Yesterday I read an article about yet another tunnel between Tijuana and San Diego being discovered. It was being used to smuggle drugs, more than 2 tons of them, into the United States. This tunnel is very close to Trump’s border wall, and I got to thinking about a book I recently read by Paul Theroux called On the Plain of Snakes. On page 42 he wrote “Tunnels–long ones, short ones, high-tech ones, rabbit holes, rat runs–have been dug wherever the border is fenced.” What’s the point of the wall again? Is it merely symbolic?
My thinking went from there to coronavirus, When’s the last time you had a talk with anyone about this border wall that has been so controversial for the past few years? What’s happening in Hong Kong among the protestors, how is Brexit going, what about those fires in Australia? How’s the weather there? It’s amazing how COVID-19 has become the only thing on everyone’s mind so quickly. Then my mind jumped to Mexico. Is coronavirus there and terrorizing the population? I checked and Mexico has been late to this pandemic. As of April 1, 2020, there have reportedly been only 37 deaths attributed to it. However, it’s expected to soon hit this unprepared country hard. When this virus descends, how do you practice social distancing in a country with so many street vendors? Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world. Mexico, it is being said, is in no way ready to deal with coronavirus.
Getting back to On the Plain of Snakes, it’s a fascinating read about travel writer Theroux’s recent trip to Mexico. For the 1st hundred pages or so he goes into detail about his crossing the border in his American car and driving to Tijuana. Before he headed for home, he had driven along the entire border both in Mexico and the United States. Theroux travels alone. He makes many observations about what he experiences. I trust that he is reporting exactly what he sees. Ruth and I have been to the Rio Grande Valley twice in the past 2 years, and we have been to the US Mexican border at Big Bend National Park and in southern Arizona in fairly recent travels. I was talking to a ranger at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and asked him if it was safe to go across the border to the Mexican town of Sonoyta. “It’s perfectly safe,” he told me because a drug cartel is in charge. On his way to Mexico, one man in The South warned Theroux, “Do not cross at Brownsville….do not cross at all, anywhere….stay away from Mex.” Ruth and I went to Mexico in 2018…on a cruise.
At the border on any trip I tried, and mostly failed, to understand what is really happening there, but I learned something on every page of On the Plain of Snakes. Page 33, “The American need for cheap labor has defined the border culture.” This border is porous and informal in many places with “people strolling across in both directions to work, to shop, to find entertainment, to settle…” Near Yuma, Theroux crossed into Mexico on “Just a walkway, no formalities, no one on either side looking at my passport or asking my name.” I learned about H-2A visas that allow Mexican workers access to US fields daily. And those tunnels!
I highly recommend this book if you want to understand this border that Americans seldom cross but Mexicans and others stroll over without a thought. He travelled all over Mexico in his personal car to write this book.