Monday, February 22, 2010

"The 800 Mile Wall"

(Excerpts from an article by Hector Tobar telling of the new documentary film, "The 800 Mile Wall," by John Carlos Frey )

It's a complex tragedy at the border but nearly every adult who undertakes the journey does have a choice.

A fairly typical crossing story might begin in a Mexican town where a young woman wants desperately to go to college. She dreams of escaping the life of domestic labor that awaits her but can't think of any other way to defy her parents. Or it might begin in San Salvador, with a man who wants to emulate his wealthy cousin in Virginia.

In other words, many choose to go on la aventura, as it's popularly known, because it's the easiest avenue to social mobility. It's not the best choice in the world. It might be desperate or reckless, but it is a choice.

The dead migrants in that El Centro cemetery weren't driven to their deaths by soldiers with guns, as in Bosnia, or by killers armed with machetes, as in Rwanda.

That's why I couldn't say it is an atrocity. It's a complex tragedy born of inequality, yes. The policy that leads people to risk their lives crossing the desert is cruel, yes. But it's a risk people take, often knowingly and often from human motives as universal as restlessness and ambition.

"This is really only a small slice of the immigrant story," I told Frey.

I'd like to think we could build support for immigration reform by telling the full, nuanced story of the immigrant experience in the U.S. But maybe that makes me the naive one.

These are desperate, polarized times. People really should be angry about what's happening on the border. They should see the horrors of "The 800 Mile Wall" and they should ask themselves deeper questions about why people are willing to risk death to come here. And then they should write their congressman.

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