Someone must have had a birthday party last night. I watched as a long, bright green strip of crepe paper lazily floated over the fence that marks our back yard, and settled amongst the branches of a fruit tree that grows at the back of the house. Remnants of a piñata, I am sure, and I smiled at the site of that joyful trespasser brightening up the corner of our yard.
I was settled into a chair under the shade of a tree and was checking my mail. The Great Seal of the Republic of Texas announced a bit of formality in my in-box. I opened it and discovered that I had received a summons from the Committee on Redistricting of the Texas House of Representatives. Representative Burt Solomons, from the north Texas town of Carrollton, the chair of this committee, had requested my testimony, so that his group might appreciate “the wisdom you can provide about your community.” Seemingly my thoughts would be used “to integrate the needs of Texans and improve our background to create fair and legal maps reflecting the demographics of Texas.”
I am not sure how to proceed. Mr. Solomons is a man who has introduced several bills into this Texas legislative session that would place folks who would appear to be “undocumented immigrants” under suspicion. He insists that peace officers detain all those folks who cannot prove their immigration status.
I live one mile north of the Texas border with Mexico, and it is precisely the demographics of our community that would make Mr. Solomons’s law such a bad idea. Fully 87% of the residents here identify themselves as Hispanic. A peace officer faithfully fulfilling her mandate would have to stop nine out of the ten people she passes in the local shopping mall, for they would all certainly seem suspicious—“of brown complexion, dark hair, dark eyes, speaking a mix of Spanish and English, and appearing to enjoy life more than most other Americans.”
This would, of course, keep any peace officer busy, and all of the people annoyed. It would cut the heart out of our Texan friendliness and would create a debilitating nervousness, which, over time, seems to lead to meanness of heart, as the evidence would indicate in the case of Mr. Solomons and his constituents, who are, I should note, fellow Texans, and who have supported scores of laws which consequences punish people of color.
They would also be Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon, white people, like me, who have probably never had to prove their citizenship to anyone. They would not know of that indignity, particularly when applied in front of one’s children or grandchildren.
In any case, I don’t believe I have the pedagogical skills necessary to help Mr. Solomons and his committee appreciate the wisdom of this place known as “the border.” In my many years living here, I have entertained hundreds of visitors who came expecting to be able to see some physical point where “here” and “there” are clearly demarcated. I found that in most cases, after listening to the interesting blend of English and Spanish in which stories are told, after attending to the arresting tales of courage and generosity which mark our region, these visitors came to appreciate that the border is not best described by a mechanically drawn map with its sharp edges, but rather by a water color image, one in which the boundaries seep over into each other—the sky bleeding into the sea, the flowers weeping into the grasses, the sunshine exulting onto hilltops.
Unlike Mr. Solomons and his committee, these, though, were people who bothered to come here to the border. Being here, these visitors were able to get a glimpse of the nature of our area–a culture formed by the blending together of different ways of life and of the different senses of self that nations tend to impose upon its citizens.
Mr. Solomons and his constituents, however, without bothering to visit us, would judge who should and who should not live in our community. This arrogance—and the contempt that informs it—speaks eloquently of Texas’ present political leadership’s poverty of mind and heart and spirit.
But I have been asked to speak with this group as they draw up the lines on a map that will determine who will represent us in the state capitol. This is no small matter, and so I will continue to try and figure out a way to help them appreciate the richness of our part of the state. At the end of the day, this committee will play an important role in deciding who should speak for us.
As I filed Mr. Solomons’ letter away, I looked up and noticed that the wind was tearing the strip of paper from the birthday piñata away from our tree. The ribbon of green flew up and away, bending in the morning light, heading south toward the line that marked the end of the United States and the beginning of the Republic of Mexico, carrying with it the memory of children—American-born children—singing in Spanish, and celebrating, in Mexican—the life of a friend.
This slice of green, this slice of life, disappeared from my view, but not from my heart.
Now, to bring that to Austin–that would indeed be magical.