November 7th, 2019
“I stand here at your border crossing
What a way to meet
Face in total disarray
A traveler at your mercy
My future rests on you
Will you turn me back around
Or will you stamp me through
Please forgive my awkwardness
I know I’m quite a mess
If I were a smuggler
I’d have much more finesse
Yes, if I were a smuggler
I’d breeze across this border
My clothes a bit conservative
My papers all in order
So please do check my pockets
And by all means check my bag
Make sure you search my vehicle
And check the license tag
And when you feel I’ve met
The strict demands of your employer
I hope you find it in your heart
To lose your paranoia”
“Border Crossing” from Timbuk 3
I don’t understand borders. I realize that statement does not make much sense, but it is true.
When I was in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, the border was in my face all the time. The wall, the river, the bridges, the ports of entry: all these things made it abundantly clear to me that there is (literally) a line in the sand that some people cannot cross.
I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why these things exist.
My wife, Karin, is not a U.S. citizen. She has a green card, and she has resided in the United States for almost thirty-five years. She has chosen to remain a German.
A number of people have asked me about that. It bothers them. They usually ask things like:
“Why doesn’t she want to be an American? This is her home, isn’t it?”
Those questions only make sense if a person assumes that there is actually a difference between being a German and being an American. Karin does not see a difference. Nor do I. Karin and I, being rather Catholic (or occasionally Buddhist), really believe that there is only one human family, and therefore the divisions between peoples are all artificial.
This means that we consider borders to be things that are only man made, which means they can also be unmade. Borders exist first and foremost in our minds. Borders are just ideas, at the beginning. Later, they take on concrete form. Human borders do not exist in nature. The only physical border that can be seen from space is the the Great Wall of China, which is no longer functioning as a border. All borders are ephemeral, and in a sense unreal. Yes, walls of steel and cement are tangible, but they are not natural. History has shown that they do not last.
What else has history shown us? From my reading, history shows a continual migration of peoples across the globe. There has been an endless mixing and movement of populations, regardless of the obstacles placed in their ways. Even in my own lifetime, borders between countries have changed and shifted. The permanence of these boundaries is an illusion. We spend endless amounts of time and money to stop a relentless tide. We fight against our own future.
It was striking to me when I walked over the bridge from Mexico to the United States. I jumped through all the hoops provided by the Custom and Border Protection folks. I showed them my passport, my little magic book. After a quick glance, they waved me through. Other people, they don’t wave through. How do they decide who is worthy, and who is not? Is there an objective standard? I doubt it.
Am I any better than an asylum-seeker from Honduras? No. So, why can I come into the U.S., but that person cannot? Why can I have a home here, and the other person has to sleep in a tent on the other side of the border? In this world, in this age, what does it mean to be a citizen of a certain country? In a time when the free flow of goods, and information, and especially money is paramount, what does it mean to be a citizen of a particular country? When multinational corporations spread their tentacles across the planet, what does it mean to be a citizen of one country?
Who are we?
Are we not one?