Border crossing points
May 2016 in New Mexico
Do you really want to go to Mexico?
We took a wrong turn and suddenly we are standing at the border crossing of the USA to Mexico. Astonished, we are denied entry, and are allowed to turn around. On the highway, we now drive farther west along the American Mexican border. To the right and left of us, there is an empty wide desert landscape; and a deep ditch, from which, from time to time, police cars of the Border Control drive up, looking for illegal immigrants.
The black asphalt band in front of us flickers in the burning sun that accompanies us all day long. With the comfortable rental car, pleasantly cooled down, drinks sit on the console and cruise control. We continue our journey, relaxed, and can experience the landscape in front of us. This feeling of driving and traveling is not available in Europe. We started from Los Angeles for a round trip through the national parks of the southwest, with an imaginary route. We had some fixed destinations but without a precise plan – except for the pressure of our return date. We like to „tinker“ and let ourselves be surprised, as we are on the route from El Paso to the west, always along the border to Mexico. We usually start looking for a motel in the late afternoon. We cannot assume that the small-place names on the map will be a place to stay. We are thinking about driving up from this border road to the highway. But then the unexpected happens: at the entrance to Columbus we see, to our astonishment, a big hotel sign. Without hesitation, we drive up and it says „vacancy“.
After a nice talk with Philip, the owner of the hotel, we check in. Opposite a building is a big advertisement for a restaurant and everything seems to be fine. To find all this in a small, a little bit desolate place, surprised us.
Then we came to Mexico with the important question of whether we really wanted to go there.
„This restaurant here has been closed for a long time. I’ll take you over to a good restaurant in Mexico in 10 minutes. That’s a good thing. I have to go to that restaurant anyway, their son is a new student here,“ says Philip, the hotelier.
Do we need a visa for Mexico? “,we ask.
“It doesn’t matter if we drive back and forth here, it doesn’t matter, I will drive,“ said Philip.
Joyful surprise and amazement quickly changed our impression of a small, desolate desert town in many ways.
I am a republican and you‘re? was the beginning of the conversation in the car – an unexpected start. “We are social democrats”, we said.
“Ok”, he said without comment. Then it became clear how narrow ideologies and prejudices can be; how important it is to have human encounters and to recognize the individual without classifying him or her in the same way.
On the short drive to the border and afterwards, we learned about his impressive life story and that of the people in this region, which borders nearby. Originally from California and an entrepreneur with a production plant in Mexico, he stayed in Columbus and is now the mayor of Columbus, hotelier, tour guide, tour organizer and school bus driver, all combined in one person.
We were simply waved through at the border and thus came to the province of Chihuahu.
Just behind the border we see signs atypical for a small border town: American Dental Clinic and Optometrist Clinic. This is where the Americans go to get cheap dental prosthesis and other medical services that are so expensive in the USA. On the American side, there is a maternity clinic, where Mexican children are born Americans; we learn this during the short drive. As the school bus driver, our companion picks up the children from Palomas de Villa every morning, takes them to the high school in Columbus, and brings them back in the evening. For more than 50 years, people on both sides of the border have felt basically like a community. While he talks with the parents about their son as a new high school student, we enjoy a super Mexican meal and then drive back to the hotel, waved through at the border.
We had an emotional and thought-changing experience of a shared world, which has a strong influence on us and strongly revitalizes many of our previous prejudices, or rather, transforms them into new judgments.
The next morning, we cordially say goodbye and drive further west to our next destination with the name Twenty-Four Palms, which is expected in this desert region.
With cocktails at the pool under illuminated palm trees, reality suddenly returns. We enjoy the evening in the company of a nice couple and then the conversation turns to politics. We are shown a video on our smartphone as proof that Hillary Clinton is Muslim, and we realize that we have landed in the 2016 election campaign. But this could not overshadow our experience of Columbus.
Now, years later, in November 2020, with my project to write about outstanding moments on a journey, the images and conversations come back and the question of how Columbus fared. The research shows grief and hope at the same time.
The ideology did not spare Columbus and Palomas either. The two places have changed greatly and separated them.
But now new hope appears on the horizon, that this „once-human-border relationship“ (people.uweg.edu) will become a reality, is revived and the will is there to resume the old connections before it is too late.
We drove through this desert landscape in May and the otherwise only green cacti bloomed in all red and yellow colors. These flowers stand for the possible beauty in this world and in interpersonal relationships. For some years, it was only a hope, which perhaps leads back to the common ground with the next flowering.
The wish arises within us to see this place again.
(c) Dr.Burkhard Mielke. All rights reserved.
All pictures © by Burkhard Mielke, all rights reserved, commercial and private use prohibited.
English translation editor : Dr. Marilyn C. Terranova, NY