October 14, 2011

MATA ORTIZ

Any fears I had of crossing into northern Mexico quickly dissipated once we started driving through Agua Prieta after clearing customs. Although I had never traveled through northern Mexico before, the architecture, the colors, the streets were at once familiar. It quickly transformed from the land of cartel murders and drug mules to the country I had fallen in love with two years earlier.


As we drove east on highway 2 through breathtaking mountain passes, we were able to observe stretches of the rusty iron border wall, the other side of which we had traveled alongside only two days earlier – except everything had changed. The wall itself had changed. What it symbolized had changed.


On the American side in the company of friendly border guards, the wall symbolized safety & security. Restraint and a desire for order. Self defense. Reason. A necessary evil in the face of chaos and the loss of integrity. Keeping violence at arm’s length. Protecting loved ones. Scarcity. Fear.


The demarcation of where one’s body is permitted to exist


On the Mexican side, the same wall symbolized exclusion. Otherness. Ugly brute force. The tragedy of history. Wasted money. Inwardness. Exploitation. An obstacle. A challenge. An insult. Severed families. Division.


The demarcation of where ones’ body is not permitted to exist.


Here on the ranch outside Mata Ortiz, that wall seems thousands of miles away. Falling asleep and waking to the munching sound of grazing horses, corn fields, smiling old caballeros who greet you on the dusty road with a tip of their hat. Grasshoppers bursting all around your foot falls. The soundscape of English and Spanish spilling fluidly over each other like converging acequia ditches. Witnessing the act of mixing clay with water along the side of a well -- arms caked red with earth that smells like blood. Gracielas’ warm buttered tortillas she shapes with her own hands on the wood stove. Esteban’s dogs licking your bowl clean beside a glowing bonfire. Strangers at the rodeo inviting you up onto their gleaming horse for a ride around the crumbling hacienda where the revolution filled the walls with bullet holes. The young boy who cheerfully fills up your bag with ice to keep the cerve├žas cold.


Walls are built to keep out. And also to keep in.




- chris galanis 10/14/2011












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