There were six of us packed the truck, three more in another car we picked up in Phoenix. Ever south, blasting cumbias through the gridlock, flying without flaw. Leaving Tucson always begins to make me think of home, the rolling hills that can't decide if the desert has ended or not, endless arroyos and a sky that dwarfs the earth. It was three in the afternoon when the Huachucas came over the horizon. They're where I grew up, those mountains, a country on both sides. Spring was laughing at how excited I was, and it's true, I've never returned home with such a sense of bringing something with me.
We stopped at la casa del sol long enough for my parents to start telling stories, then it was back to cars with the phrase of the viaje, vamanos pues. The border reading was on the west outskirts of Naco, about half an hour east on highway 92 from the house. The highway runs parallel to the border, somebody said "So you're telling me that those mountains are in the US," pointing to the Huachucas, "and those are in Mexico?" Eso es.
They're clinging to the arroyos with lawn chairs and potbellies. 92's route makes it the logical place for the Minutemen to perch, every time an arroyo comes carving down the mountain and across the highway, there they are, all walkie-talkies and sunburns. This can be said right now: the Minuteman Project is blown out of all proportion. Consider: 1000 were to show up, less that 150 actually did. Yes, it is still a dangerous and ridiculous situation to have them armed in a land that they don't understand, but small tailgate parties of SUV's and sunglasses doesn't impress me.
Every other car has a green stripe down the side: the Border Patrol's budget is all around us and obvious.
We finally turn south again onto Naco Highway, coming down onto the tiny town while flying by signs on both sides of the pavement:
"[Presidente] Fox's WMD's: illegals and drugs."
Others too, that I let fly in one eye and out the other. Naco itself is half ghost town. Once thriving, the militarization of the last few decades has left it with a 12' rusted wall cutting down its middle. Each side suffers for the want of its twin. The afternoon sun pushes through broken windows.
Then, a few turns, past the last golf course of Amuurica, then, de repente, por fin llegamos: a small sign reading "POETRY -->," pot holes, curves and a crowd.
The Wind. It is arguing with the earth in a constant 40 MPH gust, sin parrar. I open the car door, the wind swings it wide and sucks me out into the whipping afternoon. I forget my jacket, along with almost everything I meant to remember. I can't wait any longer, it's there: rusted and huge, patched and ugly, just as I remember it. We're moving along the wall, 30 or so of us in loose groups, walking past the cameraman from Univision and down the wide white road made of dust. The reading itself is about a mile down, they're telling us. We're walking into the low sun, into the stubborn wind. It's surreal, we look at each other, head shaking, laughing, moving off the road to let BP cruisers pass.
A dreadlocked man offers up the bed of his pickup truck, it strains under our tenfold weight. We're all here, many of my best friends, mi novia, my sister, my mom.
The wall drops down after a mile to only a steel girder about 2' off the sand. Here's where it is: a few cars, a bigger crowd, a man in a purple tie-dye shirt hooking up a PA to two car batteries. I'm smiling into the wind, there are people of every stripe: the Bisbee hippies, the Brown Berets, students from all over, a sunburned crowd wearing white shirts that read "ACLU LEGAL OBSERVER," gente de todas partes. My mom and sister huddle against the wall as more and more continue to arrive.
It's about 70 people as the cowboy MC calls the first poet, but still not a soul on the Mexican side. A few people are blaming the wind, but eventually a few do show up, so do los federales in two trucks. They keep their distance and scowl some, hats low over their eyes. The wind is vicious.
I feel like meeting every person standing there, and I mostly do: Isabel from Derechos Humanos, Rocío from Chihuahua, a million others, each involved in a their own project: a radio show, studies, protests, change and optimism.
Then my name is called, my crew makes some noise, I'm up there trying to convey how far we've come and how worthwhile the trip has already been. I perform "La Viejita de Sonora," which is probably my favorite border poem of the moment. I keep having to grab the mic to keep it from falling over in the wind. Like always, it's a blur. Looking at the crowd, about a third have some kind of camera in front of them. I think Tabor describes it best when he says it's like looking out at a Sony catalog. But there I am, screaming
I choose people, I choose the wind, I choose the beginning not the end.
I believe in the songs she sings, I believe that words are wings, people have always moved and borders will be removed.
I chose people...
As that very wind is tearing at me and around me, causing the wall to shudder and eyes to squint. My eyes are either watering or crying, I fall into a crowd that's hugs, handshakes, smiles, video release forms. Univision asks to interview me, I say something like "Ahorita vengo de Flagstaff, pero yo soy de aquí, crecí por las afueras de Sierra Vista. Está es mi lucha, está es mi tierra. Estamos aquí para declarar que el pueblo de la frontera es un pueblo unido y no estamos de acuerdo con los vigilantes que han llegado de otras partes tratando de dividirnos. Aquí no somos racistas." Then the reporter, who is short a cameraman, has me hold the camera as he does an intro for his piece.
My best friend, Biskit reads and has the crowd in stitches, I'm in the back shouting his refrain with him into the wind.
There is a film crew there from Russia, they talk to me briefly but seem to be too terrorized by the wind.
I'm called back up to read again. Derechos Humanos has brought a milk crate full of white crosses with names and dates of inmigrantes who have died in this area, it's sitting to the side next to the car batteries. I ask the crowd to give me a second. "This is for them," I say, placing it in front of the mic, "este poema es para ellos." I read ¿Sin Voz?.
I remember when I was younger bringing home Adam Sandler comedies to my parents. When I had watched them with my friends, they were hilarious. When I watched them with them with my parents, every off-color joke and cuss was suddenly painfully evident. It was a completely different movie.
In a way, it is like that reading ¿Sin Voz? down there. I am literally standing with the wall on my right and the Huachucas on my left, the US in front and México over my shoulder. I believe that every work of art has its time and place. It may always be good, but there is a moment where it is at its most poignant. It was that for ¿Sin Voz?
...And it's not that they're voiceless, no me digas esa piche mentira otra vez, it's that sometimes numbers speak louder than verbs. 60% of all eight million illegal Mexican immigrants living in the United States crossed through our state of Arizona.
150 dead in 2003, over 200 dead in 2004, 14 dead in a single December day 2003, the average Mexican makes $4,000 a year. How much did Jim Gilchrist make last year?...
There were so many moments. A 70-year-old woman holding up a young girl's sweater she had found in the desert and reading a poem imagining the girl's crossing as if she were her granddaughter. A young student reading pure passion from the Mexican side, her voice breaking and beautiful. People hopping back and forth over the girder border, laughing.
I am so thankful for all of the people who put this reading together, it was the most powerful event I have ever read at. Thanks to all who came. Les agradezco tanto... NOS VEMOS.
Special thanks to Tabor for the photos.
Watch video of the reading.