Monday, October 16, 2006

The walls of shame

Benign: this is a word to describe the title of my post when compared to that of the German newspaper Die Zeit, with regard to the measures that rich countries have undertaken to safeguard their borders from clandestine immigration. The original title of Die Zeit is followed by an English translation here: "Die Große Mauer des Kapitals. USA/Mexiko und anderswo: Wie die Armen der Welt brutal von den reichen Ländern ausgegrenzt werden." or "The big wall of Capitalism. USA/Mexico and elsewhere: How the poor of the world are brutally excluded from the rich countries."

But before one gets too hard on the Germans may I note the fact that the author of the article is not a German but the prominent American sociologist Mike Davis who teaches at University of California at Irvine. His thesis here is that Capitalism is the worst kind of frontier that could possibly segregate people, personified widely by such "superpower" actors as the United States, the European Union and Australia.

People have erected walls to separate themselves from dangerous enemies beginning with the Roman Empire Davis tells; the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was hailed as the end of segregation and the beginning of 'movement', of globalization. However, the 1989 prophesy turned to be only in part true: the world, at least its western hemisphere, did embrace globalization, NAFTA, euro but it did not embrace people. For once again, the world's wealthiest fall short of facing the consequences of their acts in the eyes.

Regardless of the moral dimension of not keeping one's promises, the hostility with which immigrants have been repelled has had tangible and quite dramatic consequences with thousands dying in the American and Australian deserts or drowning in the European seas. Extremely needy or brave (depending on your perspective) individuals will not stop against any Patriot Act or Schengen Clause: there is no going-back option in the route they have chosen, in a route that leads directly to Hell with an infinitesimal probability of escape, which would mean crossing successfully km/miles of desert or swimming days and nights and illegally 'making it' in the hostile territory. Luis Alberto Urrea in The Devil's Highway (New York and Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2004) tells the story of a group of men that tried to cross the Arizona desert. Recommended only if you have hard stomachs, I have not been able to finish it myself.

How to respond? How to deal with illegal immigration? A wide array of opinions is to be found here. In the spectrum of suggestions one can find from the most extreme prospositions, such as the ones far-right European and Americans xenophobics propose to liberal all-inclusive leftist visions. Regardless of where one stands ideologically, the solution to the problem must be a sustainable one, one that respects people equally, the inhabitants of a country that claims not to afford additional immigration and the people that seek a better future. Idealistic as it may sound, and I admit it is, this way of thinking can only propel us forward, particularly in the light of the massive failures of the already adopted strategies. Unless of course we do not care about the people that die painful deaths every day, in which case I guess we are fine.

The decision to erect walls, as the United States has been doing over the past years, will only deteriorate the problem of illegal immigration; in adition to the existing threats (barb wires, patrols, shootings etc) that attack the bodies of people, the walls attack the soul of Mexicanos. The huge walls of shame, as I believe they should be called, slap people in the face by stripping them off of their dignity. There is nothing worse than the feeling of inferiority, than the powerlessness that is deliberately being injected into the daring few and their families. Wole Soyinka, the shrewd, widely admired author and advocate of peace writes about the quest of dignity in his book Climate of Fear (New York: Random House, 2005) and notes "wise is indeed the victor who knows that, in order to shield his own rear from the elements, he must not denude his opponents (93). Not for fear of retaliation but to justify the humanity we claim to possess, if I may add.


Full article:

Note: Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the english version.


Pixie said...

I think that it is disgusting what the USA goverment is doing on the citizens of Mexico.I know first hand because my aunt and cousins are Mexicans and they have told me that they are considered to be inferior and treated badly in the USA.You should see the movie The 3 burials of Melciades Estrada that deals with this issue(Mexican immigration) as soon as possible!I agree with you that the wall is going to deteriorate problems and that this is not the way to stop immigration.They are attacking human dignity.

Elpidia García said...

I share your and Pixie's feelings regarding the approval to build the wall along some cities in the US border. Regretfully, this decision will cause even more dead people and it won't prevent people from trying to cross the border, as you say in your post. The alternatives to reduce immigration have not been exhausted yet, as a matter of fact, they haven't even tried (Mexico and US) to implement measures to do so. I see this as a total failure of politics in Mexico and US governments, and a profound lack of solidarity from President Bush towards its poor neighbor.

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