Cordula at the fence, March 23, 2009
Anapra, NM/Colonia Anapra, Juarez, Chihuahua
Yesterday I worked with an incredible journalist from Der Spiegel (the German equivalent of Time). She is German, from the north of Germany. Works out of the DC Bureau. Sharp and smart and witty and ironic and puro journalist. We did a story at Fort Bliss. She was bright and lively and brave and charming and funny and we’d had a successful day and did a great story together. She wanted to see “El Paso.”
So we head for the border (I’m a one trick pony. To me, the border is El Paso).
In no time, the Border Patrol (BP) comes up. We are at the fence talking to some kids, through it. The BP warns us off, says “they’ll throw stones at you.” She’s getting a little edgy. I tell her, NO, that’s crap. They’re lying. These are Mexicans. These are the people I love and these are people I feel close to, these are the people I have chosen to spend my life with, and, these are the people I want seen for what they are: Beautiful people. La Raza. They would never throw stones. Why would they?
The BP leaves. One of the little boys, Mario, calls me over. “Le tengo un regalo para la muchacha bonita (I have a gift for the pretty girl),” he says in Spanish.
He digs in his tattered pocket and pulls out his “treasures.” There are three marbles, some metal nuts, a few little round pieces of glass with beautiful colors that look like eyes. He chooses the most colorful one and hands it to me through the fence. It is red and yellow, green and clear. He squeezes it through the fence and I pass it to the reporter. “His name is Mario. He wants to give you a gift.” She takes it, and she is touched. It is so unexpected. This is not what the Border Patrol had prepared her for. This is not what the New York Times is reporting, or CNN. This is not the view of the border and Juarez now (or ever was, really). This is not the action of a “failed State.” Mexicans tossing gifts through the wall, passing love, passing their heart, north through the fence. No this is not the hysteria we are being made ready for and hear about.
The reporter has been everywhere. Sudan. The Tsunami the day after it hit, walking ankle deep in the decay of death. Everywhere. Conflicts and campaigns, the famous and the oppressed. Everywhere. Europe. Asia. Africa. All but six of the U.S. states.
No one had ever passed her a magic eye across a border before. Mario did something new: he turned International News upside down. He turned the view to the south back onto the north, like a mirror. That’s what the border does, it holds up a mirror. From the north we think we’re looking into an “other.” Mexico. The Other. Them.
But what we really end up looking at is ourselves and it is often not what we expect, or, even, want to see. Instead of beautiful children we, sometimes see “rock throwers,” but, actually, we’re just seeing our own reflection.
We’d been warned they’d throw rocks. Mario handed a magic eye of glass to a “pretty lady.” Her heart was touched as was mine.
To be a journalist is to have the opportunity to know, first hand. I don’t know if there is any other way to really know anything. A good journalist honors this and tries to not get in the way of what they have experienced, tries to be open, see clearly, let whatever it is be what it is.
We climb into the rental car. I look down and see she has the magic eye tightly clasped in her hand, kneading it, like new bread.
Sun goes down.
We leave the fence and the border.
A patrol of the Mexican Army comes up -on the other side- behind the kids, machine guns mounted on the back of their GM trucks (at least someone is still buying them). I wonder if they’ll warn the kids about us, caution them about the gringos (can a German from Hamburg be a gringo?). Maybe, even, they’ll caution them, “watch out…those locos might throw rocks.”
The Mexicans have mirrors, too.
Maybe the lesson is that you can’t trust people in trucks, wearing uniforms, at the border.