Arizona #11: Nogales

Xochitl Paez ’20 recounts an impactful experience visiting the Nogales U.S.-Mexico border.

On Sunday morning our group departed for Nogales (Arizona). Before this trip was made we were given a bit of backstory on the way this place came to be Nogales, Arizona. Many years ago, Nogales (Arizona) and Nogales (Sonora) were one town. About ten years ago, a fence was put up. This fence was meant to deter people from entering the US illegally. Ever since then there has been two separate Nogales towns, one in Arizona and one in Sonora. Upon entering Nogales, I was immediately struck with a sense of familiarity. Although I have only been to Mexico once in my life, the feeling I got from being here could never be forgotten.

Being in Nogales felt like being in Mexico. Everyone there spoke my first language, Spanish, and everyone there looked like me. They were family. They looked like aunts and cousins and people that I often saw back home in my everyday life. One thing I did take note of however, was how empty it felt. Most businesses were shut down and the streets weren’t as lively as I imagined. It was as if everything that once made this place beautiful was sucked right out and shut away. Heddy and Eric who we had previously had dinner with gave us a tour. As we strolled through the small town, they explained to us that since it became increasingly difficult to cross over to Nogales (Arizona) from Sonora, less people came over to do their usual shopping so these businesses were no longer being supported and had to shut down.

Slowly but surely, we began to approach the fence. As we got closer to the border I felt myself getting more anxious by the second. Border patrol’s presence could be felt more and more. Growing up in a community that was predominantly Mexican, and almost everyone being an immigrant, anything that had to do with law enforcement and immigration was deemed dangerous. These people had the power to rip the American Dream right out of your hands. I looked towards Eric and asked him how he was feeling. He told me that he was also afraid, he was ready to run he joked, but I knew it wasn’t fully a joke. I stood in front of the fence just taking all its ugliness in. This was the physical manifestation of the hate in the hearts of so many. The barbed wire stuck out at me like knives. Speaking to border patrol about said wire, the officers mentioned how even the barbed wire wasn’t really effective, people would still cross, it would just take them a few seconds more. These people were desperate to escape their situations.

As we debriefed with Heddy and Eric, they answered some of the questions we had. I remember someone asking what made them stay in Arizona. Heddy told us about the culture shock she and Eric experienced in Virginia which they moved to when things got ‘hot’ in Arizona. She mentioned that the cons outweighed the pros; she needed to be with her culture and her family. Eric and Heddy returned, even though Heddy mentioned that she often feels scared for the well being of her husband, saying, “Here you are hunted”. As soon as those words left her mouth tears were brought to my eyes. Real people here live their lives in fear, always looking behind them because they are afraid of being taken away from the only life they know. There really is an emergency at the border, but not the one you’d imagine. Nearly 3,000 people have died while crossing over to this country in search of a better life. Our response shouldn’t be to build a wall, it should be to have some humanity and lend a helping hand to our neighbors.

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