Friday, May 30, 2008

A short detour through the past

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it here at chuckling on-line magazine, but chuckling used to know quite a bit about NAFTA. I've toured some border towns and seen many things that are invisible to the untrained eye. The drinking water barrels that originally contained dangerous chemicals, the place where they dump mercury into the ground above a water well that serves thousands, the shit flowing directly into the river, the hospital where those who drink that water go to die. I've seen a lot.

I once wrote a story about an idyllic valley about 60k south into Sonora. I spent an afternoon on a farm speaking with one of those silver haired patrician types you see in the movies. He had inherited the family farm when he was a young man. After NAFTA, his farm was not able to compete with American imports and he ended up working a hot dog cart in the nearest city to make ends meet. Where he once spent his days working productively in an exquisitely beautiful valley, he now spent them slapping American-made hot dogs into buns made with American wheat. My time there may have been brief but it was not superficial. I got a very personal view of the tragedy that is NAFTA. And I know it is much, much worse in the south. Much more than a symbolic old man. Millions of people displaced. Millions of livelihoods destroyed.

So when I read about presidential candidates and cable tv blowhards railing against free trade, I have a different level of understanding. Although NAFTA no doubt harms working class Americans in some ways, it totally devastates the working class Mexicans, particularly the farmers. For the most part, the only people who benefit, particularly south of the border, are the wealthy. You know the types. The people who matter in our respective "democracies."

In other news, I did one of my periodic google searches for Charles Bowden, one of my favorite contemporary authors, and found that he has been writing for National Geographic.

This article brought back memories of the old border days:

The flow of illegal immigrants exploded after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s, a pact that was supposed to end illegal immigration but wound up dislocating millions of Mexican peasant farmers and many small-industrial workers.

Exactly. Yet we never hear this point of view in the mainstream media. Not in the debates about immigration. Not in the debates about Free Trade. It is one of those things of which we simply cannot speak. Any just solution would reverse the current flow of money from the poor to the rich. That, as we know, is politically unthinkable on both sides of the border. Let them sell hot dogs. Or tacos. And/or drink poison water and die. Whatever.

On a not so completely different subject, Chuck's also got an article about the social collapse in North Dakota. Nice photos too.