Fences were going up in a nearby border state at the time and I couldn't help but ask: Were there any plans to build a fence here in Big Bend? The room erupted in laughter.
Considering the terrain, it seemed unthinkable — ridiculous.
Today, we find ourselves with 40 miles of wall proposed to run southeast of El Paso, another 6 around the port at Presidio, and spot after spot along the Rio Grande into the Border Wall maelstrom that is the Lower Rio Grande Valley. As much as the Wall will destroy decades of federal and non-profit conservation work restoring some of the most awe-inspiring wilderness in the nation, I have found that it is likely the people — and the river — that will suffer the most from this artificial barricade.
It is a rare bird that believes the Homeland's pursuit will impact in any tangible way the triumvirate scapegoats of immigration, drug smuggling, and terrorism.
It will, however, destroy many lives through eminent domain condemnations and bring new tensions with the increased distancing of river communities that have been coexisting for centuries.
As I finish my third installment on the Border Wall for the San Antonio Current, I find myself mourning — just a little —for my reinstated distance from the river and its people, though I know the riches found there are woven deeply into my being, to be rediscovered and cherished for a long time to come.
I've tried my best to speak to my fellow San Antonians in these stories, but my deeper hope is that the tri-part portrait of la frontera life will reach Middle America, too, where the press for the Wall was supposedly born.
I still can't help feeling that such a concept couldn't have come from Heartland Americans, that it must have been suggested, assembled, and sold, secretly, by a government in fear and shadow. That our unsettled state in Iraq and the open-ended war on "terror" must have been repackaged, with Mexicans cast this time as that deep security threat. Of course, I understand that sales job proved an all-too-easy task. So, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, you are complicit. While a collection of white North Texas Congressmen signed on with this turn of terror tremors, it doesn't wash in South Texas.
How many times I heard in my travels, "If they could just come here and meet us, they would understand."
No, the Texas border, for all its misbehaviors and unpredictability is not, as the Border Patrol is selling to new recruits, the new "front line on the war on terror." The border is a river. It is thousands of years of family life. It is, I'm convinced now more than ever, one of the most precious regions left in this twisted country.
If only you could come here and see.