I am fortunate to have my anniversary (today, Feb 15th) right next door to Valentine’s Day. If I neglect to get it together (often) on Valentine’s Day with chocolates, a card, indication of my love for my wife, I have the next day to make it up.
Yesterday day was a little different. My wife of 22 years and I went to dinner for Valentines Day. We did this mostly due to our near 15 year-old’s remark, “that’s sad” when we said we probably would stay home. Our daughter has a way of saying a lot with few words.
We decided to go local. Before hopping in my van I (uncharacteristically) opened the door for her. We headed south to one of our favorite spots to visit. In Naco, AZ., which abuts Naco, SON (Mexico), I parked, locked the vehicle (unnecessary in my experience there, but why not) and made our way to the port of entry. We walked by an old customs building that we dream of having, gave a little thought of entering through the open door, but decided against it because we weren’t carrying dust masks and flashlights-or bail money.
Two customs agents conversed as we passed them by. One talked to the other about the elevation in Alpine, AZ, (the White Mountains I think) and said it was between 8500-9000 feet in altitude. The US government doesn’t really pay much attention to you when you leave the country. It’s your return and the goodies you might be importing into Gringolandia that sparks their interest. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I’m guessing those guys were glad to be drawing a salary again.
I didn’t notice the razor wire that is the newest feature up and down the tall, steel border wall. I did notice when I first saw it being installed a couple of months ago. I even wrote about it in a blog. I’m a little irritated that my Bisbee crew is only now exercised about the installation of the wire when it’s been up for a while. Not everybody around here crosses into Mexico for a date and not everyone around here reads my blog.
As we entered our sister country, one of our strongest trade partners and home to the families of a good chunk of my high school students, we greeted the few folks that are always standing right across the line. “Buenas tardes,” we said. “Buenas tardes,” they replied. My wife wanted to push the button that activates the random red light/green light apparatus. A red light means your bag gets inspected. A green light means you’re scot-free. As she reached out to the apparatus, I pointed out that touching the thing was unnecessary because nobody was around the thing asking us to do so. She grew up conservative Lutheran. They have more rules than Episcopalians.
Once across we made our way to the Santander bank to get cash. FYI, you get the best rate of exchange at an ATM in Mexico. Most of the time you get the card back and your pesos with it. It’s also nice to read the receipt telling you how much more money you have in pesos than in dolares. Pesos in hand, we decided to head for the place where our friend and colleague, Paco, was playing music at a cool coffee place called Cafeiuto. The establishment sponsored a Valentines dinner with Paco’s live sax. Before we crossed we greeted one of my high-school juniors, Juan, with his lady. Juan smelled very much like he was on a Valentines date. He informed me that he intended to purchase flowers for his Valentine. They both looked good. Juan’s calm and reserve were uncharacteristic. I see him at the end of the day and calm and reserved is not how I would describe the lad when he enters my classroom.
Once at the coffee bar we learned that they required reservation and the place was full. We thanked them and passed by the sushi restaurant to learn the same thing. Inside that eatery, we saw the father of my daughter’s best friend. He greeted us, we exchanged pleasantries, and I thanked him for lending us his daughter for an overnight with out daughter. This makes it more comfortable to enjoy our anniversary date while the two teens stay home and make sure their cellphone function properly.
We ended up dining at a fine restaurant, Mocajetes, very near the port of entry. We weren’t the only English speakers there and I noticed that the owner has just added a nice wooden menu above the counter that describes the culinary offerings in both Spanish and English. My wife pointed out to me that the new sign translated tripe, ‘tripa’ in Spanish into ‘trips’ in English.
I love Mexico for its imperfections: an unmanned security device, a typo on a menu, an ATM machine that may or may not eat your debit card. These idiosyncrasies remind me that the reality I live with in the United States, the reality I grew up with, the reality that has had so much influence on me and the way I am in the world, is not the only reality that exists on the planet. Apparently, a country can exist and even thrive with some spelling trouble and a more relaxed relationship to strange visitors.
President Trump’s likely declaration of a National State of Emergency makes absolutely no sense to me. Very little of his presidency does, but this particular move of his causes me serious concern. I acknowledge that my experience in southeast Arizona and northwest Mexico is not representative of the entirety of the whole southern border. But my experience is authentic and real. I see no crisis here; nor do my students, friends, and colleagues report one. The drug trade continues as it has since before my family and I arrived and I imagine as it will after we leave-if we ever do. I hope we don’t. Migrants who cross into the United States illegally will continue to do so as long as there is work and opportunity enough to draw them here.
There is no civil unrest in Naco, SON., nor in Naco, AZ. None exists at the other port of entry we frequent and where we have a yearly binational concert (see binationalarts.org ). The fabrication of this emergency shrouds President Trump’s failings as president. His congress is divided, a potent investigation exposes the criminality of those around him, and opposition voices-though disparate and nascent-will dampen the power of his juvenile rhetoric and leadership.
Yet, he remains in power and has the ability to foment dangerous conditions and strife. Not disregarding the extant danger that, more than anything else, our insatiable appetite for illegal narcotics has caused, the President scapegoats Mexico and the border and is poised to exercise his considerable power. I fear demagoguery more than I fear most things. The power that can be wielded against a targeted population frightens me, especially so now that I have a better idea of how our educational system neglects training in broader critical thinking and favors pedagogy that emphasizes finding the answer that already exists, rather than the answer that must be created and implemented.
President Trump, I reject your assessment of the emergency on the border. You, sir, have not the eyes to see nor the ears to hear. I implore you not to fall prey to the seduction of the power you perceive you might exercise. For all our failings and the challenges before as a people, we are not kind to tyrants, demagogues, or usurpers. Our understanding becomes clearer and we find our vision in the end. There is no emergency here. The only emergency that exists is the crisis you invent to avoid your own political chaos. Quiet this confusion, Mr. Trump. Join my wife, daughter, and me for a stroll into Mexico. I know a place you might like. Dinner is on me.