A visitor to, say, Sienna, might be hard put to find an expatriate from the U.S. living there, but s/he would have no trouble finding a McDonald’s serving up the same hamburger as in San Francisco, California. And I dare say that even a Tuscan not from Sienna able to identify the heraldic devices of the various wards is quite rare, but rare indeed would be the Italian who could not identify the twin arches or on a field gules.
Such is the globalization of unbridled capitalism that the United States and the multinational corporations are hell-bent on imposing upon the world, while immigrants fleeing into the ‘First World’ from the poverty fomented by such capitalism in the ‘Third world” (there is no longer any ‘Second’) are increasingly discriminated against and persecuted.
Lady of the Border)*
Born and raised on the border of Cd. Juárez/El Paso, it seems I am destined to borders. Indeed, I now live straddling the border of another couple of cities, cooking my meals in Berkeley and sitting to eat them in Oakland. Mine is a life of borders; I straddle them all and in given circumstances they blur, diffuse, dissolve — racial, cultural, linguistic, philosophical, sexual, emotional, artistic, spiritual, political, what have you. I know borders, and I do not believe in them. So I guess I am a globalist; for a long time, I have considered myself a citizen of the world.
But borders, artificial and arbitrary though they be, exist and are enforced. Even so, borders are permeable, selectively permeable though they most often are. With family on both sides of the Río Grande, growing up with dual-citizenship (until I joined the U.S. Navy just out of high school) and being completely bilingual, I went back and forth between Mexico and the United States with ease and freedom. (Ironically, the only problem I ever encountered was when I returned to El Paso many years later. Driving back from Juárez late after a party one night, I was ordered out of my car and slavering dogs were let loose in it sniffing for drugs while I was stripped searched; I wore my hair rather long then and it made no difference to the custom officers that I was Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso. I can still taste that humiliation, helplessness, and rage.)
I realized even as a youth that my ease with borders was a privilege granted me by circumstance, the class to which I belonged. My family was known in Cd. Juárez and in El Paso and my privilege was attested to by my very speech. I knew the permeability of borders and I also knew that permeability was selective. No gringo (U.S. citizen) was ever refused entrance into Juárez that I ever heard of, but many Mexicans less privileged than I were refused entry into El Paso every day. (I use the word “gringo,” roughly meaning “foreigner,” as an entirely neutral appellative. You see, the citizen of the United States does not have a proper name. The term “American” belongs to everyone and everything in this hemisphere from Alaska to Patagonia, and the U.S. citizen has no legitimate exclusive claim to it at all. In want of a proper name, gringo will have to do.)
Borders have always been a passionate topic, long, long before the first stone was ever laid for the Great Wall in China, but borders is a particularly hot topic in the age of “globalization” where nations (and the corporations, the powers behind them, or at least ours) talk of relaxing them. What they really mean, is making them more permeable, selectively permeable, of course. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) no one is in any doubt but that it is the United States who calls the shots. At least it is so on the border of my birth where the maquiladoras (assembly plants) of mostly U.S. companies have wreaked such havoc, economic, cultural, environmental. According to a survey of the Economic Policy Institute, since NAFTA was implemented after January 1, 1994, what we see are “a continent-wide pattern of stagnant worker incomes, lost job opportunities, increased insecurity, and rising inequality.” Pollution in all three countries has continued to rise, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border where maquiladoras are wide-spread.
Globalization, the relaxing of borders, is only a scheme to make borders more selectively permeable to benefit the haves at the expense of the have-nots. What else is new? The only difference is that the sovereignty of governments becomes subordinate to the power (and cupidity) of corporations, of unbridled capitalism. It is a question of power. The United States is adamant in protecting its borders, but it has never been scrupulous in honoring the borders of other nations, especially those of Latin America. Intervention is endemic to us and the Monroe Doctrine is little more than staking a claim. The fact is that we do not even have to recur to the Monroe Doctrine in order to intervene in countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Bolivia, Columbia, Panama and others throughout the Americas, not to mention others outside the American hemisphere.
Certainly I think trade is beneficial, the exchange of goods that a country produces for goods produced by another country. Sugar cane does not grow in Maine and blue-berries do not grow in Cuba — let’s trade and let borders blur. But it has to be a trade and a blurring between people in their full sovereignty, which means that environmental and social guarantees (human rights as defined by the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights) are in place and enforced. That is the root of the confrontation that occurred in Genoa — and Seattle, Washington, Montreal, Barcelona, and that will take place in other cities in which such meetings to globalize trade may be held.
International trade and the power of corporations aside, the seamless nature of the environment and the Earth aside, borders in the electronic age are made even more untenable by a technology of instant communication, an internet that functions almost like an artificial nervous system further breaching borders, attenuating them, dissolving them, at least as far as traffic in information is concerned.
Here, too, permeation of borders is selective. And as with me growing up at the pass, El Paso, language constitutes the passport, the proof of privilege. Apart from the cost of computers (few people in Mexico have them, many in the U.S. do; the rich have them, the poor do not) it is language that decides the permeability of national borders. It is not only a matter of Spanish, English, Italian, Náhuatl, Maya-Quiché, Guaraní, but the creation of a lingua franca like that of mathematics available to all.
Such a language is in the making, the language of the computer, Computerese if you will. It is a created language and its creation is in the hands of a techno-priestly class whose pope is Bill Gates. All written languages at their beginnings (and arguably their ends) are the domain of the empowered and highly protected by its high-priests throughout history, the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Chinese ideograms, the Celtic runes, the Latin alphabet, the Nahua pictographs, the Maya texts, a monopoly of those in power. Micro-Soft’s is a protected monopoly, patented, enforced.
As with all language, it creates a cosmology, a consciousness, that can easily be as restricting as it can be liberating. Until the creation, the modification of computer language (or languages) is shared by everyone equally, it will create boundaries, borders, even as it breaches them. (I say this as one hardly literate in computers, distrustful and resentful of those who own the processes, control them, stifle others for the immense profit of it. Thank the gods for the protestors of “globalization,” also for the hackers, Luddites many, guerrillas with their viral Trojan horses undermining the citadels of Micro-Soft and their ilk, with many of us, to be sure, caught in the middle.)
Such it is with borders, and with living on them. Let them dissolve. There is no protection but that of sharing power and the wealth of the Earth. The Earth is one seamless whole; let us be part of it in a sensible, humane way and share in its riches equitably with all our relations (human, animal, plant, mineral) in justice (environmental, economic, political, civil) without which there can be no peace. No other way is acceptable. Let borders exist when they are useful toward this end. When justice and peace become the goals of globalization, borders will dissolve of themselves. Meanwhile I have resigned myself to borders, straddle them, blur them, and dissolve them wherever I can — and work toward justice and peace.
------------------------------------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2007
----------------------------------------------------Berkeley, Alta California
* Guillermina Valdés (1940-1991) among many other things, founder & director of the Colegio de la Frontera, a border-studies institute in Cd. Juárez with branches in Tijuana, and other border cities; and founder/director of the Centro de Orientación para la Mujer Obrera, dealing with women’s issues on the border, especially of the women workers in the maquiladoras (assembly plants), was killed September 11, 1991 in a Continental Airlines crash near Houston, Texas, returning from inaugurating a Colegio de la Frontera in Piedras Negras, Coahuila.
[first published (Spanish & English) in Wired On Line, San Francisco, August 24, 2001; author’s copyrights. Translated into Japanese and included in War and Our World, Koichi Edagawa, Ed.; Taiyo-Kikaku Shuppan Publishing, Tokyo 2003.]