#Nogales #Arizona #Sonora: DETAINED, Suspected of Extensive Travel, and a Weird Accent

Main street Nogales Sonora, Mexico

Main street Nogales Sonora, Mexico

(continued from previous)

So next day I go to the much larger border town of Nogales, which straddles the line between the USA and Mexico, literally bifurcating a city that predates it, similar to El Paso and Juarez, but without the river as a natural dividing line. This is easily the nicest and most natural of the three Arizona border towns I’ve been to in the last week.

I’ve been here before, many times, in fact, mostly when I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, and when I was an importer of handicrafts from Mexico, especially Oaxaca, far to the south. I’d drive six hours to the border, and then go pick up a load of goods from the Nogales train station for a tiny fraction of the cost that it would take to send by air freight to Phoenix or Tucson; then drive back the same day. But that was long ago. Now there’s a wall, a big-ass wall.

Wall and Bus: Nogales

Wall and Bus: Nogales

I eat a $2 breakfast (not $10), eggs and beans and all the tacos I can eat, then look around. It hasn’t changed much, though the hotels closest to the border seem to be heavily impacted—i.e. closed—probably by statute. It wouldn’t take much of a dedicated terrorist to realize that you could probably fire at will on the US border post from any one of a number of Mexican hotels. Oh, but I forgot: guns are illegal in Mexico, right. Most border zones have a pretty extensive cordon sanitaire surrounding…

As I’ve got some days to kill, I consider spending some of them in Mexico right here. So I scout around for hotels—with WiFi. They’re hard to find, and the few that have them aren’t much cheaper than a stateside Motel 6. Still I collect some bizniz cards for further consideration. Then comes the crossing, back to the US. After a rather long wait, maybe a half-hour (nothing compared to TJ), I finally get to the guy with the badge, and my passport, and the stupid questions. Here we go again.

Wall and Burger King: Nogales

Wall and Burger King: Nogales

“Come this way.”

I follow along dutifully. By now I know the drill. This is getting old. ‘Why have you forsaken me, Lord? Have I not served you faithfully?’ This is all part of the ride, I figure. Note to self: enjoy.

But yesterday, if this was funny, even fun, part of the trip, then today it’s annoying, extremely annoying. I feel dirty, sitting behind a door with thick wire mesh and card-lock. There’s a young Mexican who jokes with the Customs lady that his last arrest was for human smuggling. Great. I’m amused. Others probably have similar stories.

Still others, probably most, are just like me, wanting to cross the border for whatever reason, and for some reason don’t fit the profile of a typical taco-eating beer-drinking fat bellied border-crosser. Actually, most of them are Mexican, by ethnicity, at least, if not nationality, an important distinction. You have to be a pretty special Anglo to rate this privilege.

Parking at the Wall: Nogales

Parking at the Wall: Nogales

So why am I here? What’s my story? Why am I being detained? So I’ve been to Pakistan, and Afghanistan, big deal, neither of them forbidden to travel. Apparently that week is much more important than all the other travel I’ve done over the last forty years. I guess travel is dirty, forbidden, traitorous. But they’ve got a technique for getting to the bottom of whatever it is that’s bothering them—by asking extremely stupid questions.

Mostly it’s the usual ones: ‘What are you doing here? What do you do? Have you ever been here before?’ I tell the nice Customs lady that I’m going to open a hostel in Tucson.

“Are those legal in the US?” Good question. “I mean, you don’t see them all over, like Europe.”

“I’d like to change all that.”

She thinks some more. “Have you been to Africa recently ?”

Nogales International

Nogales International

Oh, stop it, for God’s sake. Don’t even pretend for a minute that you’re detaining me for ‘secondary questioning’, or whatever you want to call it, because of the Ebola outbreak. You’re detaining me because you have nothing better to do, and you want to send a message, to whomever, for whatever. But I can’t say that, unfortunately, not here anyway, not to their faces. She’s got my passport; she knows exactly where I’ve been.

I hold it in. “Not Africa, not in several years, no.”

The head man tries to be conciliatory. He’s just doing his job, on whose precise orders, I’d be curious to know.

“I’m gonna’ buy your book, man. I want to travel when I retire.”

“Cool. You should.”

“Where’s your accent from?”

Nogales: Dead End

Nogales: Dead End

Uh-oh. Here we go again. It seems that my problem is not only my travel itinerary, but my accent, an accident of birth, the sins of the father vested upon the son. Don’t get snarky, Hardie. The man asked a question and expects an answer.

“I’m from Mississippi.”

“No, that’s not the accent.”

“Some people think I sound Scottish, or something like that.”

“Yeah! That’s it!”

Actually it’s not multiple choice. I don’t know why anybody’d bloody think that anyway…

The nice lady seems satisfied. “Good luck.” She hands my passport back to me. “You can go now.”

Great. That’s another hour of my life I’ll never get back. This is a tough way to make a living. I’ve been traveling forty years, in more than 150 countries, and they only time I get searched, and questioned, and DETAINED, is right here in my back yard, in a state I used to call home, and maybe will again, twice in the last two days, for no reason, just general principles—because they can.

It’s no wonder the border is in the sad shape it’s in. Does anybody care? I doubt it. A wall runs through it, and through us, and between us. But if the physical wall exists in all the states, the psychological wall is in Arizona. I’ve never had a problem crossing borders in California before, nor Texas or New Mexico last week. What gives? Is this just my imagination?

Remember SB1070. I’m really not sure that Arizona wants a border; but they definitely don’t want Mexicans. That’s New Mexico… get it? I’m just the sideshow. But it’s not over yet. They say these things happen in threes. To be continued…