A Requiem Rant for the Borderlands

Steve Russell

When I was consulting Prof. Google about Mexico earlier today, I was shocked that a number of travel sites take the line that "you are perfectly safe as long as you are not involved in drugs."

That's nonsense, and it's dangerous nonsense. I started paying attention years ago when thirty gringos died of gunshots in one year in Nuevo Laredo. As far as I could tell, none of them was doing more than loitering at the corner of flesh and bullet while shopping or eating.

Since then, the Cadillac Bar, which claimed to have invented the margarita, went out of business.

In 2009, some of my students from Indiana University took one of those inexpensive “Spring Break in Cancun” packages. Every one of them was the victim of crime. Separate crimes, except one group mugging.

The guys who used to truck arts and crafts from the interior to the Mercado Central are out of business. Nobody will risk death to buy huaraches from Oaxaca or tile from Saltillo or coffee beans from Chiapas or even a cheap bottle of tequila.

The barbacoa joints on the main drag where I used to sit and eat tortillas and beans when I had no money are out of business.

The guys they called the Green Angels who patrolled the highways between the border and the major cities below are all out of work. Motorists travel, when they do, in high speed convoys that stop for nothing.

The granny who used to roast pepitos on the Plaza Mayor in Reynosa lost that income. The shoeshine boys now run dope, I presume, because there are few shoes to shine. A friend who lives near Ciudad Acuna sent me a photo he took on a Friday afternoon. It was sad and shocking to see nobody on the street at that hour.

I grew up with Texas-Mexico economies tying the countries together like shoelaces. The legitimate part of it is all gone. Even most of the whorehouses are closed. The farmacias where you got your antibiotics over the counter are closed--you don't think the Mexicans kept that many farmacias going, do you? Those wonderful farmers' markets where you could get avocados or limes or mangoes by the case are shrunken to the size of grocery stores. Mexican vanilla seldom shows up on this side of the border anymore.

In those days, it took no credential to enter Mexico in the border zone and only a “tourist card” available at any Mexican consulate for longer stays in the interior. Coming back was a matter of convincing the border guard of your citizenship. When interrogated, I used to say “Cherokee Nation,” and the only time that did not get me right in I had to answer some questions about the geography of Oklahoma that any Okie could answer. If I claimed “Cherokee Nation” since 9-11, that would probably get me at least a body cavity search from Bubba of the Border Patrol.

A passport is now required, and one of my students who got hers stolen in Cancun had to go to Mexico City so the US Embassy could handle getting her home. Apparently, since 9-11, a college kid without a passport is too big a deal for a mere consulate to handle.

Fast money income on the border is now drugs and guns (in opposite directions), robbery, and kidnapping. The American stores that used to cater to Mexican shoppers for small appliances are hurting.

As much as I despise bullfighting, I have to observe you don't see those big colorful posters anymore advertising some dude in tight trousers on tour from Spain.

The guys who used to do car customizing on the cheap now do nothing but alter vehicles for smuggling. I say bring back the velour and the fuzzy dice! Even if you don't want to be a lowrider, you have to admit it's harmless fun and it has been a lot of legitimate economic activity...back when we could cruise unarmed.

Look at what we’ve lost! Look at what Mexico has lost! I want it all back. The barbacoa, the whores, the drunken tourists and even the barbaric bullfights. My world is smaller and I don't like the shrinking of my world one bit.

All of this so we can fight our futile "war on drugs" and maintain the right of one cowboy to walk into a gun shop and buy a hundred rifles....because maybe he has a big family?

Making Americans go though more changes to buy guns in big lots does not threaten our sacred right as individuals to go about armed to the teeth.

Legalizing drugs as a matter of law or of enforcement policy has never caused huge and permanent spikes in drug use but rather small and temporary ones. Are Americans that different? There will always be junkies no matter what the law is. Tax the dope to treat the junkies. Take away the need to steal to get drugs of dubious quality. Hit the drug cartels the only place they have feelings, in their Swiss bank accounts. Did we learn nothing from alcohol prohibition?

I want my borderlands back!

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He is a columnist for Indian Country Today. He lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at swrussel@indiana.edu.

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gamma's picture
Sorry, don't care about Mexico. Or about America. Now if your essay had focused on Indian problems because of the border, that would have perked my interest. And sure, there's a lot to be written about! Like how two disgusting tribes abandoned their brethren in Mexico while the Tohono O'dham did not (my hats off to the O'odham Nation for such valiant action). Or like how O'odham seniors are terrorized by Border Patrol. Or how the border crossed the O'odham Nation. Or how the O'odham Indians who found themselves isolated in Mexico because the border was arbitrarily drawn up cannot access the health services they are entitled to on the US-side of the border. Who cares about the problems of cowboys/non-cowboys on the American side or about problems Mexicans are having when the problems Indians are having are hardly ever discussed in this periodical? (except for non-issues like mascots, mascots, mascots and yes, mascots).
swrussel's picture
The Spanish were by some measures genocidal maniacs, but they kept excellent records and we know exactly how few Spanish women came with the conquistadors. "Mexican" blood is about 80% indigenous, and just like in the US many of them maintain their own cultural communities. For some who make it to the US, English becomes their third language, Spanish being the second. They are often the sources for the crafts made in the interior that can no longer be sold in the borderlands. As to mascots, I do get weary of Indians who think the issue is trivial. Mascotting does real and objectively measurable harm to our children. Do you think we are the least successful ethnicity at all levels of education because our kids are stupid? NOT! Indian education is a struggle with a culture of inferiority imposed from the outside and too seldom challenged by our "leaders" because they don't care to get off in the weeds of the psychological literature.
rezzdog's picture
Gama Joe. Who do you think Mexicans are? Europeans? You mean to say having unfetered access to legalized whorehouses in Mexico is not an Indian issue? How so? What the hell Gamma Joe, Indians don't like to get laid? What tribe you from? The heck with the Mexican border, what about the Canadian border, Gama Joe? Aren't old ladies "Terrorized" there too? Gee whiz Gamma Joe, travel around a little bit before you shoot your freshman mouth off about stuff you do not understand, junior. You should care about Mexico, and here is why. Every native person that fled or are still fleeing bad times, repression and racist violence from every country south of the border, have to travel through Mexico, making Mexico very relevant to Indigenous survival. If you would shut up long enough to listen to people, you just might learn something. But, of course you know that, cause someone recently told you how ignorant and snot nosed you are.
globe's picture
Professor Russell, if we were in the same room talking about your column I would very politely say "Prof. Russell, have you seen the movie, "No Country for Old Men"? and then you and I would look at one another and laugh, although with tears in our eyes for what has been lost, especially the innocent victims of the horror that has struck Mexico and the southern border region. I'm sorry to say that I can second what you have said. I recommend that my family members avoid Mexico for the reasons that you mentioned but there are other reasons and one of them is called karma, or the wheel of justice, or "what goes around, comes around." The citizens of the US have found it easy to turn our backs upon our undocumented brothers and sisters even as their families are torn apart and their lives are criminalized by our legal system. The undocumented, who are often indigenous peoples, are driven into an underground economy just to survive. They often cannot go to the police for protection for fear of arrest and deportation so they have no equal protection of the law, this is simply for existing north of the border. The callousness and cruelty directed towards the undocumented peoples north of the border is served back to the citizens of the US when they are south of the border. I suppose it is human nature for some to act vengeful towards others who they associate with those who are responsible for having helped destroy their families, hopes, and dreams...