For hundreds of miles the Rio Grande defines that tense border between Mexico and the U.S. At Big Bend, that stretch of harsh desert region, however, the two neighbors historically have had to rely on each other to survive. The border in Big Bend has often been a permeable boundary—easily and casually crossed to the benefit of both sides.
Two tiny Mexican villages, Boquillas on the east and Santa Elena on the west, flank the park. For years, these villages have survived on tourist traffic to the park. A pleasant excursion for park visitors was to be “helped” across the river at a shallow, sluggish point by a villager with a boat and to have a lively meal at the local restaurant. The experience was delightful, and the villages, if not thriving, were at least able to survive.
Now the border is sealed, and the rangers say that the villages “are having a tough time.” Visitors to the park are warned that if the villagers cross the river to sell their handmade wares, both they and their wares are illegal.
Well. Political seasons ebb and flow, and certainly this border and these neighbors have experienced more years of tumult than of peace recently. The terrorist attack, the violent drug trade, and the economic crisis, reasonably or not, have made us fearful and suspicious. People who are afraid close and lock their doors. Unfortunately, as so often happens, the little villages across the river are caught in the crossfire of unpredictable forces, and they may not survive the assault. They are too remote and too dependent on the political winds of this big brother to the north.
So when I saw those illegal river-crossers selling their illegal wares near the river, I was happy to symbolically and futilely thumb my nose at the perennial fear and hostility that has made this border so impenetrable. I bought a scorpion intricately and beautifully made of wire. I named it Esperanza.