Sep 30, 2008


Walking through the Port of the Americas entry station at the El Paso - Juarez border on Friday, listening to our personable, reasonable border agent/tour guide talk about the work of the U.S. border patrol agency, it was disturbingly easy to think simply that this was a rational man doing a rational job, a job that needed to be done. It was easy enough to overlook, or to momentarily forget, the ludicrous, visionary enormity of the border wall construction project, this distressing and wildly expensive "fix" for economic and humanitarian issues likely better addressed through other means. A factual description of procedures delivered by a smiling, reasonable person can serve as an impressive palliative.
Standing next to new sections of the wall, in the sublime stretch of desert where New Mexico meets Texas, we got a glimpse of the fence that will run through hundreds of miles of sparsely populated land along the border. The line separating the US from Mexico is demarcated here by sturdy wire scrim or tall steel planks, replacing older sections of chain link fence or perforated aluminum, which a border patrol agent (one of the four or more sets of agents who stopped to talk to us during our hour or two of assessing the border fence) told us was "too easy for them to cut through."

To see the fence and this swath of land more clearly we climbed up a precarious and rather steep sandy embankment. The way the fence follows the contours of the land at this segment of the border calls to mind Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Running Fence." Like a dark twin of that light and evocative project, the border fence runs up the ridge and registers the details of the topography. It disturbs me to say it, but there is something beautiful in this. Sliding back down the hill, Emily and I talked about this, the disjuncture of finding aesthetic qualities in something deeply distressing. To what degree can one see without truly considering what one is seeing? 

1 comment:

chris shelley said...

Yours is a good question. Are you consciously referencing the title of Lawrence Weschler's biography of Robert Irwin? Personally, I never was able to separate content from form when i visited the wall. We also had a tour from a border patrol agent on our trip, and what I saw was a guy frustrated by the absurd difficulty of his job who knew that more walls would make his task a little easier. The most memorable part of our tour was sitting in the back of his vehicle while he apprehended a family who had just been spotted crossing a nearby dam. Surprisingly, even though the purpose of our trip was to observe the wall, I find myself describing this family, their two children, and the razor wire they pushed aside for each other more often than I discuss the wall. I guess I would rather not forget that.