which have substantial immigration to (and from) the U.S. have much higher incidences of tuberculosis than the U.S. as well(see the World Health Organization TB database here:

      For instance, Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Greece, Ireland, and the UK all have higher TB incidence than the U.S., and Portugal and Spain have a higher incidence than both the U.S. OR Mexico. When American tourists visit these countries, they run the risk of contracting the disease and not only bringing it back to the U.S., but spreading it among other international travelers in airports and planes.

      Moreover, nearly 1 million people cross the U.S./Mexican border in both directions every day, the vast majority of them legally. Legal immigrants, and Americans visiting Mexico, are just as likely to contract and spread TB as undocumented migrants. I think singling out undocumented migrants as a vector for TB is short-sighted at best, and scapegoating a population that makes an easy target at worst.

      As for M-13, I hope you`ll remember that they started in Los Angeles in the 80`s, and are mostly comprised of non-Mexicans (largely migrants from El-Salvador and other parts of Central America). Any presence they have in the US is less a border-related issue than a domestic crime issue, and thus not relevant to a discussion on border-issues, although I don`t deny or apologize for their violence .

      As for other narco-trafficking organizations, I don`t think anyone denies or apologizes for their violent, brutal treatment of their enemies either. But I`d ask you to think about what gave birth to them in the first place, along with all the other violent narco-trafficking organizations in Mexico: demand for the drugs they sell. They are smuggling drugs into the U.S. so that American citizens can use them. In fact, the CIA world factbook shows that America is the world`s largest market for heroine from Columbia, marijuana and heroine from Mexico, and cocaine from everywhere (…the principle drugs that fund Mexican narrco-traffickers. The money that they use to buy their guns comes from American citizens buying the drugs they smuggle. The vast majority of the guns, too, come from American gun stores and shows, according to American and Mexican law enforcement (see this ABC news report: I`m not denying that these gangs murder people brutally, but I`d ask you to remember that American citizens give them the reason, and the means to do so.

      As for the comment about “open borders,“ the U.S./Mexico border is actually the most militarized border in the world that is not between two warring countries, according to this University of Texas report (, see pages 26/27).

      Thanks again for contributing; these issues are important to talk about in public because they do affect our country. I`d ask that you submit citations or other reference for any assertions you make in future comments. Best,


      • dylbeano March 16, 2010 at 11:20 PM #

        oops, I meant “MS-13,“ not “M-13.“


  4. Upasaka Bodhiyana January 15, 2011 at 1:29 PM #

    Brilliant response (rather than reaction) to the myths and stereotypes behind the comment of “commonsensetoo”.


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