December 03

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Wall of Sadness

This afternoon I will leave America’s southern borderlands and cross the northern frontier into Canada. I am going home. My month here in southern California and Mexico has been rich in terms of research for my walls book. I haven’t done any new writing for this project in months now – I needed to gather more material – and I am looking forward to sitting at my desk in Calgary and processing all that I’ve learned here.

As I go through my notes, I realize that although the Wall inspires anger and frustration, the prevailing emotion along the Wall is grief. I’ve witnessed many tears on this trip. I watched newly captured migrants – many still in their torn crossing clothes – stand eight at a time before a judge in federal court and plead guilty to the crime of illegal entry. When they shuffled out of the courtroom, the chains that linked their ankles to their wrists rattled over their weeping.

In Nogales, at a ‘soup kitchen’ for recent deportees, a migrant family wept when they described the bravery of their nine year-old daughter as the family crossed the desert. “Have courage,” the girl told her parents. “We will make it this time.” They didn’t. Now they sit on the Mexican side of la ligna wondering if it is worth trying to cross again.

I met an undocumented woman in Tucson who cried when she told me that she couldn’t travel to Mexico to attend her father’s funeral. Leaving America would necessitate another illegal crossing and increased border security made this too risky and dangerous. The woman nearly wept again when she told me that she had explained to her three teenage children that one day they might come home from school and find their mother has been taken away to prison. “I told them that if that happens, they must continue their studies,” she said. “No matter what.” Every morning she kisses and hugs her children as if today might be the day.

Someone said to me that the Wall is a wall of hate, but maybe it is more a wall of sadness.

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