More Than a Wall: 30 Years of Life Along the US-Mexico Border

Photos and text © 2019, by David Bacon
The Nation


Mexicali, Baja California – 1996
A worker is deported back into Mexico at the border gate, from a bus that has taken deportees from the detention center in El Centro in the Imperial Valley, on the other side of the fence.

Editors’ note: “If it happened yesterday, we’ve already forgotten.” – an anonymous Nation editor.

What we see and react to in the media conditions us to view the present as a series of immediate crises, and to ignore their roots in the past. For social justice movements, this can be deadly, cutting us off from an ability to weigh and learn from our own history, and to understand how that history shapes the ways we fight for justice today.

In this photo essay, David Bacon reaches into his photographic archive of 30 years, which are now part of the Special Collections of Stanford University’s Green Library. A Nation contributor and former union organizer, Bacon’s photographs and journalism have documented the courage of people struggling for social and economic justice in countries around the world.

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In 1971, Pat Nixon, wife of Republican President Richard Nixon, inaugurated Border Field State Park, where the border meets the Pacific Ocean just south of San Diego. The day she visited, she asked the Border Patrol to cut the barbed wire so she could greet the Mexicans who’d come to see her. She told them, “I hope there won’t be a fence here too much longer.”

Instead, a real fence was built in the early 1990s, made of metal sheets taken from decommissioned aircraft carrier landing platforms. The sheets had holes, so anyone could peek through to the other side. But for the first time, people coming from each side could no longer physically mix together or hug each other. This is how the wall looked when I began photographing it, over 30 years ago.

That old wall still exists in a few places on the Mexican side in Tijuana and elsewhere. But Operation Gatekeeper, the Clinton Administration border enforcement program, sought to push border crossers out of urban areas like San Ysidro, into remote desert regions where crossing was much more difficult and dangerous. To do that, the government had contractors build a series of walls that were harder to cross.

That’s partly how the US-Mexico border became more than mere geography-how it became instead a passage of fire, an ordeal that must be survived in order to send money from work in the US back to a hungry family, to find children and relatives from whom they have been separated by earlier journeys, or to flee an environment that has become too dangerous to bear.

Some do not survive, dying as they try to cross the desert or swim the Rio Bravo. To them the border region has become a land of death. Every year at least 3-400 people die trying to cross, and are buried, often without names, in places like the graveyard in Holtville, in the Imperial Valley.

But the photographs I’ve taken over 30 years also show that the US/Mexico border is a land of the living. Millions of people live and work on Mexico’s side of the border: There are the child laborers who pick the tomatoes and strawberries in Mexicali Valley that line the shelves of grocery stores in the US; there are the workers from across Mexico who staff the massive maquiladoras in Tijuana; And there are thousands who have been deported to Mexico, and who must now somehow survive this passage of fire as well.

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Street Scenes in Manila

Photographs all © 2019, by David Bacon

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (8-31-19) – Street scene in Manila.

These photographs were taken on the streets of Manila in Ermita, Intramuros and around Rizal Park. People live in the street in Manila much more than in the U.S. – it’s more like a city in Mexico, for instance. Some images show the recruitment of sailors in a shape up next to the park – Filipinos make up a larger percentage of ocean-going sailors than any other nationality. Others show workers laying bricks, or driving jeepneys and pedicabs. People go to church, which is sometimes in the street as well.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (8-31-19) – Recruiters sign up sailors at an open-air shape up near Rizal Park in Manila.
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (8-31-19) – Street scene in Manila.
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (8-31-19) – Street scene in Manila.

For a full selection of photographs: Click Here

Opposing the US New Cold War on China

 

China warns Hong Kong protesters not to ‘play with fire’
 
Notes on Understanding the Crisis in Hong Kong and role of the Left in the US

By Duncan McFarland

LeftLinks

o Hong Kong is capitalist; the People’s Republic of China is a country self-identified as in the primary stage of socialism with a Marxist-Leninist political system.  This is a major political contradiction and Hong Kong people are divided in their feelings about being part of China.

o Hong Kong Island was seized and colonized by Great Britain in 1842 as a result of the Opium War, Kowloon peninsula taken by the British later, and the adjacent New Territories leased for 100 years in 1897.  In 1997 sovereignty reverted back to China according to a joint agreement.  The handover stipulated a 50-year period in which Hong Kong would have a high degree of autonomy while China would control foreign relations and defense.  This agreement did not, however, resolve the political contradiction.  Having the character of a pragmatic, short term fix, the agreement is ambiguous as to what will happen to Hong Kong in 2047 when the arrangement ends.

o Hong Kong, long a British colony, has never had democracy.  Its political system is not fully democratic according to bourgeois standards, because the legislature and chief executive are not elected by one-person, one-vote.  Neither is there full democracy according to the Chinese socialist system, because there are no people’s congresses in civil society nor democratic centralism in a ruling communist party.  The hybrid system is a pragmatic patchwork; it is understandable that many people in Hong Kong want developed democratic institutions and that young people want more say in decision-making.

o The political forces and trends in Hong Kong are very complicated.  The protest movement consists of those seeking democratic reforms within the context of China’s policy of one-country, two systems; second, people who want an independent (capitalist) Hong Kong; third, a small group of anarchists and “thugs” initiating confrontation.  There are also counter-revolutionary “protesters” working with US imperialist agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy, which for many years in Hong Kong has been actively promoting anti-communism and a color revolution in Beijing.

There are also many people in Hong Kong who support China for different reasons: patriotic feelings for China, commercial ties, those who sympathize with socialism.  More recent immigrants have strong family connections to China, rural villagers near the border vote pro- Beijing and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions supports the government.  In addition to people of Hong Kong, transnational capitalists have considerable influence in different ways. China’s response can only be understood in the context of US imperialist strategy, which during the Trump administration has explicitly targeted China (and Russia) as principal adversaries.  US capitalism-imperialism wants regime change and friendly governments in those two countries.  The pivot to Asia initiated by President Obama and Hillary Clinton has surrounded China with military bases and alliances, including a major base in South Korea and support for revived Japanese militarism. Trump has initiated the trade war to pressure the Chinese economy.

China regards these policies as an extension of the colonial and imperialist efforts since the Opium War to break off parts of the country to weaken and subjugate it.

o Here is my take on the Five Demands currently put forward by the protest movement.

— First, the demand for direct elections for the legislature and chief executive will never be granted because China will not accept the possibility of the election of a pro-capitalist government committed to independence.  However, the Hong Kong government could engage in dialogue to expand democracy and engage young people short of conceding sovereignty.

— Another demand is for the resignation of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam.  I don’t have an evaluation of how she is doing her job; she has kept a low profile and does not want to call in the military to restore order.  It’s possible she could resign.

— A third demand is for an investigation into police brutality.  There could be an investigation into violence, including both police tactics and confrontations initiated by the protesters. — The protesters demand that the government not use the word “riot” to describe the protests.  This is reasonable because the protests are a mixture of peaceful actions and confrontations and cannot simply be described as a riot.

— Another demand is to permanently withdraw the extradition bill, which has been shelved for the time being.  This seems unreasonable to me because almost every country has extradition laws.  A better plan would be to propose a further revision of the bill.  The original extradition issue has been lost; a young woman in Taiwan was murdered and the alleged perpetrator fled to Hong Kong and is now arrested and in a Hong Kong jail.  Taiwan wants the person sent back to stand trial; the original extradition law was an attempt to fulfill this request.  Protesters oppose the bill because it could be used in the future to extradite people in Hong Kong to China; they say this could lead to political repression.  It could also be used to extradite people to China who flee to Hong Kong to escape the major anti-corruption campaign.

— Meanwhile, the government has demanded foreign governments (i.e. USA) cease interference.  CIA etc. involvement in the protest movement could also be investigated. In general, my view is that the Hong Kong government could be more flexible on initiating dialogue and compromise — they do hold state power.  However, it is understandable that the Hong Kong and Chinese governments regard sovereignty as non-negotiable; Hong Kong may have autonomy but not independence.

What is the role of the US Left?

— The US media has mostly an anti-China bias, petitions and rallies supporting the Hong Kong government are barely mentioned.  The Left should strive to understand all sides of the story for a balanced perspective.

— The people of Hong Kong and China are the ones to resolve the problems and issues.

— The role of the US Left is to call for an end to US militarism and intervention in all forms.  We want a policy of peace and friendly relations with China, not tension and conflict.  The US should cooperate with China on climate change and other issues.  The US should bring the troops home, make deep cuts in the military budget and increase support for social programs. Cease using Hong Kong as a base promoting a ‘color revolution’ and regime change.

— It is urgently hoped that matters will be resolved through peaceful dialogue and not violence.

The author wishes to thank the Massachusetts Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism for its input; he is also the coordinator of the China Study Group at the Center for Marxist Education in Cambridge.