News from Paul

Here’s the latest from CCF Grantee Manuel Paul Lopez:

Photo by Paul Sanchez
Photo by Paul Sanchez

Above is a photograph a good friend of mine and I took on a recent day trip along the San Diego/Tijuana border fence.  I’ll always remember the small bird that stood defiantly on the barbed wire and occasionally circled above both sides in graceful sweeps.


As I was finishing up some last minute preparations for my drive to the Imperial Valley early Saturday morning to attend the Tech de Mayo conference at Imperial Valley College, I came across a fascinating conversation between Bill Moyers and Luis Alberto Urrea late Friday night on PBS.  You can watch the whole episode here.  Much of Urrea’s work explores life along the border, often shedding light on communities isolated and/or disenfranchised.  This was most notably evident when he wrote about a community of people living among the trash heaps at a Tijuana dump.  The book was called Across the Wire.  In his interview with Moyers, Urrea retells the stories of these people, explaining his aim to place them at the forefront, so that we, as a society, are forced to face these devastating issues and consider their heartbreaking consequences.  In one segment, Urrea describes the geography of one of these dumps, where children are buried and parents use their cribs as headstones.  It’s a mind-blowing account.


What resonated with me most during this conversation is when Urrea addresses the border wall as a physical metaphor, something we all know—after all, we can see it.  We can Google it.   But Urrea states that in addition to this large, grizzly structure, there are also many other borders between us: gender borders, sexuality, class, ethnicity, etc.  An example he shared was one that told the story about the border that crossed through his childhood apartment in Tijuana, where there was a clear distinction between his American mother and Mexican father, and how that division swelled with time.  He humorously recalls that Walter Cronkite was the ambassador between both sides, because it was the only time when the family actually sat together to engage in a common activity.


Separation.  Isolation.  Marginalization.


I’ve thought a lot about these words over the years, having lived most of my life up against the border fence, its shadow on my shoulder as a reminder.  Some factions (again, another border) scream to lengthen the U.S./Mexican border–“Build that thing across the whole Southwest!”  “Add a moat!”  “Electrify that mother!”  The chants are equal parts real, with the agenda to support them, and strangely surreal.  What they don’t know is that the border wall we are building is growing.  It grows by the mile with each Oscar Grant that falls to the hands of injustice; it sprouts barbed teeth with the Trayvon Martin case; it reaches for the clouds when another family loses a home, or a parent loses his or her job.  Murders in places like Juarez.  Proposition 8 in California.  SB1070 in Arizona.  The countless cases of domestic violence and the men who get away with their barbaric crimes.  Drug addiction and the asinine laws associated with it, encaging thousands behind bars, and the prison facilities built to accommodate these efforts when education budgets are continuously slashed.  The list grows and grows.  The borders strengthen and hiss like wild serpents with each attempt to combat these issues.  And there are those who feed it, willingly contributing to the vitriol, and those who do so indirectly by remaining quiet.  But I’m confident and hopeful, because I know there are those who courageously take a stand, and with enough noise and direct action, will make change.  We must question ourselves and consider the role(s) we play in all of this before the divisions swell so widely that we can no longer hear one another.


Read Paul’s past blog entries here: (april 2012) (march 2012) (february 2012) (january 2012)



3 thoughts on “News from Paul”

  1. Estimado Amigo,

    We both taught English at Southwest High School in El Centro, California. I retired in June of 2007. Before I retired, I asked you if you might be interested in poetry books I had collected over the years. You were interested. When I looked for you the following year, I believe you had resigned. If you are still interested, I would be happy to deliver them to you.

    Con Safos,

    Patrick Barringer

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