Faces On The River

Terrorism, national security, politics, and immigration laws dictate who and what comes into this country, and why. We need to protect ourselves, that’s obvious. But what about the deserving souls who would be an asset, those who want to work, pay taxes, and call themselves ‘Americans?’

During a recent trip to Big Bend National Park I witnessed a scene that stuck in my gut. It was something that drew me past all the politics and fear of our complacent comfort being disturbed. I was at the Hot Springs, one of the more popular spots in the park.

The Hot Springs used to be a spa-like vacation destination for wealthy, eccentric folks who believed the extra warm water at the edge of the Rio Grande River had medicinal qualities. Perhaps so. But it is also a place where affluence meets poverty, especially today. It’s a place where politics meets reality, where, what we as Americans stand for, an actual demonstration of practicing what we so proudly preach.

The weather was warm, the sunshine was bright, and the parking lot was full with SUV’s of every make and model. It was not only a picture of what is right and good for twenty-first century affluence, it was perfect. As families marched down the trail to the springs, loaded down with their water toys, big floppy sun-blocking hats, and finest swimming attire, I couldn’t help but notice a group of people on the Mexican shore of the river. It was a pitiful looking group of two men, a couple kids, and dogs. Everyone was dressed in ragged jeans and tee shirts and the dogs were dragging their tails. No one appeared to be happy in any way. Their lives were grim. It was easy to see that. They were hunched over, picking through the rocks at the edge of the water, probably looking for snails or crabs, anything to eat. Behind them was a lean-to type shelter made of sticks; barely any protection from the bright sun. Unlike the Americans, sun block and water toys were the furthest thing from their minds. Survival seemed to be the order of the day. The hot-tubber Americans were either oblivious to the foreigners just a few feet away or accepted them as part of the scenery.

The last thing I want coming across the sludge-filled river are terrorists and their life-threatening equipment or drug-smuggling creeps supplying American dealers. But I don’t want to watch people—hungry people—denied a better life and separated by an arbitrary line running down the middle of a stretch of water that barely qualifies as a river. Yes, we must protect our borders, but are we required to ignore the abject poverty that exists right in front of our eyes? The sight of some Mexicans scratching in the dirt for some morsels of food was surreal for me; especially since I never knew the pain of hunger and the feeling of desperation.

As a nation we exist at the height of power. We drive big cars and live in spacious homes, at least compared to our southern neighbors. In general, our lives are the definition of good. We even sport bumper stickers on the back end of our gas-guzzling vehicles that tell the world we are ‘proud to be American.’ Since we are so high on ourselves, isn’t it time to share? Wouldn’t now be a good time to remember our humanity? Can we not see that we have more than so many others? Or are we so blind to reality and compassion that we choose to pretend the rest of the world—our subordinates—do not exist?

If the Hot Springs does have a medicinal purpose, it is only physical. Our emotional well-being is left to spread ignorance and displeasure at the thought of someone who is less fortunate.

There must be a middle ground, a place where we can keep our wealth, but also share it. Is it so wrong to allow immigrants into our country, you know, the people who contribute to our mixing bowl culture? We are all decedents of ancestors who migrated here in search of a better life. How dare we forget our past! Let’s become the humanitarians we pretend to be. Let’s start practicing what we preach.