The signal problem of the Middle East is that one tribe is completely incapable of understanding the pain of another tribe, and, if you can reach out beyond the borders of your tribe and at least recognize the humanity of the other person, that's one basis for hope. Jeff Goldberg, author of Prisoners, A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide in an interview on PBS "Fresh Air" 10/11/06.
Atravesando Fronteras is Spanish for Crossing Borders.
Borders are imaginary lines drawn on a map with tremendous implications. To cross from the U.S. to Mexico, a journey of just a few feet, is to enter a world entirely different from whence one came. Crossing Borders (Atravesando Fronteras) can be, at the same time, frightening and exhilarating, dangerous and one of the most enriching experience of our lives. We often draw imaginary lines -- between social classes or races, in cities and towns, even in families and relationships, and in the human heart -- that we invest with tremendous power.
Borders and Boundaries
Borders of countries grow closer as the world continues to shrink. Ideally, borders define a territory to keep out undesirable elements. However, sometimes borders insulate citizens to the extent that essential awareness is blocked. The National Catholic Reporter comments about dispossessed Haitian workers, many of them children, who toil on sugar plantations in a state of near slavery in the Dominican Republic:
Meanwhile, not far away, wealthy Americans and Europeans lounge on sparkling beaches, unaware of the oppression nearby. NCR, "'The Price of Sugar' Tells a Bitter Story" 11/16/07, p.16
Some borders remain strong, sometimes impenetrable, sometimes mutually hostile. War and conflict are waged over lines in the sand.
I fall back to family systems theory. Boundaries serve important functions in family functioning. Appropriate boundaries between family members define and protect vital family roles. Appropriate boundaries around the family protect family integrity. When boundaries become too flexible and permeable, safety is compromised and confusion undermines secure identity. When boundaries become too rigid, development is stunted and vitality whithers.
In a fast shrinking world, the distinction between borders and boundaries needs to be clear. Borders simply define the extent of a geographical area. Boundaries serve a vital cultural and social function. A boundary jumper insults and even destabilizes a culture and system not his or her own. A border crosser enters someone else's world.
Borders are rigid, whereas boundaries flex to adapt to development and change.
When bloodshed blurs the borders between countries, the search for a peaceful solution challenges the commitment to borders and calls us us reexamine the historical values boundaries need to protect.
When borders keep contained desparation and poverty, the boundary of moral imperative challenges us to search for a more mutually beneficial solution.
Border crossing is a self-initiated act born of curiosity, or a sense of adventure, sometimes of desperation, or, at best, a true desire to reach beyond the restrictions of our own culture in a way that effects change.
No longer content to keep the alien culture at a distance, the border crosser has the opportunity to open his or her self to direct experience of the culture into which he or she is interloping. Opting to not live in the chosen environment as an observer, he or she is an active participant.
It is rare that we are actually invited to cross into another culture. There seldom will be a welcome mat spread at out feet.
Helping the Poor On the Other Side
It's poverty, oppression, lack of opportunity and hopelessness that propel many young people into the arms of radical Islam, just as gangs provide a missing ingredient for many inner-city youths in the United States experiencing similar social and economic conditions. Cynthia D. Bertelsen, Novelists Train Their Sights on Islamic Terrorism National Catholic Reporter, 10/6/06, 6a and 6b.
Crossing Borders with a true desire to reach beyond the restrictions of our own culture in a way that effects change is, at best, tricky and, at worst, arrogant. For it implies an agenda rather than an attitude. David Bowie sings of entering a foreign culture with “a plan for everyone.”
When faced with situations of poverty and/or oppression, the Border Crosser has three options:
(1)He/she can find a comfortable hotel and simply ignore them.
(2) He/she can maintain alignment with the oppressor. This would be the easiest and most natural option. Unconsciously, educational systems and mental-health processes incorporate elements of the oppressive system of which it is a part.
(3)He/she can partner with the oppressed.
Carrying the trappings of the oppressor – most notably, the luxury to choose not to be poor – the intentions of the border crosser easily are open to misinterpretation. Good fortune need not be associated with oppression. Of course, the more fortunate son or daughter needs to continually grow in awareness of his or her self and the elements of his or her good fortune that are systematically linked to oppressive situations. At the same time, right intention, informed consciousness, skillful action, and an open heart can set the stage for effective partnership.
In crossing borders, one automatically becomes a guest in the host's homeland. Although this role may seem awkward, especially if the guest is striving towards some sort of base of power and commonality, at the same time, to receive another's hospitality is to share that person's welcome, warmth, and table – all invitations to a deeper parity, especially when that person has so little to begin with. It also leaves room for reciprocity (if culturally appropriate) where the guest becomes host and the host guest.