OK! I’m finally back from the MER Conference in Chicago (which was a lot of fun) after a canceled flight and unexpected night at O’Hare. I’ll write about Electronic Records later- I learned some great things at the conference. For now, I mentioned the subject of this post in an earlier message when I was at the Region One Technology Conference at South Padre Island.
All right, here’s an ususual subject for this blog, related to my hometown. Although I’ve been in Austin for about a decade, I’m originally from Edinburg, TX in the Rio Grande Valley, close to the border between Texas and Mexico. We have immigrants. Lots and lots of immigrants, and lots and lots of people crossing the border both ways every day. You can’t really tell if someone is an immigrant (legal or illegal), Mexican, or other. Some American citizens don’t speak English. Some people in the Valley don’t speak Spanish (including, terribly enough, me). We were about 95% Hispanic, I’d guess, although I’m not certain about the percentages. Some of the discussions I’ve seen in the news talk about migrant workers. One thing that I don’t see mentioned a lot in news articles is that many of these migrant workers aren’t illegal immigrants, and there are many that aren’t immigrants at all- they’re American citizens, many native-born, and several from the Valley. Of course, the news often describes the Valley in pretty rotten terms. While at Syracuse, I recall writing a paper on media depictions of the Rio Grande Valley, and those descriptions were neither pretty nor terribly accurate. I think things have improved somewhat since the mid-90s, but I still see the occasional depiction that I don’t really recognize.
Heading out of the Valley on any road, you have a border patrol checkpoint about an hour north of the border. Going through the checkpoint has always disturbed me. I know of people stopped and searched for no particular discernable reason. The stop everyone and ask where you’re from, and/or where you’re going, and other questions. They’ll search your vehicle. It only occurred to me very recently that you might have the right to not answer or refuse the search, but I never have and I don’t know anyone else who has refused the search. I’m often nervous for no reason going through the Falfurias checkpoint. I remember thinking in high school that there’s nothing similar to this checkpoint an hour south of our Canadian border. That seemed unfair to me. (As far as I know from my time in New York, that’s true.) And I understand that the checkpoint does some good- it does catch drugs going north, for example. But it a) feels like the US doesn’t really care all that much about the Valley- it’s like they’re protecting the rest of the country from us or not really caring about drugs coming into the Valley from Mexico, and b) really brings questions about privacy, dignity, and so on. At any rate, it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t really have anything against the border patrol- they’re for the most part good people doing an important job, and I have family members who are in the border patrol. The checkpoint, though… I don’t know. It seems to be an isolating mechanism.
So, I was down in the Valley while some of the ongoing immigration debate was going on. Most people I spoke to don’t particularly like many of the proposals. The fence: “Do we have a fence between the U.S. and Canada? They’re just stopping the brown people.” (I’m reminded of the Daily Show sketch with the Canadian Minuteman.) “Seems like a waste of money, since people are going to get across anyway.” The National Guard: “Do we really need the military on the border? What are they going to be doing?” There was a lot of uncertaintly about the National Guard, but I did hear at least one positive statement. “It’s better than the Minutemen.” The Minutemen were really not trusted by the people I spoke to. The National Guard, at least, was legitimate authority. There seems to be the perception that there was too much potential for racism with the group, and people- ordinary citizens of the US who might be indistinguishable from immigrants- are worried about it. Because there has been, and there is racism. The older generations have blatantly experienced it. For one quick example, I had a brilliant math teacher who was told she wouldn’t get an A in her college mathematics course because even though she deserved one, A’s were wasted on Hispanics. Some of the younger folk have also experienced racism. I have. I know it exists. I understand why people are nervous.