I am in San Diego and just passed through Phoenix America’s eight and sixth largest cities.  Local media is filled with two important, related stories the Supreme Court looking at Arizona’s illegal immigrant law and statistics showing that the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico has been in a decline over the last year.  Obviously the decline in numbers coming in will influence the course of legal action to stop the flow. 

The whole story reminds me of my observations during my tour of duty at our Consulate General in Monterrey, Mexico.  I had a ringside view of the cross border flow of people and goods.  I also brushed up my knowledge of the Rio Grande Valley, the area that is emblematic of the entire border zone. 

When I arrived in Monterrey I asked with tongue in cheek, “Where is the James Polk High School?”   President Polk was perhaps the greatest proponent of America’s “manifest destiny.”  In line with his vision he invaded Mexico in 1848.  As soon as our army took Monterrey, the locals started to plead for the US to permanently keep Monterrey.  Inexplicably for Polk, and for the first, and I believe only,  time in our history we refused to annex a part of Mexico. 

During the later rule of  Mexico by the Austrian Emperor Maximilian, a puppet of the French Emperor Napoleon, there was a large contingent of Polish soldiers stationed along the Rio Grande to fend off the American menace which was preoccupied anyway with our own Civil War.  The legacy of this ethnic soup was the “Texas Two Step” a dance derived from the polka beloved by the Poles.

And now we have the intermittent “wall” between the two countries linked to natural barriers and defended by a melange of Border Patrol, tough talking, straight shooting sheriffs, local police and national guardsmen. 

The amazing lesson I learned about all this border consternation is that the families that live on both sides of the border actually straddle the border.  The reality is that the same people live with two distinct governing systems, cultures, social structures, economies and probably philosophies.  But they all come from the same stock  - parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncle, cousins and in-laws.  And Anglo or Hispanic surnames exist on both sides of the border.  My best friend in Monterrey carries the very English surname “Triplett.” 

It was fascinating to observe the impact of one’s surroundings on blood ties.  While the peoples’ fundamental family tieswere cross border, their lives were dictated mainly by the two different structures.  In fact I came to appreciate the true nature of the “border” culture.  And came to better appreciate it as a worldwide phenomenon.   Here we  find people with one foot in one culture and the other in another but coming from the same stock. 

I see a great academic study in this grist and am sure much has been done in the area.  But for the present, I hope that we come to realize that, while different structures, societies, cultures, economies and more dictate the everyday lives of border people, they are all part of the same families.  And we should understand that the border acts as an artificial division of these families and their more fundamental ties.

I would argue now, as I did while I was in Mexico, that we should do away with this artificial separation of families and allow these families to turn the entire region into one of transition, not confrontation.