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  Comments (0) Total Saturday Apr. 19, 2014
Notes from the Border,  Part III
Out Of Bounds
While down south last month I stopped in a big box store to pick up some supplies before heading off to camp and hunt. It was the early evening and the store in Nogales, Ariz., was crowded and long lines stretched from each cash register. Shoppers were even 10 deep in the self-checkout lanes.

I wasn’t in a hurry so I got in line and waited. Eventually I neared the register with only one customer in front of me, and her cart was nearly empty. Then the rest of the family arrived, dumping loads of items in the cart. The woman, I’m guessing a mom, turned to me and said something in Spanish. I had zoned out so the fact that she was speaking a language other than English was probably only a minor factor in my startled lack of comprehension.

“Excuse me?” I mumbled.

Mom turned to address the cashier. I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m familiar enough with the language to get the gist of what they were saying. She was explaining my lingual limitations to the cashier. That’s when I realized I might be the only person in the crowded store who didn’t speak Spanish. Then the woman glanced at the handful of items under my arm and indicated she wanted me to step ahead of her in line.

It was all very friendly and I found it amusing the way everyone seemed amused that I was the only dude in the joint who didn’t speak the language.

I took Spanish in high school, but skated through college in an era before foreign language requirements were a part of the curriculum. That’s too bad.

Montana has its own international border, though it couldn’t be more different than Arizona’s. Other than the slight inconvenience of the border crossing, it’s hard to tell you’ve moved from one country to another when you visit Canada. The language differences are slight, though noticeable if you’re paying close attention. I work in a Kalispell sporting goods store during the summer and on some weekends we joke that if you threw a football in a random direction, the odds are you would hit a Canadian rather than a local.

Down south is different. There’s the language difference. There’s a cultural difference, too, though not what you may think. If anything, the structure of Mexican families is wound tighter than non-Hispanic families in the U.S. The cultural differences have more to do with affluence. Our Canadian neighbors share in a lifestyle characterized by abundance. That’s not usually the case with our neighbors to the south.

Things are changing in the border canyons where I hunt quail. Five years ago many of my favorite spots were trashed by the refuse of undocumented immigrants. Empty water bottles, food cans and backpacks were abandoned when they were no longer needed. It didn’t affect the hunting, as Mearns’ quail seem quite content to ignore rusty Spam cans as they root around the grasslands. But it did, however slightly, spoil the experience. It sucked to hike back into what you thought was a deserted, untouched canyon, only to find the refuse of endless human migration.

More importantly, we seemed to lose our sense of safety along the border. Most of the people coming across were harmless; just folks looking to make a better life for themselves and their families. Back when it was possible for even undocumented workers to find good-paying jobs sweeping up construction sites it was no surprise so many made the journey from Old Mexico. But those days are gone.

It feels safer along the border now, but I’m not sure this isn’t an illusion. Those seeking work on busy construction sites are no longer in the canyons. But drug traffickers — trespassers who pose a real threat even to armed hunters — are compelled to walk north by a force that didn’t wane with the collapse of the housing market.

Unfortunately, it’s a compulsion that may never be satiated.
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