By Kevin Stoda
In the past, I have written extensively on borders, border crossings and peoples who live there lives on borders. "BorderTowns and Divided Cities, Divided Cultures: Imaginary or Real Walls?" (2003) is one of my most-shared writings on the topic, whereby I had compared the life and imagery of border towns of (1) East and West Berlin, (2) the three cities and three countries of the Basle-St. Louis area--which includes France, Germany, and Switzerland--, and the Texas' Laredo-Nuevo Laredo townships.
In those works, I also made allusions to other divided places, such as the Spanish portion of Morocco's landscape, e.g. the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Unlike Hong Kong and Macau, which reverted to Chinese control in the late 1990s, the enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, situated on the African Mediterranean continue as fully part of Spain in Europe.
As a theme, in the work, "BorderTowns and DividedCities, Divided Cultures: Imaginary or Real Walls?", I had found that there were essentially 3 types of divided public space in border towns and border regions around the world. I feel these 3 metaphors are still helpful to us for visualizing--on a small scale--, the differing levels of globalization that people in various corners of the world feel or perceive today.
AIR-LOCK or DECOMPRESSION CHAMBER
First, I noted that there was the air-lock type imagery, which one still witnesses between most of North and South Korea today. In the days of Cold War Europe, spies and non-spies alike would have to pass through such air-locks--or severely protected and regulated borders. Crossing-over was perceived by the traveler in some ways to be akin to entering a decompression chamber, i.e. prior to being permitted to enter the other side of the border (border city).
By the way, this particular metaphor of a "decompression chamber" came from a written description of crossing the border by one American, Mark Jantzen, who lived from 1988 through 1991 in the eastern half of Berlin in the days before and after the Wall came down. (He wrote of his experiences in THE WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL.} The working existence of peoples (and their lives) on different sides of the border were so different in nature--and so protected in time and space--that the bureaucratic regimes who once controlled the crossings required that the traveler to take some moments (or hours) to become acclimatized to breathing in different air and space.
THE BRIDGE METAPHOR
The second type of border town is what I referred to as the bridge. It is most often witnessed one at North America's busiest multinational intersection--a crossover point between the USA and Mexico: This is the junction where I-35 hits Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. This particular connection has the city of Laredo, Texas meeting millions & millions of peoples in Latin America.
The small city is literally best described as a city of bridges. There are specialized highway bridges for international trucking. There are also auto- and pedestrian bridges--where crossing-over takes most people only minutes--unless there happens to be an international terror alert or if the usual holiday traffic jam materializes
The worlds on either side of the bridges of Laredo across the Rio GrandeRiver are certainly very different. Different types economic specialties, a different sense-of-self internationally, and one's access-to-rights exist on either side of the bridge. Passports or special identification are still needed to undertake the crossing-over from one civilization to the other, but the connections between peoples, families, businesses, and ways-of-life are not as extreme as that witnessed in 1961-1989 Berlin, in today's Ceuta or Melilla surrounded by Morocco, or in pre-1980s China and Hong Kong or Macau. In those towns (and eras), different global ideologies warred with each other at the border.
In contrast, to some great-extent, the immigrant and drug wars, i.e. which we see at the border with Mexico and the USA today, are not ideological but the result of the same dominant global socio-political economic that have been functioning on both sides of the river to a great degree for decades--although a river, fences and bridges divide the towns of Nuevo Laredo and Laredo.
WIDE-OPEN BORDER IMAGERY
The third image of border relationships is the one I experienced when I lived in France, near the city of Basel in Switzerland and the city of Bad Basel in Germany. I call this simply the Open Border image. (I should note that the French town in this 3-country megapolis is named St. Louis. I lived outside of St. Louis in rural Alsace--but only a few kilometers from the Swiss border on a farm.) Crossing over was so fluid in the 1980s, when I lived in this region, that most of the controls and checkpoints had become unmanned. In one incident, I recall simply starting in France by hitching a ride on the back of one farmer's tractor and then crossing over to Switzerland, where I ended up taking a streetcar into a train station before I headed on to Germany.
FEDERALISM & CROSS-NATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Once, when explaining why I liked living in the country of German to my students in Germany, I explained that one reason I liked the country is that it is a federal state bound up (Bund) in a federal regime, namely the European Union.
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