"Sometimes we need a nightmare to wake us up"

My relationship to the US-Mexico border

I first when to El Paso, Texas in 2010 and then to Juárez, Mexico in 2011 as part of research for what would later become my book. Friends of friends on both sides of the border welcomed me into their homes, helping me survive on the small amount of research funding that I had received from my university. Photographers and journalists shared their work with me, and our lives became intertwined as I continued to return to the border over the next nine years. I saw their children grow up, and remembered them when they were small, sitting at the ice cream parlor and one of them listing the things she loved and hoped for: “Things I wish would never end: ice cream, fruit, my age.” Then, sitting up straight in her chair, legs swinging beneath the table, she said, “But pollution and violence—I wish they would end.”

The El Paso shooting

The night of the El Paso shooting that killed 22 people, a friend of mine from Chihuahua, Mexico wrote on Facebook, “My sister still has not appeared. Everything indicates that she could be among those detained inside the store area of the massacre.” By 6am the next morning her update read, “We still haven’t received news of my sister.” And then as afternoon approached, she wrote, “My sister was among the dead. I still can’t comprehend it.” I wept, both for her sister who I didn’t know and would never know, and for my country which had embraced words and acts of hate coming directly from the current presidential administration. Later, my friend wrote, “I feel helpless before the cynical statements of the El Paso assassin: ‘My goal was to kill as many Mexicans as possible.’”

I don’t know what to do with my sadness

I’ve seen a soccer coach and his young team raise money for the families of El Paso victims. I’ve hugged friends in Mexico who now feel unsafe traveling to the US. I’ve read Toni Morrison who wrote: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence,” she said. “It is violence.” And I’ve listened to her 1993 Nobel Lecture, her voice a force and a light: “She is convinced that when language dies, out of carelessness, disuse, indifference and absence of esteem, or killed by fiat, not only she herself, but all users and makers are accountable for its demise. In her country children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead to iterate the voice of speechlessness, of disabled and disabling language, of language adults have abandoned altogether as a device for grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love. But she knows tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience.” Her voice and her wisdom and her words hold weight and I will hang onto them as I work for a world in which I don’t have to weep for the dead, for those who would be alive still if we did not embrace hate.