# (un)WALL /// Playing at Border crossing in a Mexican Indigenous Community…Seriously by Tamara Underiner


picture by Anthony Suau

TDR journal published by the MIT Press just released its summer issue in which one can read an interesting article written by Tamara Underiner (professor at Arizona State) about a Caminata Nocturna (Night Walk in Spanish), strange event taking place every week in the Mexican countryside. Her article Playing at Border crossing in a Mexican Indigenous Community…Seriously in fact describes a Mexican indigenous community which weekly reconstitutes the conditions of the crossing of the Mexican/US border as a mix between the game and the ceremonial.

The article starts with a narrative that puts you in those conditions and blurs the difference between a real border crossing and its reconstitution:

If it’s Saturday night in the Mexican town of El Alberto, it’s time to cross the border. If you’re lucky, the moon will be out and you will be able to pick your way through the rugged terrain. You will be able to see glimmers of the streams you will have to cross, and the river you will want to avoid. If the moon is out, there might be some light at the end of the sewer tunnel you will crawl through, enough at least to let you fairly calculate how much flesh will be left on your palms and your knees by the end of its rough passage, and how many creepy-crawly things have already landed in your hair as you’ve crept along, parting curtains of cobwebs with your face. You will be able to gauge the incline of the next hillside you will have to scale, and the width of the next plank you will have to walk, across a patch of stinking swamp. You might be able to distinguish the difference between a cactus arm and a tree branch, so that when you lose your balance, you won’t grab hold of the wrong one.
If it’s a moonless night, you will have to rely on the expertise of your guides, the polleros or coyotes1 you have hired to help you navigate these challenges. You will try using your flashlight, or your lighter, or your cell phone — anything to show you where to put your foot next. You will be told in no uncertain terms to turn it off or put it out. In the dark and the quiet, you will see the flashing lights of the US Border Patrol, which pursues you nearly constantly, on foot and in pickup trucks; you will hear the orders they yell to turn yourself in, and the gunshots they will use to convince you. You may manage to elude capture, but some of your fellow travelers will not — especially the ones who are obviously drunk. You may find yourself chuckling at the sight of them being hauled away, even as you wonder just when and where you’ll see them again.

Right after this paragraph, the reader understands that it is in fact the reconstitution described here and starts to wonder about the legitimacy of such an organization. One might argue about a form of cynicism from this Mexican community and about an insane need for adrenaline to animate a boring middle-class life from the “clients” of this event. A journalist of CBS, in a classic form of interested paranoia from the American medias, even understood the Caminata Nocturna of El Alberto as a training camp for future illegal migrants…

However, T. Underiner’s point goes much beyond these simplistic considerations. Indeed, she questions the  acceptance of the Western World for an indigenous harmless production such as textiles, pottery or native dances counter balanced by a very condescending refusal of the invention of a production that takes its source in a form of resistance against the Western order:

There’s nothing new in indigenous communities the world over offering some aspect of their cultures up for tourist consumption. However, the negative judgments of the Caminata as a tourist attraction suggest that it is one thing to enter tourist markets by selling textiles, or pottery, or native dances whose presumed authenticity is part and parcel of their commercial appeal; and quite another when the “tradition” that possibly most characterizes a town’s recent lived experience is migration. Social anthropologist María Félix Quezada Ramírez reports on Hñähñú migration patterns going back to the 1930s, with rapid increases since the 1990s, leading her to conclude that seasonal and permanent migration to the United States has become a “family strategy” that is not only a matter of economic and reproductive survival, but is experienced as an element of culture as well (2008:76).

T. Underiner also points out the variety of purposes to participate to such a “walk”. There are a lot of American and Mexican tourists, curious and adventurous of course, but also an important amount of men and women who are willing to experience what some of their relatives have been living one day when crossing the real border. This walk has then to be understood as a quasi-religious ceremony that provoke the virtual gathering of people who have been geographically separated.

But the Caminata Nocturna is also more simply an event that forces people to exit their comfort zone and bring a group of persons in a survival need for solidarity. In that regard, the main organizer Poncho affirms: “We do this at night, […] because at night we don’t see faces. We’re all human beings here; we don’t distinguish races, we lend a hand without first looking at who we’re helping.”
The Wall that is transgressed here, is therefore not the physical wall that separates the two countries but the virtual wall that separates one person and his alter ego in an utopian moment of solidarity. Before each walk, Poncho reads a speech to all participants that reveal the true goal of this event:

Many of you know that tonight you are going to hike to the theme of migration to follow in the footsteps of migrant following a dream. But this dream is NOT the American Dream. This border is a simulated one; unlike the real one, which divides us as human beings. To cross the border tonight is to do the opposite of what crossing the real one does: it is to become united again as human beings, through the bonds of fraternity and humanity, in order to change this cursed history.”

Playing at Border crossing in a Mexican Indigenous Community…Seriously by Tamara Underiner. TDR/The Drama Review. Summer 2011

Read the article as pdf here