Throughout world history, three models quickly come to mind; the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall in Britain, and the Berlin Wall in Germany.
For example, in 221 B.C., King Zheng of Qin built the first part of the Great Wall that would eventually stretch for 5,500 miles. He had just consolidated his rule over smaller domains and wanted everyone to know about his power. Thus, his extensive fortifications line heralded his strength to northern nomad Eurasian tribes.
Similarly, when the Romans arrived in Britain, Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a Roman limite (barrier) to mark the northern boundary of Rome’s reach. The 84-mile long wall, completed in 128 A.D. likewise delivered the same message to war-prone Celtic tribes.
Incidentally, both the Chinese and Roman efforts took place in mostly desolate territory, void of significant human activity. In contrast, the 96-mile long Berlin Wall is different. Built in 1961 at the height of the Cold War, parts of it were erected through established neighborhoods in the middle of Berlin that were emptied or razed, dividing the city for 28 years.
It’s important to recall that in condemning the Berlin Wall in 1987 for violating principles of human liberty and peace, President Ronald Reagan admonished Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev not to confuse security for freedom. It’s at this time that President Reagan delivered his now well-known phrase: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Today, remnants of the famous walls in China, Britain, and Germany have long lost their value as costly vanity ventures. Hence, the ruins are now tourist attractions for those interested in visiting tributes to human folly. Built in three diverse world settings, these walls should discourage anyone from making similar imprudent decisions again. Plainly, repeating an act and expecting a different result is an exercise in futility.
Yet, some people in the U.S. don’t get it. That’s because a new intolerant breed bent on bigotry now uses the “Build the Wall” slogan as a modern-day version of the 1950s “No Mexicans Allowed” phrase. They do so to generalize about and intimidate Mexican-descent U.S. citizens; naively reproaching only Mexico for mutually-caused border difficulties. Still, there’s at least two additional problems.
First, qualified experts have studied the wall-building idea and deemed it unwise; identifying inestimable cost as its major limiting factor. Sensibly weighing the expense, the majority of U.S. taxpayers don’t support the wall.
Second, the wall is unworkable, due to overlapping family-linked towns. The many energetic bi-national border town communities clearly defy it. Following is a brief summary of these prime key border synergy spots (most predate the United States).
(Note: Discussion below deals only with New Spain (Mexico), and not with the Spanish influence throughout the Gulf of Mexico.)
Brownsville/Matamoros (population over one million): Located where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico, this community (originally named Villa Refugio) was settled in 1749.
Villas del Norte (population over 1.5 million): This is a fused-together region between Laredo/Nuevo Laredo and Brownsville Matamoros established by Count José de Escandón in 1749-1755. It’s a 200-mile long mega metropolitan area: Laredo, Zapata, Rio Grande City, Hebbronville, Edinburg, McAllen, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, Harlingen, and their “otro lado” sister towns of Nuevo Laredo, Guerrero, Mier, Camargo, Reynosa, Matamoros, and surrounding area.
Laredo/Nuevo Laredo (population over 636,500): Founded by Capitán Tomás Sánchez in 1755, Laredo is one of only two Villas established on today’s Texas side of the Rio Grande. (Nearby Dolores is the other.) Though Nuevo Laredo was founded in 1848, it was initially part of Laredo, Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas).
Del Rio/Ciudad Acuña (population over 200,000): Although these communities were officially settled in the 1800s, the area was well known to early Spanish Mexican pioneers.
Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras (population over 200,000): Formally, these two towns began in the 1840s-50s. They are near the site of Presidio San Juan Bautista (Rio Grande), established in 1699-1700. No European could enter to travel in Texas without first getting permission from the “Gateway to Texas” Presidio commander.
El Paso/Juárez (population. over 2.7 million): This metropolitan area includes Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is known as the largest bilingual, binational work force in the western hemisphere. Interestingly, El Paso (1680) began as part of New Mexico and for a time served as its capital. Likewise, Juárez was officially founded when Spanish missionaries came to live among the area’s indigenous people and named it Paso del Norte in 1659. The name implies its purpose as a base camp for exploration across the Rio Grande into today’s New Mexico and beyond.
Arizona/New Mexico/Sonora/Chihuahua/Coahuila (Native American homeland) (estimated population 400,000): This is where “the fence” becomes a Wall of Infamy. That’s because Navajo, Pueblo, Apache, Hopi, Havasupai, Pima; and over 30 allied Native American tribes make their home in the contiguous Sonora and Chihuahua Deserts straddling both sides of the border.
Border crossers here may generally look like Mexican immigrant workers due to their brown skin, but they are not. In reality these desert denizens travel on both sides to maintain centuries-old seasonal cultural, ceremonial traditions, as they have since before the white European invasion of their land. Yet, the majority of Anglo and Northern European-descent U.S. citizens, especially fanatical wall supporters living in Arizona itself, are ignorant of this fact.
Quite callously, the border wall will confine descendants of the last surviving indigenous Southwest people by cutting in half their shrinking free-roaming Native American desert homeland. Bottom line, for Native Americans, a fence on our southern border is a final insult, a betrayal at its worst.
San Diego/Tijuana (population over five million). This second largest trans-border commercial link is the west end of the U.S. Mexico border. San Diego was settled as San Miguel in 1542. Tijuana was officially founded in the 1800s, but its earliest roots are tied to San Diego.
In this manner, the U.S.-Mexico border with its shared 11 million-plus residents manifests a living, breathing organism. With their strong communal family ties, border cities (ciudades) supply the lifeline that hold the 2,000 mile-long spine (boundary) together, preserving its high value as a binational, bicultural, bilingual Borderlands.
In summary, President Ronald Reagan said it best on April 18, 1985: “In our international relations, Hispanic Americans contribute to our nation’s identity, our own perception of who we are and our role in the world as well as others’ perception of us. Strong family and cultural ties bind the United States with Spain and our nearest neighbor (Mexico).”
So, when is a border not a barrier? When borderlands brotherhood proves it isn’t. It’s the glue that unites us. (La fraternidad fronteriza es lo que nos une). In spite of current problems, the vibrant southern border is a two-way highway of prosperity that is the envy of the world.
Finally, if President Reagan were alive today, he would rebuke fence-builders by strongly reaffirming his famous words: “Don’t build this wall!”