Mi Vecino, Lindo y Querido

About twenty years ago I hopped on a plane with a friend and we went to visit his grandmother. It was just after Christmas – coming up on Epiphany. We stayed for a while with his grandmother and his mother, who was already there taking care of her. I met some aunts of his and a couple of cousins. We got on a bus and went into a town in the mountains and spent a couple of days there. Then we went to a ranch with his family and celebrated Epiphany, or as they called it, El Dia de los Reyes Magos.

My friend's family is from San Luis Potosí, SLP, Mexico. We had flown into Mexico City, taken our lives in our hands in a taxi that took us to the first bus to SLP to visit Abuela, and after a few days taken another bus to Guanajuato. I loved that city. It seems like it was a Pre-Columbian town because I didn't see the typical Roman layout to the city. San Luis Potosí has streets and avenues running N/S and E/W, with central parks and official building surrounding them. Guanajuato has narrow streets that go this way and that, curving up and around hills and never crossing each other again, so that if you took a wrong turn you'd have to just turn around, because there didn't seem to be much in the way of going around a block to get back to where you started. But, there were ancient buildings that are several stories high because they are built on the side of a mountain, so there are several "ground floor" entrances. My friend took me to an area where there were booths serving food, and as soon as we walked by we were assaulted by an orchestra of "Psst! Psst!" with women waving us to their booths. My friend was the expert and walked around until he found one that suited us, not responding to their calls of what they were serving, but waiting to decide which was best. It's a good thing, too, because I would have caved at the first person to demand that I eat at her booth – not that her food wouldn't have been delicious but I probably wouldn't have had the pollo con mole that I was looking for. My friend was prepared for how pushy they are and he knew that the proper response was to not respond.

A few years later I decided that I needed to see Mexico again. So, I put some clothes into a bag and boarded a Greyhound that took me to Laredo where I switched to a Mexican bus line that took me to Monterrey. At the border, before I was allowed to enter Mexico, the Mexican officer interviewing me asked me for identification. I produced my Texas driver license. He told me that I should either bring a passport, or both a driver license and a birth certificate. Then he told me to enjoy myself. I spent several days walking the city, visiting the mercados, buying food and art. Monterrey is close enough that I could just go for a few days, then when I felt homesick I came back, with every intention of visiting again.

In 2005 the police chief in Nuevo Laredo (the Laredo on the Mexican side of the border) was gunned down on his first day on the job. A quote from CNN reads, "The police chief of the violent Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo has been missing for days, and state authorities are trying to find him..." The violent town of Nuevo Laredo. This is a city where I had gone with friends to have margaritas and to shop. This is a town that is two hours and 19 minutes from my home city of San Antonio.

In 2006 The US began building a fence along the border between Mexico and the US, focusing on sites of known illegal crossings.

In September of 2014, 43 students went missing in Iguala, a town in the Mexican state of Guerrero. (A painfully appropriate name.) They are presumed dead and the town's mayor and his wife have been arrested. They were among Mexico's most wanted while they were fugitives (in Mexico City) after fleeing Iguala directly following the kidnappings. The 43 students – who had arrived to hold a protest at a conference in the town, held by the mayor's wife – had been arrested by the Iguala police, then transferred to another police department, which then handed them over to a criminal organization. The students were transported to a dump and the ones who did not die en route were interrogated and then killed. Finding the students turned up a mass grave with other murders, all suspected to be done at the command of the mayor's wife.

Now I listen to our politicians fight for stronger border security, harsher treatment of illegal aliens and a general isolationist sentiment with regards to our neighbor to the south. And I just think, What happened? I know what happened – drugs happened. An illegal drug market in the US that is being supplied through Mexico, but more to the point, the violence, corruption and instability that goes along with such a lucrative illegal market. It's the Prohibition era mobs, but on a grander scale. But, still I wonder. We are in the Middle East toppling governments and rebuilding them. Why can't we do anything about our neighbors? Why build a fence and take such harsh action against illegal immigrants who are fleeing such a hostile environment? Why can't we address the source of the problem? I'm not presuming to know how to do this, but I'm not a diplomat or part of the State Department.

When I read social media I find so much hate. So much hate for illegal immigrants. So much vehemence about border security and building this God-forsaken fence between the US and Mexico. Again I think, why? Why can't we go to the source of the problems? There is a civil war going on in Mexico that its government doesn't seem able to keep up with. If we can send soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, can't we do something about the country that is two hours and nineteen minutes from my home city of San Antonio, TX?

Rather than fighting Mexico, I wish, I wish that we could have a relationship with them like we had before. A relationship where I could hop on a bus and go to Monterrey for a few days and visit their artisans, eat their food an talk with their people. There are Mayan ruins that I haven't gotten around to visiting. There are cities that I haven't visited. I need to brush up on my Spanish by talking with people there. And that's what they are; they are people. When I read some of the comments on social media I wonder if those commenters realize that they are talking about human beings. It's easy to hide beind the screens of our computers and our devices. But, if we could put those things aside and look around we would see people, people who are trying to make the best of a bad situation, trying to make a better life for themselves and for their children – just like us. I long to talk with these people and build a closer relationship between their country and mine. I long to do this with every fiber of my being.

--e A r n i e