Arizona Day 4: Nogales, a Border Town

As our time together came to a close, I posed the question, "When I travel and tell the stories of what I have experienced here, what do you hope that I share?" She thought for a long moment, "That even though we live on this side of the border, we are not free."M* was our lovely guide around Nogales, AZ for the morning. We met her and her daughter at the McDonalds on the edge of town, and piled everyone in my car to have a tour around town. We drove around the border crossings, to see the wall our government has built to beef up border security. We even saw the humorous section of wall that was washed out after a heavy rainstorm....wonder how much this section of the wall cost to originally build and now replace??

 

The Border Patrol obviously has a very strong presence in the border town of Nogales.  We were very aware that our movements were watched by the 20-30 vehicles we saw roaming the streets. We stopped to take pictures at the section of wall where two years ago, a Mexican youth was shot and killed on the Mexico side by US border agents....

the accounts I've read give little cause for his death other than he may or may not have been throwing rocks at the Border Patrol. These articles here and here share more of that story.  As I was snapping some photos, a Border Patrol car came to speak with us, to "make sure we were not meeting someone at that section of wall". As I cannot disguise myself as hispanic, we had no trouble explaining we were visiting and wanted some pictures. I posed with his car.....

I've heard many stories about Nogales pre "border wall", as Nogales exists on both sides of the border, one part in the U.S. and one part in Mexico. The two towns beautifully depended on each other for economy, workers, and family/friend relations.  There were spots in the fences where it was easy to cross through, and no one thought twice about taking the easy routes to get to the other part of town.  It was not a matter of illegal entry, but in living out life in a community that spread across two countries. For locals, you may have had your wedding ceremony on the U.S. side and your reception on the Mexico side..... this community has been deeply hurt by the border wall being built these last few years, and with expanded Border Patrol, new officers are working there who are no longer members of the community, who do not know the people they are protecting. As a hispanic living in the area, you have to be able to prove your identity at all times, in all places..... I wonder at the mess and pain we have caused in search of "secure borders"....

Like at the San Diego/Tijuana border, there is a section of wall where family and friends are allowed to meet....under the surveillance of cameras and a few border patrol vehicles parked to the side. Although the Nogales space is open everyday whereas in Tijuana it is only a few hours every weekend.

I am thankful for the guidance of local friends during our morning adventure. They pointed out the streets that would make us look suspicious to even drive down due to heavy drug activity, the neighborhoods that are frequently searched for tunnel entrances that go under the wall, where vehicles sit that are commonly used by drug traffickers. At a stoplight, they shared how immigrants used to come up through the grates in the intersection....which has led to more welded grates and smaller sewer entrances....

We finished our time in Nogales with a local Mexican lunch before heading north. We breezed through our second checkpoint that stops all cars heading towards Tucson from Nogales and spent some time window shopping in Tubac. Life feels intense here in Arizona; the heat, the desert, the border....it is good to be bothered by its intensity.