Thursday, June 01, 2006

Putting up fences


I was listening to a radio report on NPR this morning. The commentator was expressing his belief that we shouldn't erect a physical barrier between us and Mexico. He believes a physical barrier presents a negative symbolism to both countries.

I have to agree.

It made me think back to my first couple of years at Central Dallas. I was originally hired to run our food pantry. The food pantry consisted of an "interview room" (a large waiting room with little side rooms for interviewing) with a "front desk" area and a food "warehouse" in the back. What struck me early on was the black wrought-iron fence that separated the [White] people interviewing from the [Black and Hispanic] people being interviewed. The symbolism in that drove me absolutely crazy until I couldn't take it any more and literally (with the help of a friend) ripped it out of the wall. The fence...the barrier...seemed to provide a strange sense of "comfort" and "safety" to the suburban volunteers. It had to go.

Tearing down the barrier between us was also a symbolic move. More and more people from the community (people coming in for food) began to be a part of our operation...interviewing, distributing food, helping make decisions for the future of the pantry, etc. until now the food pantry is comprised of 90-95% community volunteers. (Sadly and unfortunately, many of the surburban volunteers slowly stopped coming after that). It was amazing to me what was accomplished when we invited everyone to the table. Before tearing the fence down, we struggled to have enough volunteers. However, once we became serious about inviting the community in and working together, we were pretty fully staffed most days.

It's the same with Mexico. We can continue to erect barriers and provide the symbolism that "We don't want you," and "Fix your own problems...don't come to us to provide the means to fix them for you." Or, we could tear down the barriers (literally and figuratively) and work toward figuring out a way to work with our southern neighbor to make life better for all of us. The second option sounds like a much better deal to me.
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