Ilia Baksheev

Opinion

Why Militarizing the Border Will Launch a Culture War

Ask me about the U.S.-Mexico border sometime—it’s my favorite topic. Well, that and slain Tejano superstar Selena, whose music provided the perfect soundtrack for those of us who safely grew up at the corner of “hey, y'all” and “que pasa, güey” deep in Southwest Texas at a time when Latinos weren’t seen as a collective threat to our nation’s homeland security.

This was long before old white men nestled comfortably in their D.C. offices decided that “illegal immigration” had gotten so far out of hand (despite record deportations under President Barack Obama), that the best option would be to divide entire American communities like my own with a “yuge” bigoted structure. All of which would be an obvious attempt at bolstering support from a xenophobic base that’s convinced all brown folks are Mexican or members of international criminal gang MS-13. Talk about a juxtaposition.

Even without Donald Trump’s prodding, a majority of Republican politicians—most of whom have never set foot in the region (but have probably paid extra for guac at Chipotle)—believe strongly in the wall’s defined discriminatory role to keep dark-skinned undocumented immigrants out at all costs. These people that they so callously describe as drug lords, rapists, and murderers are predominantly poor individuals of Latin heritage looking for a better life for their families amid economic uncertainty and relentless violence in their countries of origin.

Conservative leaders argue, though, that they’re merely protecting our country from the countless “bad hombres” that their fearless leader warned them about while on the campaign trail. And in turn, they want their own constituents in White Middle America to fear the border and the daily illicit activities that are supposedly perpetrated by their southern Spanish-speaking neighbors, even when that characterization is largely unwarranted.

The National Guard is now officially on the frontlines of what I genuinely feel is Trump’s battle with brown American Dreamers.

That continued marginalization is only going to get worse now that Trump has recently implemented a new plan widely celebrated by right-wingers (and slammed by liberals) to militarize the border through the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops. That rash decision was a result of Trump’s growing impatience with Congress, which has so far refused to award him his requested $25 billion in border wall funding after the Mexican government essentially told him from the get-go, “Vete a la chingada, pinche pendejo.” I paraphrase.

Trump says until his prized wall is built, he hopes that the uniformed militia’s presence—already stationed along the western edge of my home state of Texas—will help curb the alleged rampant danger that FOX News swears exists. I should note that the National Guardsmen are reportedly tasked with assisting Border Patrol agents with administrative and surveillance work and not apprehension. Sure, Jan. They’re still oftentimes armed soldiers who could perhaps come equipped with their own personal biases.

Which is why I’m personally worried for my hometown of Eagle Pass, Texas (and other border communities, for that matter), which is practically 99-percent Mexican-American. Life for us already changed drastically once the Secure Fence Act of 2006 authorized the construction of a 15-foot fence that dissects a city park just yards away from our downtown area. This downtown area boasts numerous small businesses kept open by the tens of thousands of Mexican nationals who spend their hard-earned dollars there instead of in their native land. Even more so now, border residents will also have to adjust to seeing dozens of military members parading around as they try to discern (for safety purposes, of course) which of us are already citizens and not “Hispanic hoodlums.” We’re also somehow expected to conduct ourselves normally, as though the White House isn’t at war with the Brown Border because, to them, we represent the unknown, even within our own country.

Just because the border has become this mythological setting for lawmakers and xenophobes doesn't make it any less real for those of us who actually know the land and feel its power.

The National Guard is now officially on the frontlines of what I genuinely feel is Trump’s battle with brown American Dreamers. Just imagine scores of military personnel descending upon your home anywhere within the continental United States. Can’t? Don’t blame you—I didn’t either until this bumbling buffoon entered office. But if you can’t see the racial component to this order, then maybe you should look up from underneath the brim of your blood-red baseball cap.

Just because the border has become this mythological setting for lawmakers and xenophobes doesn't make it any less real for those of us who actually know the land and feel its power. I wish people could regularly witness the magic of cultural synergy—facilitated by colonialism centuries ago, no less—that makes my home a unique place but leaves outsiders confused by its perfect blend of Mexican and American identities. Its folkloric vibrancy mimics the bold colors of a Frida Kahlo painting, while its easy-going, relaxed nature sounds like a familiar guitar riff in a George Strait classic. It’s ours to desire, not defend against so-called patriots fearful of our ethnic flavor.

It’s not easy describing the type of life that straddles two very distinct worlds, worlds that our current administration would have you believe are at odds with each other because of perceived economic and political differences—and, superficially enough, the prominence of one skin tone over another. But those of us who know the border well are extremely proud of the land that bore us and can say with absolute certainty that none of this would have happened if we had elected our rightful president, Selena's ghost. God, I miss her.

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