The Journey to El Norte

On a sweltering June morning, Jason De Leon shrugs off his pack in a rugged gorge in Arizona’s Coronado National Forest. He hunches down over a scattering of water bottles, checking for dates, and asks a student to take the site’s GPS coordinates. Above his head, along the rock face, travelers have transformed a small, secluded hollow into a shrine lined with offerings: rosaries, crucifixes, candles, scapulars, and small pictures of saints, each bearing a printed prayer in Spanish. “Take care of me in dangerous places,” reads one card. “Protect me from thieves and in evil times,” entreats another. Nearby, a small engraved plastic pendant offers a more direct prayer: “The other side, Tucson, Arizona, 2010.”

This is an extraordinary article by Heather Pringle in one of my favorite magazines, Archaeology, that documents the massive flow of illegal Latin American immigrants through the desert Southwestern U.S. via the items they leave behind.  It’s not a pretty picture, as the migrants – desperate for work and a chance at a better life – end up desecrating the environment and leaving mounds of trash.  And, of course, who has to clean up that mess?  The American taxpayer.  As someone of Spanish and Mexican Indian ancestry, I guess I should feel some kind of connection to these people – but I don’t.  They’re not really my people – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.  My people are American citizens – whether native born or naturalized – who respect this country and the laws that govern it.  My paternal ancestry in Texas goes back more than 400 years.  My people settled this state long before the Mayflower Pilgrims even set sail.  Still, this editorial highlights a critical dilemma in 21st century America.

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