Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Something new at Friendship Park

Activists along the U.S.-Mexico border lament the divisions that increasingly separate the border community.

This summer photographer Maria Teresa Fernandez recorded another assault on international harmony at Friendship Park, a recreation area that lies directly on the division between California and Mexico, between greater San Diego and Tijuana. Watch a new and menacing observation tower emerge in a place of friendship:

For a "movie" experience with soundtrack, click here: 
Something new at Friendship Park

"Friendship Park" now contains towers of animosity.

Mexico is building its own wall on its southern border with Guatemala. But it is impossible to prevent human migration with walls.
Is this the direction we want our world to proceed?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Women on the Border Demand a Future

Women workers on the U.S.-Mexico border launched a campaign last week to demand federal attention and national support for women's efforts to create jobs and security on the border with a call for a summit on women and development on the border. Major funding sources along the border exclude women workers. Women's programs--plans that would provide economic security and long term development to their families and communities-need and deserve funding.

Border women workers are angry that their livelihoods, their communities, and futures are written off as "unfortunate but necessary casualties." In reality, women and their families are the focal point of the poverty, violence, and discrimination generated in today's border environment.

First with NAFTA, and now with the "war on drugs" and border security, both the federal government and the transnationals have left women and their families to live and die amidst the border's poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. The women are demanding an end to this negligence and abandonment.

Women workers on the border demand security and jobs

Border communities reel with overall unemployment percentages topping 10% overall, with even higher rates for women workers. Border communities like El Paso aren't creating enough jobs to absorb the unemployed with college degrees, let alone the women workers who frequently are not as qualified. 
The President and Congress are committing billions of dollars to create jobs, promote development and strengthen border security.  But few resources or policies are directed towards solutions to problems faced by the women and their families. Their conditions are worsened by government's policies.  

Instead, U.S. transnationals operate maquilas, and those seeking to profit from the violence and poverty in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico are reaping in millions of dollars. Grassroots organizations, especially those led by low-income women on the border, are excluded.

Why do we invest in infrastructure benefiting transnational corporations and not in community-led development? Women refuse to accept this fate.  Organized and resilient, they pursue their own version of security and employment.

La Mujer Obrera in El Paso is one such example. Through their daycare program, restaurant, festival marketplace, museum, media center, education programs, micro enterprise incubator, and artisan import company, women are creating genuine border security. 

And there are other communities of low income women on the border who, like La Mujer Obrera dream of creating spaces where cultural arts and grassroots micro-enterprises can flourish. This restores economy, pride, and dignity in women's neighborhoods.

Experts cite the efficacy of investment in low-income communities and women's development efforts. Studies by Policy Link and the National Women's Law Center document that need as a priority. But local and national media focus instead on border violence and security issues. This misses the solutions that border women can implement when they have the meaningful investment of resources. 

Women workers in El Paso, with the support of La Mujer Obrera, call on women throughout the border region to bring attention to these issues:
  • President Obama and border Congressional representatives need to convene a summit to identify strategies to support and invest in border women workers' development.
  • Public-private initiatives need to prioritize border women's efforts to restore their communities from the damaging effects of international trade policies.
  • To focus on the issue, they've launched a drive to register women who are seeking employment in the region.
The needs and benefits of investing in low-income communities and women's development efforts have been documented in various studies. Yet, the women say they are "fighting our hardest battle ever - sustainability in the weakest U.S. economy in decades and a future being designed without us."

The conditions of women on the border are urgent. They need, they say, justice and equity now. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

New god on my horizon: Stephen Colbert

With these words he spoke today--as seen in the vid clip above--to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International law meeting entitled "Protecting America's Harvest," Stephen Colbert enshrined himself indelibly in my heart.

I'm now a firmly entrenched member of the Colbert nation. Or maybe I always was and just didn't know he and I were on the same team.
I'm anchoring his border.

loose transcription from Huffington Post

[Representative Judy Chu (D-CA)] asks Colbert why, of all the issues he could talk about, or bring attention to, he decided to get involved in this issue. Colbert, for the first time today, drops out of character.
"I like talking about people who don't have any power...I feel the need to speak for those who can't speak for themselves....We ask them to come and work, and then we ask them to leave again. They suffer, and have no rights."
He also quotes Matthew 25:40: "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
That would seem to be a good place to leave this, and after summing up, Zoe Lofgren adjourns the meeting.
Readers of this blog probably have picked up that Matthew 25 motivates the lifestyle I've chosen. But, honestly, I am not sure that if I were seated before the House that I'd be self-aware enough to mention that.
It is better not to get me started on Matthew 25. I have a lot to say about it.
I'm grateful that Colbert was speaking his characteristic "truthiness" for me...and my farmworker amigos...to Power today.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spring Breakers without Borders!

Here's the best eight minutes I spent on the internet today. Be sure to watch it all the way through!

Hat tip to Al Giordano.
This vid ought to trigger comments. Yours are welcome!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Indian Lake Park, Wisconsin: Where the Ice Age ends

Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail lets visitors explore the border of the glacier invasion into North America during the last Ice Age. One of many pleasant points of interest on the trail in mid-Wisconsin is Indian Lake Park in Dane County.

Indian Lake lies at the very edge of the area of southwestern Wisconsin that the glaciers did not reach, known as the “driftless” area. They melted and quit here. You can see where glaciers did—and didn’t—press the land flat.

The steep slopes of exposed rock show that the valley was never completely covered with ice. But the large boulders found on the valley floor could only have been brought here by a finger of ice that fanned out from the main body of the glacier.

In honor of Ronald J. Ripp, a well-regarded Dane County Surveyor, the precise geodetic position is marked. The coordinates of the park are: Latitude N 43 degrees 11’ 23.2”; Longitude W 89 degrees 37’ 18.2”; Elevation 940 feet. But in pragmatic Midwestern philosophy, the sign concludes by asking the visitor:
“Now that you know where you are, do you know where you are going?”

Indian Lake is one of many shallow kettle lakes in the area that the glaciers left behind when they retreated. The plain by the lake formed when melting water from the glacier carried silt and sand into the valley.

Plant life in the park is diverse. Paper birch trees dominate the cool north-facing slope along the lake.

But on the hilltops ancient gnarled oaks are crowded by younger hardwoods. [Here you see a stretch of the Ice Age Trail.]

Indians camped at the southwest end of the lake for several hundred years. During that time there were no trees here at all. Frequent prairie fires took care of that. But once settlers arrived, and stopped the fires, trees started to fill in the open spaces. Now only a few small patches of prairie are left. You can see a lovely prairie bumping into the lake here:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Human Rights Gala in Tucson, Oct. 2

Congressman Grijalva and City Council Member Romero to Host Human Rights Gala in Tucson
Border Action Network will celebrate human rights advocacy by honoring three exceptional Arizonans

What: “A Better Arizona is in Our Hands”
Border Action Network’s First Annual Gala to Celebrate Human Rights
When: Saturday, October 2nd from 4:00 to 7:00pm
Where: Mercado San Agustin100 S. Avenida del Convento, Tucson, AZ 85745

Tucson, Ariz. – On Saturday, October 2nd, US Congressman Raul Grijalva and Tucson City Council Member Regina Romero will host the First Annual Gala to Celebrate Human Rights with Border Action Network, a community-based human rights organization in Arizona.  The event, “A Better Arizona is in Our Hands,” will recognize three individuals who have stood up for rights and dignity of immigrant families and border communities.
“Despite recent policies that have alienated and discriminated against immigrants in Arizona, there is still a strong movement for human dignity in our state,” said Jennifer Allen, Border Action Network’s executive director.  “Exceptional people have led this movement, and they deserve to be recognized.”
Border Action will select three individuals, one from faith, state legislation and community organizing, to receive these awards.  Their names and backgrounds will be released publicly on September 23rd.
In addition to awards, there will be a silent auction, hor d’oeuvres and refreshments, live music from Sergio Mendoza y Amigos, Mike Ronstadt and Family, Pablo and Friends, and a performance from the Poi-Zen fire artists.
Tickets are $40 per person before September 24th and $50 after September 24th.  Individual, non-profit organization, business sponsorships are available.  Please RSVP to Jill Nunes at (520) 623-4944 x7502, email jill@borderaction.org, or visit the Border Action website at www.borderaction.org.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

HBO's THE FENCE (LA BARDA) studies impact of U.S.-Mexico border wall

THE FENCE (LA BARDA), Rory Kennedy's latest HBO documentary, investigates the impact of the U.S. government's decision in October 2006 to build a 700-mile fence along its troubled border with Mexico. It debuts Thursday, September 16 (8:00-8:45 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO.

After three years of construction, 19 construction companies, 350 engineers, thousands of construction workers, tens of thousands of tons of metal and $3 billion later, the question remains: Was it all worth it?

The film reveals how the border wall's stated goals - containing illegal immigration, cracking down on drug trafficking and protecting America from terrorists - have given way to unforeseen, even absurd consequences.

When Arizona recently enacted one of the most extreme immigration laws in the country, the Obama administration responded by filing a lawsuit against the state.  This dispute was merely the latest symptom of a greater national problem:  the lack of a comprehensive, workable U.S. immigration policy.  In its place, lawmakers have resorted to a series of half-measures, the most expensive of which - the U.S.-Mexico border fence - extends through the desert 150 miles south of the Arizona state capital.

In THE FENCE (LA BARDA), Rory Kennedy  of HBO's Emmy®-winning "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" follows her subjects through private ranches, protected wilderness, bustling border towns and scrub deserts for a revealing, often surprising look at the controversial southern U.S. border barrier.  Featuring candid interviews with Border Patrol guards, ranchers, environmentalists and voices from both sides of the immigration controversy, the film also uses humor to highlight the contradictions and misinformation that have dogged the fence from its inception, underscoring the sometimes stark contrast between fact and political opinion.

As many as 500,000 undocumented immigrants are estimated to cross into the U.S. every year.  In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration responded to the enormous political pressure to close what was seen as a dangerous open door with a seemingly simple, some say simplistic, solution:  a fence dividing the United States from its neighbor to the south.
Approved by Congress under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and passed by 73% of Congress, with support from both Republicans and Democrats, the fence was constructed at a cost of more than $3 billion, a figure that continually grows due to maintenance and repairs.

One of the most confounding and little-known realities of the fence is that it covers only about one-third of the 2,000-mile border.  A patchwork of materials ranging from corrugated steel and concrete to chain-link fence and railroad ties, it stops abruptly in places, leaving long stretches of open space that the government has no plans to seal off.  As one of Kennedy's subjects notes, sometimes the easiest way to get past the fence is to "go a mile down this road [where] there is no fence" and simply walk around it.

Kennedy's host of witnesses, including eminent historian Douglas Brinkley, create an unprecedented oral history of the fence.  Her camera captures the frustrations of Border Patrol guards who risk their lives to thwart fence breaches only to face bolder attempt the next day.  She also interviews both the "coyotes" (human smugglers) illegally ferry people across borders and the people who have survived the potentially deadly crossing.

Set your VCR [or make friends with someone who gets HBO!]~

Other HBO playdates:  Sept. 18 (5:30 p.m.), 22 (9:30 a.m., midnight) and 28 (2:15 p.m.), and Oct. 3 (3:45 p.m.), 7 (4:15 p.m.) and 11 (6:15 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates:  Sept. 20 (10:45 a.m., 3:20 a.m.) and 30 (7:15 p.m.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Border Disconnect: Living with terror, division, death

A glance at the top ten most-viewed El Paso (TX) Times headlines on a September Saturday morning reveals the split-personality of border life in a warzone:

The border "disconnect" has always been a bit disconcerting to me, a newbie on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Literally: within an hour from my front door-- without even using a car or taking a bus-- I can plunge into a large foreign city. If I use a car and city bus, within an hour I can walk down the dust-covered street of an undeveloped barrio neighborhood. I sneak sidelong peeks to avoid looking like a gawker at the homes comprised of loading pallets covered with cardboard.

It's the split personality of living in the border community. A great divide runs through us. This is the line marking the greatest disparity in wealth that's found anywhere in the world.

But in the last few years, as violence has spiraled, the split has taken on an additional darker dimension. How does one live life when surrounded by the horror of daily violence, savagery and death?

The juxtaposition of headlines reveals this new reality. Friday night high school football bumps up next to traumatized children. Kidnappings, slayings and a new wave of violence intermingles with "what to do" this weekend. Life continues amidst terror.

We in El Paso are the horrified bystanders. Hiding behind our border wall, we reassure the world of our "safest city" status. Yet we ache for our family and friends who live in Juarez with car bombs, carjackings, and extortion--all with no recourse. We are afraid to go there now. We don't know what to do.

And life in Juarez continues, as life must continue in any war zone. I sometimes think of the ordinary people of Juarez as "heroes" and then I wonder if I'm too easily dismissing their reality with that thought. You know: call them "heroes" and then move on to other things.

My migratory lifestyle, each year split between the placid Midwest and the bloody Border, only accentuates the disconnect.

There's no easy answer. There is nothing to do but to continue.