Clarity is important in life. We need to know what we are doing, how it impacts the world around us and whether we wish to be a party to the consequences of our collective actions.
On a clear day a coyote inserted himself into a community far into the south of Mexico. He drove a nice car, wore jewelry and loved to explain to the local ranchito owners how much better their life would be if they worked a kush job picking oranges in Florida. The price would be fair and he would hold their property in exchange so no cash would need to change hands. Simple. They could pay him back for his trouble from all the money they would make in Florida picking oranges, much more than they could ever hope to make sowing subsistence crops for the rest of their whole lives here on their ranchito. Or they could just stay in Florida, he would keep their property for himself and they could go on living the good life of an American citizen.
This far south, no one talks or even knows about legal or illegal immigration, the Sonoran Desert, the endless Walk, the Heat, how heat breaks down the body, what dehydration does to the mind, or the parched, anonymous bones it leaves behind, jutting out of the desert sand. They litter the Sonoran Desert, victims of the not-so-silent battle between rich and poor, the Hopeful and the Hopeless, the border crossers and the coyotes who feed off of their ignorance. This is the purest, most vile form of capitalism operating at the ass-end of the world you and I live in.
A mother, father and their six year old daughter finally made the bargain with the coyote and by the time they had reached northern Mexico, they were, “all in.” It was either make it to Florida or lose what little they had to the longest walk of their lives.
Prayers to Mary do not work in the Borderland. They knew that this trek would be difficult, but nothing and no one they had ever seen or met could have prepared them for what still remained between them and the paradise that was picking oranges in the Florida sunshine.
After several days battling dehydration and evading Border Patrol agents, the father became separated from his wife and daughter, leaving them both stranded in the desert with little food or water to keep them alive.
The mother wandered the desert with her young daughter in despair, aimlessly searching for her husband to no avail, crossing paths, inevitably, with another coyote who offered to watch her daughter while she tried to “earn” the necessary funds to pay the coyote’s price for watching her daughter and getting her the rest of the way to Florida.
Or she could pray to Mother Mary.
So she prayed in a world spinning upside down and out of control, leaving the coyote to sun himself in the desert a while longer atop the rocks where he could later hide from the heat of the afternoon.
A man who has lived in the Borderland his whole life soon appeared in the distance with an archeologist walking about and doing a study regarding the migration from north to south and back again over thousands of years. He had a recorder and the two men had been talking about the thousands of backpacks he had collected over the three years of his study, the artifacts of the lost and the dying that seemed to be increasing in volume of late. The archeologist was creating a story for the Public Radio Exchange Project, a dubious little corner of the worldwide web where some of the worthless artifacts of disaster capitalism are stored, frozen in time with the hope no one can trade for a living wage any longer.
“That is the nature of this place, hombre.”
“What do you mean, Pedro?”
“Prayers do not work here, señor. There is no forgiveness in the Borderland.”
The eyebrows of the archeologist raised and as he turned to shake his head, he caught a glimpse of the woman and her daughter, trudging through the hot sand. “More data,” he thought.
The mother spoke no English, and so Pedro intervened between the two while the archeologist recorded her story for Science, for PRX and for my ears driving home from Austin, from my relatively kush job trying to bring health insurance, maybe healthcare, to my in-laws and countless millions who had nothing only a few short years before. It was the most I thought I had left to do with my life and my Creator obviously agreed with me. Working for a Defense contractor before now, while better than starving to death trying to sell cable television and telephone at the age of 50 to a world that no longer needed either, was nowhere near the best possible fit for either me or a culture of people used to blowing two-dollar tents, and their contents, to bits using 100 thousand dollar missiles. But it was a living, I was slowly returning to the level of income I had been at prior to 9/11/2001, and so when the chance to work on a project that might lead to socialized medicine for all, I felt the attraction of the project and the repulsion of my own karma made my journey to Austin inevitable. As inevitable as Pedro’s place in space and time translating for an archeologist and Posterity in the Sonoran Desert could possibly be.
Pedro explained the mother’s story and her plight to the archeologist, her dehydration making tears impossible and the smell of drinking her own urine for hours seem so desperate, that Pedro, a man who had no money himself, openly weep for this mother and her young daughter in front of this man of Science.
The archeologist watched, recorder in hand, while Pedro reached deep into his pocket to pull out what must have been his last and only hope for a cup of soup that evening, placing it into the mother’s hand with two of his own. Thirty pesos. Not even American money. The mother’s knees buckled to the hot sand, the little girl leaning in towards her mother. Pedro wailed like a baby.
End of story.
You can build your wall, create a few hundred jobs and perhaps even ease your conscience flipping quarters into the tin cups of the hustlers and the homeless who have littered our streets for most of the last 40 years. Maybe even pretend like you can detect the difference between the two better than a subsistence farmer in southern Mexico. But you are lying to yourself every bit as effectively as all those Jews who filled up all those rail cars thinking that they were finally going to the Promised Land of Israel, only to discover – far too late – that their fate had already been decided for them by one of their own long before they had even left the Ghetto, long before they had given up all of their earthly possessions to pay for a holy trip that was to be their Final Solution.
Their prayers, like ours, are not answered in the Borderland. All we have left anymore are the stories we tell each other about where we’ve been and what we’ve done to get here to this moment in space and time. Our only prayer is that we are telling one another the honest truth as we see it.