The present paper summarizes the contents of “Our Wall” by Charles Bowden on the impact of the wall between the United States and Mexico. Bowden opens his essay with a historical anecdote about Patrick Murphy who bombed the Mexican border town of Naco located in ten miles south of Bisbee, Arizona, in 1929. It soon turned out that whether due to alcohol intoxication or other reasons, Murphy attacked the wrong side of the border. The man mainly caused damage to the US property, including a garage and a local mining company. While this case may seem humorous in some way, Bowden shows that one can draw important conclusions from situations like the one described. According to the author, walls and borders bear a symbolic meaning: they divide people and pitch them against each other. The fact that there is a wall between the two nations makes one nation hold prejudice against the other.
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In the 21st century, the United States pushed its border initiatives even further. As Bowden reports, several states are fortifying their borders with Mexico due to a large number of illegal crossings. Depending on what course the politics will take in the years to come, one may expect hundreds of miles of walls alongside the border. One of the impacts that the wall has had on the residents of the area is destabilizing their businesses. Many Americans living next to the border are bilingual and have ties on both sides of the border. One of the businesses that used to attract Mexicans who would jump over the wall for a night out and hop back in is the Gay 90s bar. It is one of the few businesses left – many streets are lined with defunct establishments.
The town of Naco that is located right on the border between the US and Mexico changed hands many times. In the 1900s, the US patrols were mostly interested in keeping out illegal Asian immigrants. Mexicans, on the other hand, could move relatively freely, and as stated by Bowden, up to 900,000 of them found a second home in the US during the Mexican revolution. For decades, no-one was concerned about the flow of migrants from the south: the population was very low, and the demand for low qualified labor pretty high. In the 1990s, the North American Free Trade Agreement was a game changer as it was supposed to stop illegal immigration. Instead, it led to the dislocation of millions of Mexican farmers and industrial workers. The town of Naco on the American side was crowded by Mexicans trying to stay in the States. Eventually, in 1996, the wall put their attempts to a halt.
The wall seems to be a good solution as in 2008, on par with better surveillance technology, it helped to cut the number of illegal immigrants by half. Before that, the number of immigrants crossing the border and hiding around Naco would sometimes exceed the town’s population. In 2009, the area is quiet because people smugglers are too afraid to act in this new reality, especially given that the National Guard is assisting the Border Patrol. Local residents agree that as much as they sympathize with Mexicans, they are tired of their “exodus” into Naco.
On the other hand, walls may offend those who believe that the United States is a nation built by immigrants, a melting pot of cultures. Given that the US profits from the inflow of valuable cadres, the border policies might as well not last for too long. Bowden gives a few examples of other projects that did not make it to this day: the Great Wall of China, the walls built by France during World War I, and Australia’s rabbit fences. According to the author, the closest analogy for the Mexican Wall would be the one built by Israel in the West Bank. It controls the movement of people but is not immune to such problems as the general accessibility of the area from the air.
Bowden refers to a Mexican journalist, Esquer, who expressed his opinion on the wall in a weekly newspaper in Naco. According to Esquer, the wall is racist, and the very concept of it is ugly. He reports that after the wall was built, it did not exactly help to keep migrants out. In actuality, more people became drawn to the idea of climbing the wall or finding loopholes. People smugglers also found a way to make the situation profitable by charging people more for a longer ride to the end of the wall. Esquer goes as far as claiming that the wall is haunted by the souls of the people who died trying to trespass. Esoterics aside, the journalist points out that big politics often ignore the lived reality of the people who are being walled in and out.
The rhetoric around the wall will not calm down anytime soon. Mexicans are upset about their perspectives now that the border is controlled more than ever. They know that just crossing the border and finding a job on the other side may increase their income tenfold. Many feel that them being separated from their loved once is unfair. The other side of the debate is not wrong either: Bowden cites an elderly man from the American Naco who is afraid that immigrants will take his job. The author ends the article with the description of two traditions that live on despite the new regulations. Mexican and American football teams of Naco still hold matches on the border, and Mexicans still take their daughters to the US to celebrate their quinceaneras. Bowden concludes that all walls are temporary and will become history one day.
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