I’ve been on the bus for just over two solid days now. I have slept for a total of perhaps 4 hours, owing largely to my personal inability to sleep upright. Much of today has been punctuated by accidental microsleeps, closing my eyes and following my mind down some irrational track.
I traveled out of New Orleans on a bus headed for Shreveport, wide eyed and bushy tailed. The bus was crowded, but quickly became less so as people left. In Shreveport, though, the connecting bus to Dallas was about 2 hours late as the earlier bus broke down and a new driver had to be found to make the trip. More delays in Dallas meant the trip through texas had much smaller breaks than indicated on the little itinerary slip. Consequently I was able to see much less of Texas than I wanted.
What I did see a lot of was poverty. Greyhound serves millions of travelers each year, but thanks to its low price, long travel time, and simple amenities, Greyhound also serves what is essentially the lowest classes of people, the homeless, the destitute, the working poor. The construction and execution of air travel has always been an upper/middle class endeavor, with servants and in-flight entertainment. Even the modern conceit of commuter air still holds the trappings of former affluence; food amenities drastically pared but still extant.
When airline travel is threatened, it becomes national headlines. When these symbols of decadence are twisted and used against still other symbols of decadence, it sparks war. Air travel is the bourgeoisie, air travel is a target. No one assaults a bus line, since there’d be nothing to prove. There’s no message in killing the oppressed when you yourself are oppressed. No one ever looked into my bag, despite large regulations thereof. No one checked my carryon. The driver is “protected” by a frame of plexiglass and a door and the same legal statues that protect your municipal busdriver.
Compare this to traveling across New Mexico, in the highway closest to the border. We were stopped en route at a specific border patrol checkpoint. Other cars and automobiles simply have an officer stand outside and glare into the car, hoping to determine citizenship with a piercing glow and gut instinct (and license tags). He then waves them on, those droids being not the ones he was looking for. For our bus, though, two armed men entered the bus and began down the row on either side asking each passenger one simple question: “Are You a U.S. Citizen,” only slowing to look at the one Canadian passenger’s details and to glare more thoroughly at the handful of Hispanic passengers. Then they left, our freedom obtained and secured, jobs protected, taxes mad sacrosanct. A large wooden sign advertising for people to join the border patrol and a handful of shiny less-than-three-year-old cars painted in the green and white of the force closed out the scene.
The most common rhetoric in anti-immigration literature and arguments is some kind of variant on “they’re going to take our jobs” which is a fear generally based on the fear of loss of resources. The sheer poverty of the border fuels this fear, since there is so little success to be had, giving up any must feel like a zero-sum game, where any loss on your part is at a clear gain to the other and vice versa. But even still, even as the dead empty scrubland of Texas cringes softly at the concept of an invading force (of people who originally owned and occupied the land, and who constitute the majority of its residents), the destitution persists and the unequal relationship between the maquiladoras of Chihuahua and their NAFTA enabled goods shipping across to El Paso and massive warehouses and onward to supply America with things to buy maintains a steady parasitism. No amount of border patrol agents are going to stop the influence of money and tantalizing hopes of a middle class American lifestyle.
One of the things I notice most about New Orleans as a whole is the utter lack of Hispanic people and the ensuing paucity of Spanish being spoken in public places. Churls and pedants will be quick to note that the city does have a Hispanic population, though largely relegated to suburbs or generally marginalized by their low proportion of the population. Louisiana in general is not much different, Dallas similarly so, but as our bus crossed Texas the concept of what was “American” and what was “Mexican” blurred and merged and created whorls and eddies of symbolism. Former Spanish Catholic missionaries became town halls and meeting sites, rancheros proudly advertised their allegiance to the U.S. of A. Midland, Texas has a sign celebrating the town as the hometown of President George W. Bush and Laura Bush; the town is comprised of at least half Hispanic people.
By the time we arrived in El Paso, the transformation was complete and I was the only white monolingual I saw for the entire hour I aimlessly wandered outside the station. The rhetoric at this point becomes useless. If there’s an invasion, they’ve won. If it’s a hostile buyout, they’ve made the best offer. They don’t just take American jobs, they’re making the jobs in that part of America. The city itself is very nice and clearly has had a good deal of effort put into transforming it into a major player, with tourist destinations and nice hotels and fairly clean streets, all of which serve as a jarring contrast to Juarez, just on the other side of a very persistent fence . Juarez is a scrabbled together city built out of adobe houses erected on top of and to the side of dirty, ungreened hills. Juarez is the city famous for pancho villa and famous for a perpetual and ongoing gang war that leads to weekly shoutouts on public streets. The police are either shockingly corrupt or obviously afraid and the entire town is built on a framework of hoping and praying that the next day isn’t the last.It’s poor, and it’s the kind of poor that we as Americans like and need, since they’re poor enough to make our clothes for dirt cheap while we deport their families and maintain the system that keeps them in the maquiladoras. A day later we drive by the American Apparel factory with a big sign that declares it to be “la compania rebelde.”