The recent Encuentro (or Encounter) At the Border in the middle of Ambos Nogales -- the term used to consider Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, as one community -- was a wonderful distraction from the Donald and Hillary Show, which may be the most tiresome and preposterous encuentro in American political history.
For two days, from north and south, people trekked to the two Nogaleses to participate in the gatherings and demonstrations critical of the militarized US/Mexico border there. Hundreds of Mexicans and North Americans spoke out for a more humane, more sensible and more constructive border arrangement between the two nations. Citizens of both nations were fed up with the mistrust and paranoia, the growing array of weaponry and police-state surveillance with drones and other mysterious de-humanizing technology -- plus the not unusual grisly fact of Mexican corpses encountered in the Arizona desert. The timing for such an encuentro of citizens from both nations was good, given immigration along the border has become a major football in national political scrimmaging.
Donald Trump, of course, is going to build a wall to protect frightened North Americans from the scourge of "rapists" and other brown-skinned demons insinuating themselves from the south by hook or crook into our exceptional, Anglo culture. He's going to make Mexico pay for this wall, he tells us, by fomenting a trade war with Mexico favorable to the US, thus making Mexico "pay" for his wall. Today, some 580 miles of barriers exist along the entire 1,989 miles of border. There's currently a very tall and very ugly rusted steel wall running through Ambos Nogales.
A split rally was held for two days at this steel wall, with people coming from the south and from the north. It was sponsored by the School Of the Americas Watch, a group that had has for 25 years held annual demonstrations at the gate of Fort Benning in Georgia. The Friday before the weekend events at the wall, a large, boisterous rally and vigil was held at an immigration detention center in Eloy, north of Tucson. There were also workshops at a Nogales hotel, where all aspects of the militarization of our southern border were addressed.
Cruising the Historic Borderlands
Back in 1968-69, I was home from Vietnam nursing a jaundiced, anti-military attitude stationed at Fort Huachuca, an intelligence base in the Arizona desert 50 miles east of Nogales and 15 miles north of the border. I came early to the encuentro and stayed late, so I could cruise the scrub desert in a rental car in a circle that included Nogales, Tombstone, Fort Huachuca, Douglas and Aqua Prieta. Back in '68, I had a new Chevrolet Camaro purchased for $2300 through the PX in Vietnam. Not yet 21, I found the outlaw spirit of the place to my liking.
Modern Arizona is a paradox. Tucson development culture is built around golf courses, pumped in irrigation water and air-conditioning; yet the PR imagery of Wyatt Earp and the lawlessness of the Wild West is heavily marketed. There's the romantic and mythic lure of Mexico evident in classic films like The Wild Bunch and the original Magnificent Seven. On the other end, there's the current image of Mexico as super violent, thanks to a failed Drug War and the murderous drug gangs that rose to fulfill the supply side in a classic capitalist supply-and-demand formula. Latin American leaders have pleaded with US leaders to address the incredible demand side north of the border. It seems we're culturally addicted to police, military, courts and prisons as a solution. The Nogales Border Wall is another ugly symbol of all this.
Miles and miles of desert grassland separate borderland communities
(Image by John Grant) Permission Details DMCA
Back in 1968 there was no wall. I became quite comfortable with the border then and felt fine driving into Mexico in my new Camaro. I don't recall anything about passing through the border; it was downplayed and didn't amount to much. That was 48 years ago. The border today, in post-911 freaked-out America, is absolutely inhuman.
The history of the borderlands is interesting. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War. From that, the US grew by 1/3, gaining California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and the western halves of New Mexico and Colorado. By 1853, the Mexicans were in economic bad straits and grudgingly accepted $15 million for what is called The Gadsden Purchase, additional lands south of Tucson, east to Las Cruces, NM, and west to Yuma, Arizona. It was Manifest Destiny, to open a railroad right-of-way to deliver settlers to California; a route north of the Gadsden lands was too mountainous for a railroad.
By the early 20th century, the US was at war in Europe against Germany and the Mexicans were going through a tumultuous revolutionary decade. Mistrust grew from both sides. The US feared German fifth column activity in Mexico, and Mexicans were angry at being treated by the US with disrespect. Pancho Villa's forces were badly beaten in October 1915 by President Carranza's army in the Battle in Aqua Prieta, the bordertown adjacent to Douglas, Arizona. President Wilson had betrayed Villa (he thought Wilson was on his side) and allowed 3500 of Carranza's troops, unbeknownst to Villa, to take a US train through US lands from Juarez to Agua Prieta. Villa was furious. For revenge, he attacked Columbus, New Mexico. The US, then, sent troops into Mexico led by General Pershing to get Villa. At the Battle of Carrizal, US Buffalo Soldiers from Fort Huachuca, due to a mistake, ending up fighting the forces of Carranza allied with the US, a debacle that, to Villa's delight, ended the Pershing expedition.
There were three military skirmishes in Nogales. The major one, called The Battle of Ambos Nogales, was on August 27, 1918. There were unfounded reports of an attack in the works, and US fear was high. The tightening of the border angered Mexicans, who felt they were being treated disrespectfully by US border agents. The precipitating incident was a Mexican with a large package. It's unknown why or by whom, but a shot was fired in the vicinity. The Mexican with the package dropped to the ground to protect himself. Mexican customs officers thought he had been shot by a US agent, so they opened fire on the Americans, leading to a wild exchange of gunfire that spread south into Nogales, Sonora, soon augmented by US troops from a nearby camp. The fighting ended up in the "red light" district, where the local prostitutes recognized US soldiers they knew. A First Sergeant Thomas Jordan reportedly remarked, "I got a laugh when one them spoke to a trooper, saying 'Sergeant Jackson! Are we glad to see you!'" Some of these women grabbed bed sheets and bravely ministered to the wounded. The mayor of Nogales, Sonora, waved a white flag trying to stop the carnage and was shot dead from the US side. Soon, cooler heads prevailed and it was over: Five US dead, 16 wounded; it's uncertain how many Mexican casualties there were, but there were more than US casualties.
A report laid the blame for the outbreak of violence on "frequent cases of insolence and overbearing conduct" by US customs inspectors and "resentment caused by US killings along the border during the previous year." One US agent was fired. A two-mile-long fence was put up separating the two Nogaleses.