Last weekend we drove, through a corner of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, where we saw less fauna (though one very still deer blended so perfectly with some roadside trees it was eerie, and there were a fair number of ravens and turkey vultures circling overhead) than flora — carpets of green at ground level, with occasional explosions of bright golden poppies and various other purple and yellow wildflowers, along bits of roadside that looked no different than the bits where flowers didn’t bloom. Rising above them were dark twisted mesquites, their leaves not yet out, looking black and stark against the green at their feet–reminiscent of fire damage, though there was no fire damage here we could see. It was just winter, lurching into spring, and the mesquites were lagging behind the shorter-lived wildflowers. The cacti are slower to bud than the wildflowers, too, as if the long-term desert residents move more cautiously into spring than their one-season cousins.
Mountains lined the horizons as we drove. As we got closer to the short trail we were planning to hike, I kept looking at the southern mountains especially and thinking about how somewhere, out of sight, there was a wall. As we drove, familiar green-and-white vans passed by: one, two, a half dozen, more. We saw a bus pulled over, guards questioning uneasy-looking passengers.
We turned left, toward Arivaca, a small Arizona town just a handful of miles from the border. A couple miles west of the town we pulled off by a trailhead, beside a broad bare mesquite that sheltered the picnic table beneath it, even without leaves. We hiked along a river, through green flowering plants bright with shades of gold, yellow, white, purple. We walked around some ruined buildings off the trail, past a broken-down log wall where a no-trespassing sign might have been. There were no trespassing signs elsewhere, along bits of barbed wire and wooden fencing that marked property lines. Plants grew on both sides of the wall, unhindered. It would take stronger walls than the ones we were hiking along to keep out wildflowers, or wildlife.
As I walked I kept thinking, somewhere, out of sight, there is a wall, large enough to confuse dogs and deer, to stop the jaguar’s return. It was hard to believe in that wall as we hiked among the wildflowers, as cottonwood fluff blew across the sunlit trail, as we wondered when the reluctant mesquites would give in to leafing.
On the way home, wildflowers still lining the road in intermittent patches, we slowed as we approached a border checkpoint. I thought of my grandparents, who came to this country without papers and without any marketable skills. The guard in his green uniform barely glanced up at me, with the pale skin I’d inherited from them. “Have a nice day,” he said.
As we drove on, I thought, this is what Privilege looks like.
As we drove on, I thought, there’s a Wall.