“Other side of the wall”?     Photo by MeridaGOround.com

    Excerpted below is a portion of an interview with a Mexican-American author hosted by Krista Tippett, of OnBeing.org who does a weekly podcast.  Here they discuss the border wall.  (*Liminal* means a transitional stage ; both sides of a boundary.)

MS. TIPPETT:  I feel like one thing you do — as much in your fiction as in your nonfiction, and certainly in Into the Beautiful North — is, you work with the idea of a border or a wall, not, in fact, as a hard and fast thing: as a liminal space, as a liminal zone.

MR. URREA: It is a liminal space, absolutely.

MS. TIPPETT: Right, but just to think about it that way opens up a lot of imagination.

MR. URREA: I think liminal space is where all writers go. That place of crossing, that place of pressure, of two things meeting, that’s a rich — that’s where the plankton wells up and the currents meet. And you can choose to see it in different ways. And either the border is a hideous, festering scar of oppression, horror, and violence, or it’s a fraternal space where two cultures meet and can exchange. And honestly, particularly before the narco wars, there was and there still are bastions of friendship along the border. And all you have to do is go to places near Nogales or Yuma, where kids on the Mexican side and kids on the American side play volleyball over the wall with each other.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, and see, we don’t hear these stories.

MR. URREA: No, you don’t. And I recently did a ballet — I didn’t. I read poems while they danced.

MS. TIPPETT: I’m imagining it.

MR. URREA: No. Me in a tutu — nah.


But I narrated this ballet. It was the 100th anniversary of a Stravinsky piece, which included a Faustian journey through a wasteland, where the man trying to get to safety has to make a deal with the devil, essentially. That was 100 years ago; this time, it’s people dying in the desert, making that terrible deal to survive. But when he did his other piece — his name is Steven Schick.

MS. TIPPETT: Oh, yes.

MR. URREA: He’s brilliant. I keep saying, “This guy’s…”

MS. TIPPETT: He also spent some time in Berlin, right? And that was a wall with which I had some intimacy. And I remember, still, when Michael Jackson came and did a concert right on the western side of the wall, just as things were falling apart. But the concertgoers gathered on the eastern side. It was exactly that. But one thing you point out is — so in Berlin, on the western side, the wall was painted and raucous and alive and rebellious, on the western side, where people were free. In Mexico, what do you say? In Mexico, it’s the Mexican side —

MR. URREA: It’s the reverse.

MS. TIPPETT: It’s the reverse side that’s —

MR. URREA: Well, thank God for Steven Schick. I stole it, when he was telling me it, because it was the perfect wrap-up for that piece for The Times. When you went across to the other side, he said, the Mexican side, the entire fence is an art gallery covered with paintings, sculptures, graffiti. There are ice-cream men and taco stands, and there are mariachis, and there are lovers, and there are people dancing and strolling. The American side: steel, trucks, dogs, helicopters, guns.

MS. TIPPETT: No art, no graffiti.

MR. URREA: No nothin’, and he said, “I suddenly realized that that was the Soviet side in Berlin.”


MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, it was. And I think you said, “Who was free? Who was free, and who was prisoner?”

MR. URREA: Yeah, what exactly is that wall for, then? Hmm.


IMG_2694 photo by eric chaffee

While we were sleeping, the US Constitution has been bulldozed into the landfill. We are sending people to prison without due process, at an alarming rate, and suddenly we seem to have awakened in a police state. Think I’m kidding? This article explains how federal prosecutors rarely need to go to trail with their cases, are able to selectively enforce the law on their own whim, and if you don’t make a deal to become one of their clients you may go away for an even longer time. States may permit certain activities, but the feds don’t care, as the article shockingly explains.

Now, I’m a sober person, and value stability in the community, preferring reality “straight up.” But when a state passes laws saying medical marijuana can be grown and sold, with carefully enforced restrictions, and then the feds come in and send law-abiding businessmen to prison, it’s time to take stock. This is outta control. We’ve lost our liberty and our social order.

I know whereof I speak, as I’ve been doing prison ministry, weekly, for many years, as a volunteer . It has given me an insider’s perspective on this system. Prisons are big money, especially when there are so many people locked up. Yes, many of us feel safer when social deviants are confined; and politicians love to keep large blocks of voters employed as guards and vendors. The cost of these institutions has become stunning. It dwarfs the cost of education. (If you think education is expensive, consider the cost of  ignorance!)

I go to jail every Saturday (except when in Yucatan)  to conduct a nondenominational Bible study, which is really more of a stealth ethics course. We sit in a circle and read a chapter of scripture; and then I ask questions in a Socratic fashion, and listen. I’m there to see Christ (the ideal person) in these guys whom society has failed. They’ve taught me much. I’ve read a book recently which touches on methods that have helped me in this effort, over the years – COFFEE SHOP CONVERSATIONS: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk. Being present for others who are suffering is an art. The last thing these guys want is to talk with a religious salesman.

Beholding the beauty of a fellow being who is struggling, is precious; yet it’s not always easy. And pat answers won’t help. But sometimes right questions can. This book helps those who are open-minded enough to see a value there, and extend a hand in comfort. Yet it’s better to prevent people from coming to prison. How do we do that if our laws have been ignored by those (in the legal system!) who seem to prefer an industrial approach to incarceration? This is that military-industrial-political complex that President Eisenhower warned about. (He removed the word political from his famous retirement speech, as he didn’t want to offend his friends in Congress. Too bad. It was apt; he should have left it in.)