Photo credit: Norman Glickman
I’m in McAllen doing research for a future column, and Sunday I found myself in a car with two visiting scholars who were here, as I was, to attend the 25th anniversary convention of Valley Interfaith, the local community organizing group. They had decided to try to find The Wall and I hitched a ride. We drove down Highway 281 toward the international bridge and didn’t see anything resembling a wall. We followed the highway as it turned east toward Brownsville. The road was almost devoid of traffic, and the countryside was equally empty—completely agricultural. Not even a sign of a house, just fields. Sugar cane was the dominant crop.
We were close to the river, and we took a dirt road that put us on top of a levee flanking the Rio Grande bottomlands. Out of nowhere appeared a Border Patrol SUV. We pulled over and the driver wanted to know what we were doing down there. I guess he decided that we didn’t look like coyotes, and in any case coyotes don’t drive rented cars (do they?), and we told him we were looking for the wall. So he gave us directions: go to the bridge at Progresso. We turned onto FM 1015 southbound, and pretty soon we saw some massive cranes off to the southeast. Our driver parked the car, and we set off on foot toward the bridge.
A driveway led into the employee parking lot, and from there we had a distant view of the barrier, not close enough to get a sense of what it was really like. As we started back, I suggested that we take an unmarked but well paved road that led off in the general direction of the cranes. Sure enough, it led directly to the construction site. Nobody paid any attention to us as we drove in, past an unoccupied guardhouse (your Homeland Security Agency at work), and pulled to a stop not far from three workers who were definitely not Anglos. They didn’t seem interested in us, and we walked up to another levee that afforded us a great view. The wall ended abruptly around a hundred yards from our vantage point.
The wall consists of a concrete barricade, around 12 feet high, topped by what appeared to be a picket fence made of iron or steel about eight to ten feet high. The “pickets” were poles placed close together. The top of the pole was concealed beneath white plastic, but it appeared, or maybe I just imagined, that there were metal spikes atop those poles. It looked very formidable. Dirt had been removed at the base of the concrete portion of the wall and repositioned into a hill, as if to form a moat. If you didn’t know what it was, you would have thought they were building the meanest maximum security prison that ever existed. And I guess that’s what it is, in a way.
Anyone attempting to cross would face a 20+ foot jump on the American side. I couldn’t help but think of the Berlin Wall, which I passed through in 1975. This wall, one day, will meet the same fate.