For five generations, the Benavidez family has lived on a seven-acre plot of serene farmland near the U.S.-Mexico border west of Brownsville, Texas. They’ve harvested cotton and squash and raised goats and pigs. They’ve helped sculpt the levee that snakes across the rear of the property. They’ve given birth there, married there and died there. Their connection to the land runs so deep that they can’t imagine parting with even a piece of it. So two weeks ago, when federal employees arrived asking to purchase a rectangular slice abutting the levee for $4,100 to make way for a border fence aimed at deterring illegal immigrants, they refused. “I don’t want to scare you,” Idalia Benavidez, 77, says one of the employees told her, “but whether you agree or not, the government’s going to make the fence.” If the Feds get their way, an 18-foot-high barrier will soon traverse the Benavidez property, cutting off their cows from a pasture south of the fence’s proposed path. “It’s going to be ugly,” says Benavidez. Worse still, she predicts, “it’s not going to work.”
That mostly sums up the current sentiment along the Texas border. But the Brownsville area in particular—where a unique alliance of politicians, business leaders, farmers, environmental activists, church groups and ordinary citizens has challenged the fence—has become the epicenter of the fight. On April 28 many of those constituencies plan to air their grievances at a congressional field hearing in the city designed to examine the fence’s impact. Opponents decry “the wall,” as they call it, as a waste of money better spent on more border personnel and surveillance technology. They lament what they consider outsiders’ misunderstanding of south Texas culture, with its Anglo-Mexican blend and its view of the Rio Grande as a meeting point rather than a dividing line. And they argue that it will crimp the economy and trample landowners’ rights. . .
The Rio Grande “as a meeting point rather than a dividing line” — that seems pretty profound and true to me. That was one of the many things I loved about Texas when I lived there, it was an in-between place, a place where Anglo and Mexican culture met and blended. Sometimes the blending was lumpy, like cake dough that’s not stirred enough, other times the mix was just perfect and became something unique and special that was better than the sum of its parts.
The wall will hurt things a lot. The blending will still happen of course. You can’t stop culture and people from coming in and out, wall or no wall, but it will create more resentments and hurt. And poor folks will suffer needlessly. Families will be even more isolated and more migrants will end up dying after taking extreme measures to get across.
I am proud that my church works with a sister church in Brownsville to help the undocumented folks coming from Mexico, but I wish there was more that could be done to mend this hurt. I am glad though that the folks in Brownsville (on the US side) are speaking out against the wall and in support of their brothers and sisters on the other side of the wall.