The Haunting of the Mexican Border: A Woman’s Journey by Kathryn Ferguson is written at eye-level. The book’s first half are the stories of the young author when, in her twenties her parents die, she realizes she is free to do whatever she wants. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, sixteen miles from the Mexico border with fond memories of many childhood family day trips to Mexico. At that time the border was relatively unpopulated and the US government lax about Mexican migrants coming to the US to work and going back home to be with their families. Working at PBS TV, a dream was born in her to do a film of Mexico. She and a friend drove south into Mexico’s Sierra Madre open to what presented itself for a film. On one of the scouting trips, she and her friend reached nightfall. A lone man, wearing a red head band, and his son were walking the dirt road. She leaned out the car window and asked him where a good place was to put down their sleeping bags for the night. He took them to his home to stay with his family and becomes her friend for life. He is a Rarámuri, descendent of the Native Americans who had escaped the Conquistadors into the rugged Sierra Madras and retained their independence and customs. The contemporary story of the Rarámuri, told through three rituals, was her first film.
This was the mid-eighties. For a decade all was well in her life as she organized the location and materials for a film and her ties to the Rarámuri became stronger. Then the external world intruded. Ferguson clinically traces the connection of external economic forces on the national government of Mexico and the Rarámuri's way of life in the Sierra Madre. In 1994, NAFTA was passed and cheap American corn took the market away from Mexican farmers, who could no longer compete which added to the havoc of the ten-year drought in the region. Oil had been discovered in Mexico in the seventies and the government of Mexico took out large loans from foreign banks to develop it. In the 1990s oil prices dropped, cheap oil glutted the market, but Mexico still had to repay the loans. To pay its debt, the government devalued the peso, “making tortillas out of reach for most Mexicans.” With these external pressures, thousands of immigrants pushed across the border in order to survive. With the signing of NAFTA, simultaneously the building of a wall 670 miles long on the border was begun because it was known the Mexican farmers would be displaced. With 9/11, the US increased the border patrol and in the Tucson area alone there were 4000 agents.
The first half of the book is an inspiring youthful adventure through which Ferguson developed a trusting relationship with the Rarámuri, a love of them and their land, the Barranca Del Cobre (Copper Canyon). The second half of the book shows global economic policies having the effect of killing thousands of immigrants by taking away their livelihood of farming. Ferguson joined the Sanctuary Movement, a social justice organization started by John Fife to go out in vans and search for immigrants who needed help. Looking at one such immigrant whom the desert had taken, she writes,
Death nudges you [ . . . ]. You roll in the sand, arms clutching your abdomen [ . . . ]. You go unconscious. When you awaken, you see that you are lying next to a pond of water. With joy, you roll over to lick the glistening sand [ . . . ]. You choke [ . . . ]. Your body spasms. Death licks your head. He is no longer your enemy. He is your only friend. You want him to take you.
The Sanctuary Movement saved some immigrants with water and medical supplies, took unnamed others in bags for burial. Ferguson watched the growing power of the Border Patrol and records the attitude of dehumanization toward immigrants, militarization of the border and use of private prisons. The Border Patrol does not carry water for those found suffering from dehydration. Helicopters are used in “dusting operations” that fly low to the ground causing dirt and rocks to blast into their eyes and lungs, scattering them for easy capture. Two million immigrants have been deported under Obama. Ferguson met the inhabitants of the Barranca Del Cobre when they had the resources to take care of themselves and their families. They were generous and hospitable to outsiders even with meager material possessions. She shows what First World economic and political policies did to them. For twenty-five years Ferguson was at ground level witnessing the changes. She provides us with a sprawling reach of heartrending information.