ARIZONA/SONORA BORDERLANDS: The subversive handshake

10 January 2008

ARIZONA/SONORA BORDERLANDS: The subversive handshake

by Anton Flores

[Note: Flores is a CPT Steering Committee member who was part of the Borderlands visioning meetings 7-9 December 2007 in Douglas, AZ. This piece has been edited for length.]

"Excuse me," the young Border Patrol agent interjected, "but did you give or receive anything through the fence?"

"Yes," and then pausing I replied, "I gave and received a handshake."

"Well, my supervisor would like to speak with you. You'll have to wait right here."

"Right here" was alongside the segregation wall of exploitation and fear built by my government. As I waited, I reflected on what had happened just before this fraternal act.

I was spending this December weekend in Douglas, Arizona with other lovers of migrants. Together we were discerning how God might be calling Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), to get in the way of policies that dehumanize and perpetrate acts of violence and oppression against our poor neighbors from the South. This particular morning I had the desire both to exercise my body and my right to move freely within my own country, so I commenced on a seven-block to this politically constructed border.

An agent emerged from his vehicle and asked me the reason for my presence at the wall. I informed him that I was visiting Douglas had wanted to go for a walk. The agent warned me that I should be fearful of walking near the wall because folks on the "other side" often throw rocks and bottles over the wall targeting Americans.

I pointed to two men standing at a corner on the Agua Prieta side and asked the agent if anything in U.S. federal law that would prohibit me from speaking with them. I was informed by the patrol agent that nothing could legally prohibit me from speaking with the men so I approached the border and motioned for the men to meet me there.

After a short moment, the younger of the two men approached the fence. As the young boy approached, I did what I would do anytime I was about to engage in dialogue with another person -- I extended a handshake. The only difference this time was that the handshake crossed a(n in)security fence and international borders.

As we conversed, the teenager named Francisco shared with me that he had relocated to Agua Prieta from the Mexican state of Sinaloa and that he had no plans to try and enter into the United States because he had a job in Agua Prieta working at an American factory. When he told me that this U.S.-based employer only paid him 60 Pesos/day (about $6/day) I told him that I could understand the economic pull that would bring so many unauthorized immigrants into the United States.

As we said our farewell we, again, engaged in the subversive act of humanizing the "other." We shook hands. At this, I received a stern warning from the Border Patrol agent, his supervisor and an additional agent. As we spoke, three migrants used my "distraction" as an opportunity to return to Mexico unapprehended.