My cherished steering-wheel waves are a thing of the past. I got a couple three-finger salutes heading west out of Marthon (where a Border Parol helicopter turned in circles beside the roadway), but past Sanderson the rural greeting of passing motorists is history.
I keep popping my fingers out there, hoping for a response, waiting to for a flash from a kindred spirit who also clings to the small-town and county-road customs. But as the ratio of shiny Suburbans, bass boats, and camo-coated ATVs spikes, civility vanishes. By the time I hit Langtry, I have given up altogether.
I’m worried about the drive ahead. I have no interview plans until I make the Valley. There’s a vast string of towns and unknown geography ahead still. Is the wave’s crash somehow symbolic of grittier times ahead?
I had stopped in 4,000-foot elevation, 600-population Marathon that morning to meet one of the compassionate souls who actually did something to help the Mexican communities across the River when the door slammed shut on so many “unofficial” border crossings throughout this area in 2002. I’m probably not supposed to tell you that she met me at the coffee shop in pajama pants.
Danielle Gallo came to the area from Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico and joined the Park Service in the Big Bend as a wildland firefighter just months after the closings. She found a community dejected and depressed. One night at the bar a British tourist was listening to the many sad stories locals batted about. Then he asked the innocent question: “What are you all doing about it?” That was the catalyst for what became Fronteras Unlimited, a partnership between Gallo, Cynta De Narvaez, and numerous volunteers. (Image, right, is from the website.)
Fronteras Unlimited is a non-profit, community motivated organization devoted to reclaiming the border communities of the Big Bend for their residents. Fronteras is endeavoring to stabilize the border area of the Big Bend using free trade commerce, education, and the cooperation that has traditionally made the Big Bend the uniquely peaceful border it has been in the past.
The border closures of 2002 have devastated the economies of our Mexican neighbors. In an effort to put an end to the desperation of these remote desert communities, Fronteras is helping them to create a stable, independent, legal and cooperative economy of their own, helping them to make their lives in the Chihuahuan desert sustainable, and endeavoring to save them from the poverty of much of their nation. In doing so, Fronteras hopes also to prevent an increase in lawlessness along our border and to preserve the cooperation between our neighbors and ourselves, which has created a traditionally safe and trustful border for nearly five generations.
The disparity between how the Canadian border towns were being treated (“They were opening crossings up there at the same time they were closing them down here,” she says), grated those concerned about the communities across the river, many of which didn’t have access to basic foodstuffs or gasoline with the River so electrified.
It was emotionally wrenching, too.
“That was devastating on the south side of the river. It was deeply insulting on our side. We are ingrained with our American ideals here and we had to sit through the rendering of our extended family,” Gallo said. “I don’t think we could recover from that in 100 years.”
Unfortunately, my portable assemblage of technology is refusing me (robots must die) and I am unable to post her cogent thoughts via video this morning.
I stop in at Langtry, site of “Hanging Judge” Roy Bean’s Jersey Lilly Saloon and a couple dozen permanent residents, and hear much of the same regarding the wall in town. At the highway gas station, I meet Mike Gavlik. He can see that in the metropolitan areas walls could be effective, “but anyplace else I don’t think makes sense.” A supporter of more federal boots on the ground, Gavlik says an increased Border Patrol presence in Langtry has pushed drug traffic up the road toward Dryden.
He is strongly opposed to the land seizures he hears about making way for The Wall, and chuckles over the many tourists who stop by asking if he isn’t afraid to live out here on the border. What smugglers do come through come through at night, he says, and they aren’t interested in meeting anyone along the way.”The people up there like Bill O’Reilly, they don’t have a clue,” he says.
[A NOTE FROM MARYLAND: I forgot to add that I ran into a pack of tourists in Terlingua on my way out that were diggin’ in the shrubbery of the Easter Egg Motel. Two from Blanco, Texas, two from Maryland. The East Coast couple said that the crab and oyster shacks around the Chesapeake Bay are having a heck of time finding help shelling crabs. Not enough migrant labor, it seems. “The local labor force is not willing to do the work or doing other work,” one tells me. I don’t know whether federal policies or racism awareness is keeping migrants from the crabshacks. The same couple tell of sitting down to eat at a neighborhood cafe there with a Mexican laborer and being refused service. “He sat down there with us. We ordered. He kept saying, ‘Let’s just go.’ We were just irate.”]
More pics from Boquillas…