If you have ever visited a U.S. town or major city along the U.S.-Mexico border you will quickly realize it is a unique part of the country. The region is alive with multiculturalism, globalization and ethnic diversity. I was born in a border town in Mexico, Tijuana, and grew up in a border town in the U.S, San Diego. I believe that border communities are microcosms of what is possible when we embrace our differences instead alienating each other because of them.
For the past few decades, U.S. policy has succeeded in marginalizing, exploiting and vilifying the U.S.-Mexico border region as well as the people who live and work there. In the early 90's President Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into law. NAFTA vastly changed the way commerce was conducted between Mexico and the United States yet business owners of the region were never consulted. Also in the early 90's, border walls and an increase of border security infrastructure was added without input from the residents and businesses directly affected by them. In recent years, more border walls and thousands more border guards populate the region. Some landowners in Texas have actually had their properties placed south of the newly constructed border walls, again without consultation.
People who call the U.S.-Mexico border region home have been discounted for decades. State and Federal laws continue to overlook this economically strong and culturally unique region of our country. Sacred Native American lands continue to be desecrated, wildlife and the environment continues to suffer, and thousands of hopeful migrants continue to die in the deserts and mountains of the American Southwest. The media and government officials systematically portray this region as a lawless stretch of land that needs to be tamed. Factual accounting of the region reveals some of the safest neighborhoods and cities in the U.S. as well as some of the most diverse and stable economies.
Because of constant neglect, marginalization and criminalization of the border region, on March 8, border organizations and community leaders announced the formation of an unprecedented coalition to assert the rights and interests of the communities that often fall casualty to our country's border policies. The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) has officially launched with more than 60 signatories from San Diego to Brownsville. The coalition is broad-based and includes everything from environmental to faith to business organizations.
Christian Ramirez (American Friends Service Committee) of San Diego, CA and Jennifer Allen (Border Action Network) of Tucson, AZ, co-chair the coalition. Christian Ramirez says, "We are now speaking with one voice. The SBCC is going to start telling the true narrative about border communities instead of having one imposed upon it. We have been neglected for too long and we demand to be treated with dignity and respect."
Jennifer Allen adds, "The border region continues to be misrepresented and discounted. We are joining together in solidarity to dispel myth. The border region is not a desolate desert but an area filled with international communities. Border policies need to respect this region and represent the reality that exists here." The border coalition will work to change detrimental border enforcement policies and demand that human rights abuses and loss of life cease.
For the first time in the history of the border region a group of organizations and businesses have joined forces to demand their voices be heard. No longer will they allow their region to be described as a "war zone." No longer will they permit state governors like Jan Brewer of Arizona to racially profile the local population. No longer will they remain silent. The Southern Border Communities Coalition does not deny there are problems in the region. They believe, through collaboration, more effective and less oppressive solutions can be realized.
The border region of the American Southwest is where newly arrived immigrants settle. It is where two nations exchange goods and services; it is where old ways of life meet the modern world. It is where diverse groups of people live together and thrive. I imagine what the U.S. would be like if we honored uniqueness, respected all cultures, languages and ethnicities. What would the U.S. be like if in order to form a more perfect union, we would establish justice over prejudice and insure domestic tranquility over fear mongering. The newly formed border coalition and the border regions they represent can teach us all how to overcome our differences and dissolve our fear of each other but more than that the coalition represents a grand opportunity to live up to the very founding principles of the United States.