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Life on the Line

The border between one city

By Miranda Cain & Virginia Carico, WorldWideCitizens
Published on LatinoLA: December 14, 2011


Life on the Line


Originally published on WorldWideCitizens

Orange and pink melt into the horizon, dropping behind the desert sand and the colors leave behind a dark blue sky filled with stars. The coyotes howl as the heat of the day is transformed into the cool of the night. In the Sonoran desert there are two countries, one border and a lifetime of stories.

A young girl, 19, sits patiently at Transportes Fronterizos de Sonora, a bus station in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. She has been recently deported. Her three older sisters have already migrated to the U.S. Her sister in California has offered to pay a coyote, a smuggler, to guide her across the border and into her arms.

The sun sets and the colors begin to fade into night. The glow of the moon is the only source of light. This young girl and her coyote travel to the border wall. He goes first to make sure it's safe. As she reaches the top of the wall, he flees, leaving her alone. She recounts how scared and vulnerable she felt. Instead of risking violence, illness or death, she finds a highway and walks along it for two hours. Border Patrol eventually finds her and holds her in custody for a few days. She is then bussed and released in Nogales and left to find her way home to her mother in Veracruz, Mexico, nearly 1600 miles away.

When asked why she wanted to come to the U.S., she grinned and said, "Es mi sueño". It's my dream.

Dr. Robert Neustadt, associate professor of Spanish at Northern Arizona University, took his class of graduate students to Nogales on a four-day field trip in early November.

"For me, [speaking with migrants] is the key piece of the trip… it's important for students to get to speak with migrants, look into their eyes and hear their stories and to realize that 90% of these people are not drug runners," said Neustadt. "I've never seen anyone who's been able to look into these people's eyes and not tell that they're not just salt-to-the-earth people looking to survive, and seeing them in this incredibly vicarious and sad situation creates empathy and opens the eyes of the students. People begin to realize that these are human beings that have gotten a really bad shake out of life."

Claudia Behnke is a graduate student at NAU and attended the field trip as a part of Neustadt's class.

"[An] impactful experience was learning how many of the people I met who had recently been deported who had been living many years in the United States," recalled Behnke. "Many had established families, in which their children were born [here] and therefore are United States citizens. I met youth who barely speak Spanish. They were simply brought to the United States by their parents at a young age and have been deported, dropped off in a foreign city, where they know no one and have nothing."

For Behnke, a U.S. citizen, the trip was an eye-opening experience.

"I specifically take [my students] to the border because there is a political, economic, environmental and human tragedy happening at the border right now," said Neustadt. "And it's important for students, particularly this class, when the students are future Spanish teachers in the state of Arizona, for them to understand what's going on on the Arizona-Mexico border."

It's one thing, though, to spend a few hours on the border and an entirely different situation to grow up on the border--to live life on the line.

Caesar Wirichaga, an NAU alumnus and U.S. citizen, is from both sides of the border town Nogales.

"I had a very naive notion of the difference between the American and Hispanic culture. Being in such a small town did not help broaden my understanding of the world either," said Wirichaga.

Throughout his youth he lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his family--mom, dad and baby sister--and he attended Lourdes Catholic School for 13 years.

"Arizona had the parks and retail environments that we enjoyed and consumed in, respectively, and Mexico had the entertainment and sports recreation facilities more accessible to the public," said Wirchaga.

Growing up on both sides, Wirichaga bore witness to much of the border and immigration issues facing both the U.S. and Mexico.

"Crime was always more well-known of in Mexico, and thus, considered unsafe. It wasn't until I was in my college years that the drug cartel activity truly became a daily threat to civil life," said Wirichaga.

The crime in the area has only worsened since Wirichaga left the area for college.

"The cartel is truly out of control and there seems to be no one that can stand in their way. I do fear and feel for my hometown and the things I grew up around, but I sadly, I do not see an answer to the current situation along the border," Wirichaga said.

He lived in Nogales before the wall was built and has visited since the wall's construction.

"The wall is a bit of an extreme, physically," said Wirichaga. "One thing that the illegal immigrant should stop doing is taking the reckless way into the United States. Walking through miles and miles of deserts puts their lives in jeopardy which brings forth the question, if they are willing to risk their life entirely, why not wait and go through the process as it is meant to be done?"

Wirichaga, who currently attends school in Minnesota, lived in Arizona when Senate Bill 1070 was passed.

"Although referred to as a racist action towards the control of illegal immigration, I felt sorry for the state of Arizona and its misunderstanding of the illegal immigrant," said Wirichaga. "As much as they are criticized, the Mexican immigrant is always here to work and to push forward. If the government understood that it is the second generation of Mexican immigrants that refuse to learn from their parent's sacrifice and example."

Having grown up in a bi-national home, he has a unique and progressive stance on American immigration policy.

"I was fortunate enough to be accidentally born in the US, but my parents were smart and planned ahead for my younger sister so that she too could have a dual citizenship. They waited, as many others, until I came of age (21) and initiated and completed the immigration process. They now live on the Arizona side of Nogales and enjoy the more peaceful and less crowded part of the double-city," said Wirichaga. "The system is in place, the problem is educating people of how it functions. I truly believe that would help the so called 'immigration issue'."

For better or for worse growing up on the line shaped the future of Wirichaga's life.

"It wasn't until I moved to Flagstaff that I realized that being Mexican-American meant something," said Wirichaga. "I refused to believe that I had to follow the established path that the small town society envisioned as being my most favorable. Now, I'm pursuing a career as an art director in advertising, had I followed such [societal] norms, I would be an engineer or accountant."

Much like Wirichaga, National Public Radio (NPR) reporter and NAU alumnus, Claudio Sanchez also grew up in Nogales, along the border.

During a presentation to NAU students and Flagstaff community members, Sanchez described life in Nogales.

Sanchez grew up in a poor, working class neighborhood not far from the border. Subsequently, the immigration issue surrounded him.

"Men and women would come from all over Mexico and knock on our doors for food and water on their trek north," Sanchez said.

Throughout his life, Sanchez has seen the evolution of the border issue.

"I recently went back to my hometown. Everything about Nogales looks and feels surreal," said Sanchez. "It has morphed into No Man's Land."

About Miranda Cain & Virginia Carico, WorldWideCitizens:
Northern Arizona journalism students.
Author's website




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