Following my dad into the arroyo, I imagined the Gerry cans filled with water. He’d just told me about his and Glenda’s past water drops for the migrants who used to travel up and down these creek beds. I imagined the groups I’d seen in the media, with working men, women and children huddled together and moving through the shroud of dark night that blanketed these lands so easily.
Now, in a newly militarized, sensationalized and wicked American reality, those migrants have stopped coming. They aren’t flooding the deserts or strewing their clothes in the mesquite bushes anymore. Those that are left were more like the “bad hombres” some politicians conjured for votes. Sure, desperate people will still try to escape the punishing economic realities of Central and South America, but the odds of them succeeding have greatly diminished over the last decade.
My Experience Crossing Borders
What happens to the children and youth facing these realities? When I was a kid, my family constantly traveled back and forth across the border between Montana and Alberta. We weren’t crossing with permission, and we moved around a lot.
I remember some catywampus explanations, some crooked dealings and some harsh realities that started when I was a little boy and lasted until I was 19 years old. Many of my friends have no idea still today, because I just let out the easy tales: We stashed a ferret in the glove compartment. If our things didn’t fit in the trunk they didn’t come along. I couldn’t keep the steer riding trophy made for me when I was five. Things like that.
I don’t tell them about the time I remember laying quietly under the blanket in the back seat. Or that we evacuated hotels like hostages fleeing their captors. I don’t mention that eighth birthday sharing a cupcake with my family of six, or the nights we woke up on the side of the highway in the rain, only to be ushered along by a local sheriff who didn’t want riffraff in their town.
Today’s Border-Crossing Youth
These children and youth who are racing across the southern border are going to grow up and be like me, for better or worse. They’re going to struggle and challenge, work and change the world around them. Sure, a few will become bad guys, and many will just peter out and live simple lives.
But some of them will get an idea stuck in their craw. They’ll want to make a difference and facilitate transformation. They’ll study, learn, teach and grow. They will become more than ever expected. Are you prepared for what they’re going to bring? Because surely it’ll affect you, me and everyone in our lives.
What will these world changers advocate? In my life, I have advocated for the holistic democratic inclusion of everyone in our society. That was after I grew up in nonprofit organizations, churches and schools where those ideals were firmly seeded. Later, I continued learning in programs and agencies that sought to infuse the virtues of liberal arts education, engagement and social action into the hearts and minds of young people.
Making Their Own Differences
The young people who are being deported from the U.S., who are being turned away at the border, and who give up on the American dream before ever leaving home are going to have visions for social change that reflect their surroundings, too. Their social change narratives are going to harken to the harsh economic realities they face at home, in their communities and elsewhere. Using the language that speaks to the deepest parts of them, they will piece together their own stories and develop unique perspectives that support their worldviews.
These will not be supported by notions of American pluralism, embracing diversity or expanding democracy. Instead, if they continue to reflect anything American, they might look like the desperate attention-seeking of politicians and the money-grabbing of capitalists. In the dystopian order of the day, they could have the appearance of benign chaos or the cloak of neoliberal beneficence.
Reaching further than American mythology, these same young people may create new plans for a different future, ones which enliven, enlighten and empower their nations and the world. They might reach for universal empowerment, enfranchising the masses with hopeful truth-seeking, determined political action and holistic social engagement. Beyond the American pipeline involving the military-education-prison-healthcare-justice-housing-industrial complex, they will building communities, encourage young people, circulate social capital and infuse social responsibility within their families, among their neighborhoods, throughout their nations and around the world.
There are already plenty of border-crossing youth changing the world in ways we don’t see quickly or easily, too. Working across issues of immigration, education, economic justice and environmental racism, they’re also transforming cultural boundaries, shifting technological realities and moving social change in whole new directions – right now. What’s going to happen when these youth are deported, denied entry or become disillusioned with the American dream?
This burgeoning reality isn’t limited to Central and South America, either. Every nation around the world pushing against the new American norm will have young people desperate to confront, challenge, reconfigure and infuse the future with hopeful action.
We might not need to put water in the arroyo much longer, because people may not be crossing that way anymore. Instead, we need to seed resources that support the border-crossing youth of today.
What are you going to share in the desert today?