Old and new border rats

A self-proclaimed border rat, Tom Miller writes in the Washington Post about the culture of border rats:

There are lots of us border rats, really — most from the U.S. side but many from Mexico as well. We share music, food and a language. Some live within a few miles of the line and know it intimately, while others, like me, are chronic visitors. For decades now, I’ve maintained that the entire border is a third country no more than 20 miles wide and about 2,000 miles long. We border rats can navigate this 40,000-square-mile turf far more easily than we could the interior of our own homelands. We know where the tortillas are thinnest, where the music is jazziest, where the cops are friendliest and where the crossings are easiest.

As a border visiting veteran, Miller is nostalgic for the dynamic-amorphous-glittery-and-absolutely-unique place that the border used to be, and saddened by its emptying out and silencing in light of recent drug-related violence.

But that was yesterday. Today the United States-Mexico border has been pancaked between a collapsed economy to the north and brutal drug thugs to the south. Most Mexican border towns have endured at least one horrific moment recently in which a ranking police officer or journalist or político of some standing has been murdered or kidnapped in public, often with a number of innocents unfortunate to be near him — almost always a him — as collateral damage. Then there’s that ugly wall scarring our beautiful borderland, whose repulsiveness will surely outlast its short-term effectiveness.

Miller writes that due to the drug war, tourists have stopped coming and border economies are drying up.  The mystical border has turned into a no-man’s land for former border galivanters like Miller.

Miller’s commentary gives an interesting personal-historical narrative of what the border used to be like, from the perspective of a privileged crosser of course.  While he and his possee of border rats have left, at least one new border rat has come in his place and I can tell you that while the razzle dazzle has faded in the smoke of grenades and AK-47s, there is still much to study, appreciate and learn from the border.  What distinguishes the border for me is not its food or sin city potential, but its symbolic quality, representing our worst (the wall, keeping “the other” out, arms and drug trafficking) and our potential for best, via the coexistence and intermingling of different cultures, languages, currencies and ways of being.  Ojalá that the best triumphs, and that in the meantime Miller &co come back.  The economy sure could use it.

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