LatinaLista — Even as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, residents along the Texas-Mexico border reported that construction of the mandated border fence was underway. Since the day it was announced that the Department of Homeland Security was going to enforce the Secure Fence Act and ensure its construction, a dedicated group of activists, environmentalists, community leaders and border residents have banded together to fight the government’s decision. Through protests, collaborative strategies, binational events and even the arts — from filmmaking to song to poetry — opposition to the construction of a physical barrier has taken many forms but delivering one clear message — No border wall wanted.
Dr. Kamala Platt
Kamala Platt is an independent scholar, writer/artist, activist and profesora who has worked in South Texas, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Kansas, and Chicago. Her scholarly work, including the manuscript, “Environmental Justice Poetics: Cultural Representations of Environmental Racism from Chicanas and South Asian Women” investigates cultural poetics promoting environmental and social justice.
She teaches courses in Literatures, Writing, Latin@ Studies, Cultural Studies, and Women’s Studies and is currently working on “sabbatical” projects in San Antonio.
The following post has been adapted from a presentation Dr. Platt delivered at the Modern Language Association Convention in December 2008.
And if enough of our voices join together, we can bring those walls tumbling down. The walls of Jericho can finally come tumbling down. That is our hope — but only if we pray together, and work together, and march together. –Barack Obama (Sermon, Spring,08)
From Robert Frost to Pink Floyd to Barack Obama to Rachel Corrie, from Berlin to Palestine to China to South Texas, wall-building poetics are expressed in poetry, song, sermon, e-mail, photography, paintings and other means. In the last two years, such poetics have countered, delayed and in some places terminated the building of walls in the Texas-Mexico Borderland.
In this struggle, landowners stand up to intrusion onto properties that date back centuries to Spanish Land Grants and to Indigenous communities prior to European occupation. Anti-wall activists renounce plans that endanger habitat and migration trails, the richest of wildlife concentrations in the US.
Statements from Indigenous and environmental groups denounce the threat inherent in the philosophy of wall-building and militarization: degradation of spiritual and material relations with Nuestra Tierra Madre.
“Border Ambassadors,” declare “No Wall Between Amigas/os.” The suspension of wall-building and of waivers of constitutional rights have been called for in letters to President Obama sent within hours of his inauguration. This poetics of the anti-wall movement in Rio Grande Valley, when analyzed in conjunction with the rhetoric of fear pushed forward by US Homeland Security among others, offers understanding of wall-building in relations between cultures, and between nations and nature that have global, as well as, local implications.
Planned as a result of the powers Congress gave Homeland Security in the Secure Fence Act, the threat of a literal wall along the border in South Texas has prompted analysis and comparison among its resisters.
One of the most egregious and least publicized of side effects of border wall building is the list of 37 waivers of our rights—laws dating back over a century– in the borderlands. A blog presenting summaries of the history and significance of the Acts being waived in borderland communities is up and growing.
General references to the Great Wall in China are evoked to demonstrate that wall building on a magnificent scale “does not work.” Parallels and contrasts have been drawn to contemporary barriers such as the Israeli wall around and between Palestinian communities, which comes with similar suspension of rights and violent disruption of human and ecological communities.
In San Antonio, community organizations presenting discussions of occupation of Palestinian lands encouraged understanding of the impacts of the Israeli wall by presenting a comparison to the threat that communities along the Texas Mexico border face. The significance of both walls and the connections between communities across the world became more real for the audience.
In South Texas, protests against el muro often identifies with the Berlin Wall; the partition into two countries what was one rings familiar. For those who know that the wall cuts across what, in the early 19th Century, was Mexico–portions of Tejas and Nuevo Santander–the experience of division of the two Germanies—of people from the same cultural background, and once the same country resounds forebodingly.
In the oldest regional, Indigenous histories, the Rio Grande was a place for cultural exchange, and it continues as a resource in the center of the homeland for Kickapoo, Lipan Apache, Mexican American and other communities, even as Chertoff’s waivers remove religious rights granted to Native Americans.
As the Obama administration’s era of “tumbling walls” dawns nationally, the lack of communication of our borderland realities beyond the borderland will be only more solidified in the building of walls. Fortunately, the cultural poetics of borderlands groups against walls continues to dissolve that divide.