Oberlin Blogs

Vulnerability and Culpability

January 28, 2009

Alice Ollstein ’10

I haven't done any traveling since that daytrip to cross the border last week, but I have been doing a lot of thinking. In class, on the bus, talking with my fiercely proud Mexican host-mom and reading the news...without the constant social swirl of Oberlin I've had a lot of time to mull over some of the difficult issues we've been studying. I'm sure my ideas and the presentation of my arguments will improve as the semester goes on, but here are a couple things that have been bumping around in my head.

For one, as a journalist, I'm always looking at how the media covers immigration and border issues, both in reporting and in op-eds, and I'm tired of how, for the most part, the drug war is being portrayed as "Mexico's problem." I've seen countless headlines where the message is either "Will their violence spill over and hurt us?" or "Aren't we so nice to offer to help Mexico with its problem?" Some examples from today alone are:

"US prepares to back Mexican drug war"
"Mexico's deadly drug war is growing threat to US"
"Does What Happens in Mexico, Stay in Mexico?"
"Mexican collapse? Drug wars worry some Americans"

One particularly offensive columnist wrote today that "sub-human Mexican animals' barbaric behavior could eventually endanger the lives and well being of Americans on the U.S. side of the border."

Very few are asking who is buying the drugs, who is receiving the drugs on our side of the border, and who is supplying the weapons. The answer to all three is, unsurprisingly, Americans. While it might be easier to pretend that the whole mess is the problem of stereotypically "corrupt" and "lawless" Mexico, we need to examine our own roles in the situation. It also pisses me off that my college peers go on and on about local food and organic cotton clothes but don't give a crap about where their drugs come from and how they arrived (I include coffee and cigarettes as "drugs" here, as they are often produced in ways harmful to the earth and workers).

Anyway, the drug war, whether it's our "problem" or not, is having a definite effect on migration. Though several experts predicted that thousands of undocumented workers would leave the U.S. and return home because of our slumping economy and lack of jobs, those already here are afraid to return, and thousands more have attempted to cross the border to flee the violence. The question is, do we offer these people sanctuary as refugees, or do we build our walls higher and criminalize them to the point where who they are is "illegal"? Most people talk about "keeping them out," but never think about what kind of environment they are simultaneously keeping them in--one not only of extreme poverty but of violence and fear.

I'm not yet at the point where I can argue for any certain policy, but I wanted to throw a few ideas out there and see what you readers think. I hope to hear from you soon.

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