I have never been to Juarez, so all of my knowledge of the place comes secondhand sources.  But I have had my fair share of experience with another major border city: Tijuana.  I grew up in San Diego, California, and the US-Mexico border was just something that we were all used to.  As young surfers who went around chasing waves in places like K-38 and Punta San Jose, the border was little more than a minor inconvenience.  That's how it is when your starting point happens to be the US of A, after all.  That border was certainly much more permeable for me and my friends than it was for many others.

When I was a teenager, I was able to cross into Tijuana with little more than a driver's license.  Fittingly, the historical and political significance of my migratory possibilities--based upon the possession of the 'right' documents--never really crossed my mind.  Meanwhile, thousands of people from places I had never heard of (Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guatemala) attempted to cross in the opposite direction in search of jobs...many of them unsuccessful.  The irony of it all was that I was able to unthinkingly cross into their country, while they went through hell to try to get into mine--into the very Northern San Diego community where I lived--in order to work long, brutal days picking strawberries, washing dishes, or tending gardens.

I learned about the details of my political blind spot years later when I read a book by an anthropologist who actually did fieldwork in my home town.  Such subjects never came up in my high school history class, for some reason or another.  And that's part of my point: the foundations for apathy start in how we think about, talk about, and teach seemingly innocuous subjects like history.  So one good place to rethink things, as I see it, is education.  This isn't about teaching one side of history, but about teaching history in ways that extends beyond the usual narratives (and this would include more local histories as well).  At least from my personal experience, the interrelated histories of Mexico and the US aren't exactly a top priority in public education, and such curriculum decisions have powerful political implications.  While I grew up only about 45 minutes from Tijuana, I really never knew much about it.  All things considered, this is pretty astounding when you really think about it.  If kids in El Paso and San Diego learn more about the actual people who live across the border, how can or will that change the ways in which we think about the issues and problems that exist on our borders?

Tijuana, much like Juarez, has a reputation as a violent and corrupt city.  And, also like Juarez, things seemed to get worse after Felipe Calderon took over in 2006 and started his war on drugs.  Tijuana has a long relationship with its sister city of San Diego, a history of intertwined economies, politics, and even families.  As one of the largest border crossings in the world, if not the largest, it's a shockingly massive example of commerce and migration.  I have waited in line for 6 hours trying to cross that border (heading back into the US), along with thousands and thousands of others.  Yet, also like Juarez, there is a tremendous socio-economic disparity between Tijuana and San Diego.  For anyone who knows both cities, this is readily apparent.  I remember the ridiculously ironic vistas of seeing San Diego while waiting in line to cross the border.  How, I often wondered (and still do) are such differences created, perpetuated, and maintained?

The ironic thing about borders is that we create and maintain them daily by our actions.  Sure, there are fences and checkpoints and other material markers of those borders, and those physical boundaries are definitely real.  I am not dismissing the fact that we are literally separated in many ways.  But there is more to the border than just the fences, the ICE, and all of those checkpoints in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.  These borders are constructed early on (ie grade school) and maintained over lifetimes.  We build and rebuild these borders through the ways we talk about and teach the past, and through the ways we engage in debates about the present.  There is no reason why the relationship between the US and Mexico has to be the way it is.  Just as we erect literal walls, we continue to enact and create socio-political walls that separate on obfuscate just as perniciously as any high-tech security fence ever could.  At least, some of us do--and others poke holes in those social walls.  Still, in the grand scheme, it seems pretty apparent that these barriers remain fairly well entrenched, especially considering the recent histories of places like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, those sister cities that we ignore when things get just a little too uncomfortable.

Ok, so what am I arguing here?  That the violence in places like Juarez and Tijuana would magically go away if we found a way to deal with the social and political barriers that exist between the US? That the US is the real source of the problems in these places?  No, and no.  My argument is, however, that we are much more connected to these places than many of us know (or are willing to admit), and that the issues like poverty, rampant violence, and corruption certainly aren't going to go away by switching the geopolitical channel.  My argument is that the relative lack of historical and political knowledge about Mexico--and the extensive social and historical ties that exist between the US and Mexico--certainly don't help.  Why is it that we have had this longstanding inability to find a reasonable and human solution for immigration reform?  How is it possible that many border cities have been plagued by the collateral damage of drug wars (while US consumers continue to consume those drugs in ridiculous quantities)?  How does violence continue in places like Juarez and Tijuana, just across the border from other places like El Paso and San Diego?

Because, at some level, there are people on both sides of the border who benefit from the status quo. These things continue, in my opinion, because some people are making a profit (whether from drugs, prostitution, international trade, or cheap labor), and many others could care less.  Some people have a vested interest in keeping things as they are, and plenty of others don't have enough interest to want things to change.  That's how the persistent and egregious violence in places like Ciudad Juarez become possible.  Maybe, at some point, those of us on both sides of the border who actually give a damn will find ways to work toward making that which has remained possible--violence, corruption, and exploitation on both sides--impossible at last.  If the problems exist on both sides of our physical and social borders, then the solutions do as well.