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From El Paso to Matamoros, Stories of Conflict and Identity

by Dudley Althaus, Cecilia Balli, Alfredo Corchado, and Angela Kocherga

Aug 14, 2019 | Immigration, Race

Illustration by 
Edel Rodriguez

Four exceptional journalists who have spent their careers working on subjects pertaining to the United States and Mexico—Dudley Althaus, Cecilia Balli, Alfredo Corchado, and Angela Kocherga—convened recently in Marfa, Texas, to discuss the lost history and incendiary politics of the U.S.-Mexico border. The following article contains highlights of their remarkable conversation.

Tim Johnson (host): Ruben Garcia, the founder of Annunciation House in El Paso, gave me a way of thinking about the border. He said, quoting Martin Heidegger, actually, “The border is not the end of a body, but where it begins, its presencing.” That gives us, I think, the sense of the centrality of the border, which is simultaneously curiously eccentric to itself, because it is a place which is contested and fought over and managed by people all over the rest of the body itself. And so when you live here, or have spent extensive time or feel transformed by your experience on the border, you can’t help but feel this kind of radical toggle between being right in the middle and being sort of managed by something outside of yourself.

Dudley Althaus: My first job was for The Brownsville Herald, covering Matamoros [in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, located across the border from Brownsville] right at the time that the cocaine trade really started pouring through Mexico. And my first big story as a journalist—I was three months into journalism, at a very small paper—was covering a massacre that marked the founding of the Gulf cartel, which was the major cartel for most of the ’80s and ’90s. I learned Mexican politics from the ground up in Brownsville.

And from there I got hired at a paper in Dallas; I spent about 11 months in Dallas, and they sent me to Mexico. Then I got hired by the Houston Chronicle and worked as the bureau chief…for more than 22 years out of Mexico City, until they shut their bureau down. After that, I worked for four years for The Wall Street Journal. I’m now living in San Antonio, Texas.

Twenty years ago, Dallas had two newspapers and two correspondents in Mexico. San Antonio had a correspondent. Houston had a correspondent. Austin had a correspondent, and El Paso had a correspondent for a while. When the Houston Chronicle shut my bureau, I gave regular interviews to NPR and did other things. Everything is going hyperlocal; news is hyperlocal—but Mexico, for a Texas newspaper, is local business. People are very focused on the border. It’s a shame—what’s happening with the media generally is what’s happening in journalism, too.

Cecilia Balli: My family’s home was Brownsville, but my parents happened to be in Northern California, near Sacramento, doing migrant farm work, when I was born. They are from Matamoros. I come from two families on my maternal and paternal sides that had been in the region before the Rio Grande was a border. So these are those families that were split when we demarcated our national border, and they ended up on both sides.

My parents grew up on the Mexican side of the border, outside of Matamoros. One of my grandfathers was a Mexican-American who had bought some ranch land on the Mexican side. Back then you had a lot more fluid movement across the border. And so I feel very rooted in Texas, very tejana, yet I also feel like a child of immigrants. We definitely had that experience because we crossed back to the U.S. side.

I wrote my first paper on Brownsville history in my junior year in high school, about the two different interpretations of Juan Cortina, who was considered a border bandit on the U.S. side, but to Mexican-Americans he was a hero for fighting for their land. I started writing for The Brownsville Herald as a high school senior. I ended up getting a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and doing my fieldwork on the border as well. So journalism and anthropology and history really became a way for me to understand and tell the stories that I was born into. For me, there was never journalism independent of the border. They were the tools that I found along the way to gather the knowledge and to tell the stories that I felt my family needed to tell.

In 2003, I went to Juárez [Ciudad Juárez, Mexico]. Texas Monthly wanted a piece on the sexual killing of young women, and they said, Well, you’re the only writer who speaks Spanish on our staff. They sent me to do that, and I was blown away. I remember standing there speechless when I was listening to the mother of one of the victims in Juárez. I felt so overwhelmed hearing this woman who was in the midst of a terrible trauma, and I just felt like the tools I had to understand the violence on the border were failing me, that there was something bigger happening. I ended up doing my dissertation work in Juárez, and for the past 16 years, I have been writing on themes of violence. Although the violence goes way back—the history of the border is a story of violence—there were these new expressions we were trying to understand.

Angela Kocherga: I’ve lived my professional and personal life on the border, with one foot on each side. We were joking earlier, that sounds like an uncomfortable way to stand. I’ve become very comfortable. I was born in Mexico City, raised in Guadalajara, and came up to the border, the Rio Grande Valley, at the age of 10. My mother is American, and my grandmother had remarried a Texan who had a big ranch in the Rio Grande Valley. And so we moved to the border. My mother and grandmother were very close, and I was raised by a single mother. When we moved to the border it was a confusing place to me. There were people who look Mexican but maybe didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and then people were confused that I did speak fluent Spanish but didn’t fit neatly into any category. And I’ve become very comfortable with that in-between space.

Now I work as the border reporter for the Albuquerque Journal. Throughout my career I have covered the hardening of the border, the border that we know: the buildup of security, the border wall, the border fence, steel slats. The doubling of the Border Patrol force, the National Guard, drones flying overhead. So that hardening of the border, coupled with the blurring of the border, where we come together, is where I feel most at home.

I live 10 minutes from the border fence. I hear Border Patrol helicopters flying over every day. I’ve lived in Mexico City, Dallas, and other places, but really this is the place that defines me and where I feel most at home, and I don’t feel like I have to choose anymore.

Alfredo Corchado: I was born in Durango [Mexico] and raised in California, in the San Joaquin Valley, yet El Paso to me has always been home. It’s always been sort of the epicenter of my homeland. I got into journalism as a schoolkid. My parents were migrant workers and farm workers. My first job, I was recruited by The Wall Street Journal, and I did not want to leave El Paso. I love El Paso—still, after all these years. I mean, it’s still my place.

But this guy came to me saying, Hey, we gotta get you to Philadelphia to work at The Wall Street Journal. He finally came after, I think, six months of recruiting me and talked to my parents. And I think in his mind-set, he was, you know: This guy does not want to leave because he’s Hispanic, and they like to stick around with their families and so forth. That was my perception. I kept telling my mom, I said, I don’t have to go. In Spanish. My mom finally says that I should go with him, and she explained to me the reasons. She said that we came to the United States as farm workers, and we went out to the pick up the crops, and it’s your job to go out and tell the stories.

So that’s been my place. But I always gravitate back to the border. As Angela said, it’s where I don’t really have to choose anymore. Having lived in Mexico City half my life, it’s also a place where I feel free from having to seek acceptance. In Mexico City you’re always looking for acceptance. You’re almost apologizing for having left the country, and it’s like a sense of, Forgive me. But on the border it’s. . . it’s a place where you’re just comfortable.

Dudley Althaus: My first paid journalism story was for the Texas Observer, covering the Liberation Theology movement at the border. Helping migrants coming out of El Salvador during the civil war in El Salvador. Immigration’s always been an issue in my time on the border. Drug traffic has always been an issue. It’s just gotten worse and worse, in both the violence part of it, the drug-trafficking violence part of it, and the immigration story, especially with the current administration in Washington. I think it’s important to remember the issues are the issues, and whoever replaces Trump, or doesn’t, if he gets a second term, these issues are going to continue.

With the immigration issue, we as journalists are trying to find the kernel of truth in a lot of the noise. People are clearing out at a tremendous rate from Central America right now, and that part is not made up. Trump is definitely playing that for his own political purposes, and we’re going to hear about it from now until the 2020 election. I used to cover a lot of Central America, Honduras, Guatemala. Everybody’s trying to figure out the latest reason why people are leaving.

The last story I did was in Nuevo Laredo [in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, across the border from Laredo, Texas], which now has 700 West Africans, most of them from the Congo, who flew out of there. These are not poor people. They flew from the Congo to Angola, Angola to Cuba, Cuba to either Brazil or Ecuador, and then came up from South America by bus. They’d been traveling for months and months. There are lawyers and doctors, and, of the guys I interviewed, very few spoke either Spanish or English.
They’re waiting on the border to be able to cross the bridges to apply for asylum—legally. They want to do it by the book. But Border Patrol and ICE are not letting people cross the bridges. So they’re stuck there. There are something like 2,500 migrants in Nuevo Laredo in shelters, living in very intense conditions.

Alfredo Corchado: You have an administration in Washington that loves optics. They love to scare the heck out of people, use fearmongering. How do you rescue the narrative of the border? How do you tell the story of the beauty that’s also on the border?

Cecilia Balli: It’s always been a challenge on the border to capture those two realities that exist. There’s a lot of suffering, a lot of marginalization and oppression. There’s a very painful history for a lot of communities, especially for Mexican and Mexican-American communities along the border. At the same time, there’s an incredible amount of creativity and cultural richness, and a strong sense of identity and family. So I would write these stories that were about the beautiful culture and history, but then I’d write a story about drug violence, and despite my best intentions, I knew that the piece would circulate in such a way that it would perpetuate the idea of the border as violent. It has always been a challenge and a real struggle to capture both.

I do think we have to think more critically about the language we use. The language is being dictated from Washington, and frankly, I’m disappointed by the way the media just adopts it. For instance, the idea of border security is a fairly new term. At least as I remember it, we used to talk about border enforcement. Then, after 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, we started talking about national security, and that language was applied to the project of enforcing the border, and it became “border security.”

There’s actually a white paper that was circulated by a conservative consultant, Frank Luntz, that instructed Republican leaders on how to speak about immigrants. It related immigrants to crimes and suggested how to talk about the border as a threat. And I’m amazed that both political parties and the media just adopted that new language and started using it without any critical thought about where it was coming from. Now, we just take it for granted that it’s border security we’re talking about, without having a conversation about what does security mean, and at what point are you secure enough?

I feel that the discourse now is really polarized and diluted on both sides. In order to respond to what the administration is saying about the border, a counter-narrative has emerged, and it doesn’t leave much room to talk about the complexity of the issues, either. I think the border is a place that’s been overly narrated. There are tropes that have circulated throughout history. I think language is really important here, because language defines our reality.

Alfredo Corchado: So how do you avoid getting trapped by the administration’s attempt to use the border as a piñata? It’s all fearmongering that it’s an invasion, that it’s hordes of people coming in, the separation of families, etc. How do you fight back against fake news?

Angela Kocherga: Well, you fight back with the truth, but it is increasingly difficult.

Alfredo Corchado: How do I fight back with the truth, when people don’t seem to care about facts?

Angela Kocherga: We have a problem spending a lot of our time just bringing people basic information—that the border is not this wide-open no-man’s-land full of hordes of criminals rushing across. These are vibrant communities that, yes, have challenging issues on both sides. But these are places where people live, where there’s trade, where there’s commerce, where there is family life, and art, and culture.

For example, I’ve spent a lot of time recently covering this small group that keeps changing its name. They were United Constitutional Patriots. Now they’re Guardians of the Border.

Now another group has come in and built this privately funded wall, which is just a half-mile stretch in this little southern part of New Mexico. But the social media impact is huge. This is really a small number of people doing this, but they’ve received $22 million through Go Fund Me. And they’re also putting out videos that show the border’s out of control.

To be sure, as Dudley was saying, there is a mass migration, but it is a very different kind of migration than we’ve seen in the past. These are families and young children traveling up to the border on their own. And the idea that a wall can solve that problem, it’s so simplistic. In fact, the wall is not even right on the border. Many people don’t understand it’s on U.S. soil completely—for a lot of reasons, but one is maintenance.

The asylum-seekers, they’re not sneaking in. They’re turning themselves in and asking for asylum. They’re literally going up to the border fence or border wall, peeking in and saying, “Hey, Border Patrol, can you please come get us? We’re ready to make our claim.” So the wall is not an effective tool for that issue. Maybe fund more immigration judges to speed up the asylum claims, so people don’t come in and face a two- or three-year backlog. But chanting “Build the Wall” at a rally is much more exciting than saying, “Hire more immigration judges.”

We’ve got to remind our readers about what kind of migrants are coming, why they’re coming, and the root causes, going back to some of these countries. And they really are emptying out for a lot of reasons. I’ll just point to the rhetoric last year, where the president was constantly saying we’re going to “seal the border,” or “shut down the border.” That actually spurred more migration, because smuggling groups and individuals then say, Oh, I’d better get up there. This is my last chance. So just the truth-telling part takes up a huge amount of time.

Alfredo Corchado: Angela, I’m going to ask you—is ISIS really on the border?

Angela Kocherga: Oh, you know, I’ve done that story. I was in television news, and that was the first time when I realized a part of my job was going to be dispelling myths. We used to ignore rumors and myths—we didn’t want to perpetuate them. But there was so much about that issue.

We (Alfredo and I) had to go out and show, Well, look, there’s no ISIS, there’s no training camps. We’ve talked to people in this little town, and we’d be the first ones to know if ISIS was here. You think we wouldn’t know if somebody was here living on the Mexican side and was ISIS?

Alfredo Corchado: We had just flown into El Paso, and my mother and father picked us up. We’re driving home, and my mom says, Are you here because ISIS is on the border? I thought, if my mom’s saying this, it’s serious, it’s not a rumor.
This is during the Obama administration, this was not Trump. We ended up going to Anapra, which is right next to Ciudad Juárez. We’re walking, and we’re interviewing people. We’d go to the store, and there on the front page of the paper—ISIS and the Frontera—and we asked the grocery guy, are they really on the border?

Angela Kocherga: Are those training camps? Are they in this neighborhood? He said, “No, they’re not. We already called our relatives back in El Paso, and we said, ‘They’re not here, there’s no terrorists, we have your back.’”

Alfredo Corchado: The bogus ISIS story started with a report by Judicial Watch. And I called them, and I said, “I’m here in Anapra, can you please give me the address where ISIS is? ’Cause I’d like to get their side of the story, and knock on their door.”

The guy’s like, Are you joking? This is very, very dangerous. I said, “No, I’m not joking. You’ve scared the hell out of people here, and we want to confirm the story.” And we went back and forth. We wrote the story in The Dallas Morning News, and the next thing you know they’re threatening to file a lawsuit against us.

Angela Kocherga: They did file a lawsuit. The bottom line is that person had never stepped foot across the border or talked to anybody on the Mexican side. It was all unnamed sources. But that was an early indicator for us of what was to come, and that if people don’t have information, they believe the fabrication.

Dudley Althaus: That scenario has occurred before. Ronald Reagan famously said in the ’80s, when he was defending the Contras, that the Sandinista Army was two days’ drive from Brownsville, Texas.

I was in Brownsville at the time, and we joked that once the army got through Mexico and all the police checkpoints, we’d have to put them in a shelter. Washington and Mexico City have always used the border that way.

Me being from the Midwest, I still have a Midwestern reader in my head when I’m writing these stories. How this stuff plays in Dayton, Ohio; how it plays in Indiana; how it plays in Michigan is very important. You can’t just point out, Oh, Trump’s lying. How do you counter the narrative in a truthful way? Because if you don’t, if you’re not being totally truthful, then you’re just preaching to the choir, and the choir is not big enough. Then you still have a whole country out there that’s looking at this stuff, and they know nothing about the border.

As a kid growing up in Ohio, all I knew about the border was John Wayne movies. I never once saw a black cavalry officer in any of the Westerns I saw as a kid. In fact, the buffalo soldiers were a big part of the West, and I never had any idea about it. And it’s the same kind of thing now—how do you get that story across to the entire country?

Alfredo Corchado: Dudley, you’ve been all over the world. How do you put this border in a global context?

Dudley Althaus: It’s an issue of our age everywhere. Much of the anti-migrant trend in Europe seems based on a fear of a growing Muslim influence—that’s certainly been an anti-immigrant theme in France and elsewhere. And now there’s a similar pushback in Sweden, of all places, against Muslim migrants. There are intense pressures everywhere. I think when we cover the border, we need to keep this in perspective. In Europe, the border issues are mostly based on ethnicity. Here in the borderlands, there are serious racial and ethnic tensions, certainly, but I think if you consider the larger context, the line between the two countries is defined as much by economic disparities and the yawning gap in the rule of law.

Alfredo Corchado: Angela, Cecilia, do either of you want to add something to that?

Cecilia Balli: I think it’s definitely a racial border. This idea emerged during the Texas Revolution. If you see the depictions of the war that emerged later through art, if you see the big murals inside the capitol in Austin, they depict all of the Texians, as they were called, as being very fair-skinned. And the Mexicans have dark brown, black skin, and they have kind of bestial faces. They look like animals. Texas created this narrative that what Texas had fought off was not just another country, it was another race.

I think the conversations we’re having nationally now, they work off these old ideas of this border as separating a white race from something brown and different, and not just brown, but poor and dirty and ill.

So the themes and the stories have remained the same over time, but they’ve also gotten more intense because of the integration of economies worldwide. Globalization has spurred the movement of people across the globe, and there’s a tremendous rise in border walls throughout the world. It’s a nationalist response to that fear of, “Who are we now in the face of this integration?”

When you create the infrastructure for the legal movement of goods, you’re creating an infrastructure for people to move and for illegal goods to move as well. We need to understand that there are mounting pressures on the border due to these global forces. We have to stop thinking of those issues exclusively as border issues. We have to understand them in their larger context so that we can address them away from the border. You can’t resolve these issues on the borderline.

Angela Kocherga: The border can also be a place that teaches us lessons about how people get along, and I really think the border is the future, the way America is beginning to look and sound. Maybe that’s why it’s a source of fear for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be, it can be embraced, and there are ways for people to have these very huge differences but find a way—not to hug each other in a group hug and sing “Kumbaya,” but to make things work for the mutual benefit.
And you see that more than ever in this area because people are so isolated, these communities have to depend on each other. The more time you spend with each other, it’s harder to make someone an other, when they’re part of your everyday life.

Dudley Althaus: I have a cousin who’s an ob-gyn nurse in a small Indiana town, right by the Ohio line, and about 14 years ago—at my mom’s funeral, actually—she comes up to me and she says, I’m learning Spanish. She said, Yeah, what I really need to learn is Maya. It turns out in this small Indiana town, there are Guatemalans working in the dairy farms.

When that happens—and it only takes a few dozen people in these towns—then you have the drum beat. Before Trump, it was Lou Dobbs on broken borders, broken borders. And it’s, yes, the other.

Migrants tend to go where they have family or friends, people from their village. People are going to specific American towns, specific urban neighborhoods. How are these towns dealing with that issue? What are school districts doing?

In this town where my cousin’s from, Richmond, Indiana, I looked in the local Richmond newspaper, and people were holding church socials and potluck dinners for the migrant families. Trump won by 20 percent in Indiana. So the same people who might support building a wall, they see the migrants in their communities, and they’re not monsters. It’s like, these are now our people. These are now our neighbors.

There’s an area between Maryland and Delaware where all these towns are nearly 40 percent Guatemalan right now, and they’re all there for an industry. How does that change the dynamic of the eastern shore of Maryland? It’s fascinating, and nobody’s really covering it. I think the absence of this kind of coverage and storytelling has a large part to do with people reflexively saying, We’ve got to do something about the border, whatever it is.

And I would challenge the assumptions about walls a little bit. I think walls do have an impact. I think you have to decide whether you as a citizen think that it’s a good thing to do or an immoral thing to do.

When Trump clamped down, that’s what spiked the black market. It used to cost hundreds of dollars to get a smuggler to cross you on the border. Now it’s $3,000 for Mexicans, $6,000 for Central Americans. Because the fees went up so much, the major cartels got involved. It’s not mom-and-pop smugglers anymore. It’s become a much more vicious industry.

Angela Kocherga: I think one story we can’t forget is the separation of families, the children. I think that’s going to have long-term impacts. Some of those children still have not been reunited, and for the ones who were separated, there’ll be long-term trauma. I just think we’ll look back at that chapter as probably a real low point. Whatever people think about the policies, that ripping—and I had a chance to witness some of that—ripping very tiny children out of their parents’ arms; I never imagined we’d be doing it.

There’s mass incarceration of children, and in warehouse settings, where there’s tents or these other big facilities. And that is no place for a child of any age. We’re talking about hundreds and thousands of children: Whatever happens to them, whether it’s back in their home country or they stay here, there will be disturbing consequences.

Alfredo Corchado: Cecilia, do you see any silver linings with all this coverage and talk about the wall, and the actions we’ve been taking the last few years?

Cecilia Balli: I do. There’s unprecedented interest in the border, and the question then is how to work with that interest and write the story that you want to write.

The increased attention can also be a negative. Many editors tend to have this singular idea of the story they want. Last summer, when the country was talking about family separations, I followed a group of recent deportees in Matamoros and wrote a story about how, as we fretted about Central Americans coming in, this quiet purging was happening every day at the border. And the stories that the deportees told reflected how emboldened local and state authorities are cooperating with and handing people off to ICE.

I thought that was an important story, but five different editors turned it down. They wanted family separation stories. But you’re also seeing some great investigative research and journalism on the border that we didn’t have before. So I see both dangers and opportunities.

Dudley Althaus: The conversation in the Mexican media is changing a little bit. The agreement they recently announced, which was actually made in March, calls for Mexico to stop migrants coming through Mexico. I think there’s going to be a big backlash in Mexico against the Central Americans, where for most of my career, the conversation’s been that the migrant has the right to migrate. You have the right, the border is wrong.

When I covered the big caravan in October, two weeks before our midterm elections in the United States, the Mexican villages and towns really stepped up. Down in Chiapas, for example, where there are very poor towns, the women from the parish would get together. Somebody donated dozens and dozens of eggs, and the women would make these vast cauldrons of ham and eggs and beans, and they fed thousands of people.

I walked about six or seven miles with the caravan in one stretch of the highway, just to get a feel for what that is like. These village women would come out, and they’d set up a little table on the side of the road, and they were giving people tacos of beans slathered with mayonnaise. That’s all they had. I asked one of the women, what does your husband do? He’s a field hand, he’s a field-worker. How much does he make a day? She said, He makes about $4 a day, $5 a day. So the areas where these people were coming through were almost as poor as the Central American parts they had left.

I just talked to a friend, he was in Tapachula [in the Mexican state of Chiapas] last week, and he said, “Now the pushback is extreme. People are saying, that’s enough.” So I think we have to get used to hearing about the narrative changing in Mexico and in the media.

Audience member: I was in Juárez recently with a couple of friends, and we saw the influx of Cuban migrants in downtown Juárez. But something that really worries me, as a Mexican, is that I’ve never seen the level of toxic rhetoric that we see nowadays being transplanted in Mexican discourse, and I think that we have a social responsibility to deconstruct it at any opportunity, as citizens.

Angela Kocherga: Juárez has always been very welcoming to migrants from all over Mexico. But now, because there is such a heavy influx all at once, a lot of them Cubans, and because the local and state officials are not getting one single penny from the federal government to help deal with migrant relief, you’re seeing this backlash from local citizens.

Dudley Althaus: Again, this is a global issue. In Europe, this is a phenomenon that’s happening in a lot of places—the antagonism against the other, no matter who the other is. Now there’s a lot of Cubans. Cubans used to be able to just turn themselves in at the bridge. Now they’re stuck. And they’re stuck in Matamoros, or stuck in Reynosa, and they’re stuck in Nuevo Laredo, and Juárez, everywhere. And now, Africans. People are saying, Africans? I mean, how the hell did somebody get from the Congo to here?

Inside this shelter in Nuevo Laredo, which is basically an empty lot surrounded by an 8-foot wall—it used to be a parking lot or something—the Cubans, some from Venezuela, and the Africans, they’ve divided right down the center. There’s antagonism between them.

Again, the other, right there inside that thing.
I had Africans whisper to me about the Cubans, the Cubans whispering about the Africans. But the Africans said, Look, we have to go out, and we have to wash windshields, or we have to beg money, and we know that the local community’s getting irritated with us. We know that. And what happens to us if they throw us out of here? What happens to us?

Audience member: We keep listening and reading about the migrant influx into the U.S. I feel like I don’t read enough about the other side of the story, which is a lot of money going down south of the border, and weapons that are trafficked there, which many times create the violence that provokes the migration. Do you think there’s a duty for the media to cover this other side more, at least in the U.S., to create a more empathetic view towards this phenomenon?

Angela Kocherga: I’ll just say, I have covered that in the past, all along the border, the border states had a lot of weapons. And ammunition. But the story has been totally overshadowed. And not just overshadowed by the migrant story, but by the whole gun safety or control debate in the U.S., with all these mass shootings. So Mexico has been forgotten in that whole debate.

Cecilia Balli:
I have felt in the past that what happens on the U.S. side of the border happens quietly, happens structurally, like the enforcement buildup that we’ve had for a long time. And it’s easier for the media to draw attention to the spectacular. Like, with drug violence, we were seeing that on the Mexican side, and that was the story, the focus. It was less sexy, less interesting to talk about systemic issues, structural issues on the U.S. side, such as how does that money move, and where does it come from, and what about the weapons? I think this news focus is shaped by the country’s interest in identifying problems as coming in from outside, and that bias gets replicated in the media. I think plenty of reporters do write about these stories, but they’re never the stories that get the main attention.

Dudley Althaus: But it is a shared responsibility. The U.S. is not responsible for everything. Give these cultures and these countries their own humanity. They have their own problems and issues and things they have to deal with. The first time I visited Honduras, in the last century, it had four million people. Today it has nine million people. There’s no jobs. And a good job pays $40 a week. And if you’re a 35-year-old woman, you’re not going to get that job. You’re not going to get work, and maybe you’ve got kids you’ve got to feed, and maybe your husband left or was killed. So these are issues that are internal to these countries, too. And you’ve got to allow them their own mistakes and screw-ups, I think.

This article grew out of a panel discussion featured at this year’s Agave Festival Marfa, held in June in Marfa, Texas, and moderated by Alfredo Corchado. The annual festival treats the agave as the indicator species for a region that is binational, multilingual, and deeply informed by indigenous history. The festival included panels on enduring indigenous languages, regional agricultural traditions, contemporary artists’ practice and the documentation of ancient lands, and the intersection of indigenous spiritual and Catholic religions. For the full schedule see agavemarfa.com/schedule-2. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity and is published here with the permission of the festival organizers and the participants on the panel.

An earlier version of this article misstated the birthplace of Alfredo Corchado. He was born in Durango, Mexico, not Durango, Colorado.

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  1. Very informative discussion. As a Brownsville-raised citizen, the border never seemed as divided as it is now. There is all this rhetoric about barbarians at the gate spouted by people who never have experienced the border issues in person. Living now in San Antonio even feels too far away to know all the issues. I have to keep in touch with my relatives in the Valley to get the true nature of the border situation. I am proud to read that Angela Kocherga is one of the group. Great to know that a fellow Pace Viking is doing well. Keep the readers informed, so that they do not rely on political rhetoric for their information.

  2. So necessary to hear the stories from both sides. What goes where, from where? Where do the guns/drugs begin, where do they go, why?
    If corporations, things and money can cross borders freely, then workers and people should be able to just as freely. Freedom of travel.
    What happens when the people of Los Angeles or Florida have to migrate because of climate catastrophe? Who’ll accept them, wherever they go?

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