A river winds through a desert valley. Coming in by plane, little of living nature appears as far as the eye can see outwards to the barren, surrounding mountains. This place, apparently in the middle of nowhere, was called El Paso del Norte, the North Pass, by the Spanish, who settled on the southern bank in 1659. Here the river breaks through the end of what we know as the Rocky Mountains, giving the Spanish access to the lands to the north and west, the Spanish Santa Fe de Nuevo Mejico. But, because of the fierce defense of their territories by the indigenous tribes to the north of the river, El Paso del Norte was as much a frontier outpost as a passageway.
Geographically, one river, one valley, but on one side it is now called the Rio Grande, on the other, Rio Bravo. Now, on one side, the wealth and power of the United States pulsates. On the other, the poverty and neediness of Mexico seeks satisfaction. West of "the pass", a line through the desert sands separates these two worlds. From here, east to the Gulf of Mexico, this "great," "brave" little stream is the dividing line.
Seeing the border in this geographic context, one senses how arbitrary it is. The line is the result of deliberate U.S. military conquest and a calculated decision to take the land -- with its resources -- only to this point. At the end of the U.S. invasion of Mexico (1846-48), when Mexico City, itself, had been taken captive, there was discussion in the U.S. Congress to take "all of Mexico." But it was agreed upon by both free and slave state representatives to take only the land south to the Rio Grande and west to California. This kept the slave states from adding too much potential new territory while excluding the dark-skinned, Catholic natives from the Protestant white man's land. It is a line drawn to separate races and claim dominion.
Driving west along Interstate highway 10, beside the unseen river, Ciudad Juarez, a city of over a million people, looks like a neighborhood of El Paso. Except that it looks completely Mexican -- one story, concrete block houses spreading across the barren hillsides. Then there is the high, wire wall along the north side of the river. It brings back memories of the Berlin Wall that divided that city in half. The West was all modern glass and steel. The East still spoke of the War that brought its division--bombed out buildings from a past age.
Here, people still move across the line, across the bridges that connect, yet divide the two sides of the river, the two worlds. North of the El Paso Street bridge is a commercial neighborhood that could well be on the other side. Tiendas, stores, with all their signage in Spanish -- selling "mayoreo y menudeo," "big stuff and little" -- line the street, with their goods displayed on the side walk. Vendors call, "pásele," "come in," just as they do in every city and town in Mexico. Only Spanish is spoken, not one word of English is heard. Mexicans walk south, pulling luggage carts filled with purchases.
Coming off the north end of the bridge, many lanes of cars are squeezed to a standstill in the bottleneck of U.S. border inspection stations. This "national security" blockade is a visible manifestation of the boundary and the differences in wealth and power between the two sides.
One feels the boundary as if it were a dike built against the pressure of the sea. The huge economic difference creates great pressures for movement across the barrier from south to north. Laborers seeking work, drug sellers seeking consumers, both push against the wall, seeking the wealth that lies on the other side. As with any imbalance of pressure, the built-up needs seek discharge. Only here, demand from the north -- for laborers and drugs -- acts as a drawing force, sucking in from the south what will satisfy its hungers and sending money south.
But, while seeking to open the border to "legitimate, free" trade, the U.S. seeks to exclude trade in labor and drugs. Rather than acknowledge that these market realities transcend the political boundary, the U.S. only tries to build higher walls and multiply the number of border guards to stem an indomitable tide. Yet the wall keeps being breached, by mayoreo y menudeo, big stuff and little.
The MexicoBlog of the Americas Program, a fiscally sponsored program of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), is written by Laura Carlsen. I monitor and analyze international press on Mexico, with a focus on security, immigration, human rights and social movements for peace and justice, from a feminist perspective. And sometimes I simply muse.
Oct 12, 2011
MexicoBlog Editorial: "Mayoreo y menudeo," Big Stuff and Little at El Paso del Norte
Posted by Reed Brundage at 6:20 PM
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