On my first evening in my host family’s home, they warned me about the train.
Because their property abuts a well-traveled freight line, they were concerned that I might have trouble sleeping. Their concern was justified. Every night, trains lightly shake my bed and wake the neighbor’s bark-happy dogs. Let’s just say that my first nights were not very restful.
The truth is, they are loud and incessant, and they head directly to the United States. And because the freight line was born out of the NAFTA agreements, the reality is that the train is in all of our backyards. Its impacts are hard for all of us to ignore, especially on two controversial subjects: trade and illegal immigration.
Fun fact: the NAFTA agreements increased bilateral trade between the United States and Mexico by 340 percent! For Mexico, approximately 80 percent of their current exports head straight to the United States. This means that every year, around 250 billion dollars in silver, fresh produce, coffee, cotton, grain, coal, chemicals, petroleum, and vehicles chug north toward the border crossing in Laredo, Texas.* There is no doubt that since the 1994 agreement, the landscape has dramatically changed in both countries. Similarly, 50 percent of Mexico’s imports come from the United States.** This frequent and important trade happens in all of our backyards. But it literally passes through mine.
More recently, the train has become a conduit for another controversial facet of trade: illegal immigration. Increasingly, people are using the train to hitchhike into the United States. Typically, they hail from southern Mexico and Central America, and they chose to undertake an extraordinarily perilous journey. They leave friends, family, their home language and culture behind in the hopes of forging a brighter future. *** These brave travelers pass through my backyard every day. But they pass through yours too. Where would America be without Mexicans and Central Americans?
When looking through this lens, the train transforms from an annoyance into a fascination. To me, it is a symbol of the frequent economic and cultural exchange between neighboring countries, as well as a symbol for my own cultural assimilation process. At first glance, it is a frustrating and noisy disturbance. Looking deeper, I realize that I am honored to have the opportunity to actively exchange with my neighbors. And I believe that is also true of you. In so many ways, exchange makes our countries stronger.
Luckily, over the past few weeks, I have become more accustomed to the trains. My host mom asked just the other day if the trains still bothered me. I replied, “for the most part, not anymore.”
It is incredible how people can adjust and adapt with time.
Currently making me smile:
- Spanglish has become the lingua-franca of our training group
- Going shoe-less in the house when the host family was out of town; look out, I’m a rebel!
- Impromptu quesadilla and ice cream meals with friends
- Answering the phone and being able to take an accurate message in Spanish
- Photography exhibits proceeded by wine and cheese street fairs
* Map of the train route:
** Various stats gathered from Economy Watch.
*** A terrific movie about this subject is called Sin Nombre, or The Nameless. I recommend that you Netflix it!