Border residents show Trump that bridges to Mexico are thicker than walls

PRESIDIO—In an act of binational solidarity in a new age of Trump nationalism, residents from the Big Bend region of West Texas walked from the remote Texas border town of Presidio across the international bridge to Mexico carrying cardboard signs with slogans like: “Build bridges, not walls.”

The Saturday morning march was not on the scale of other demonstrations that have popped up in other cities around the country following the election, but it wasn’t meant to be. Police presence was minimal, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel barely batted an eye as the 40-some marchers filed through the international port doors.

Marchers approach the bridge that separates the two countries.Sasha von Oldershausen

Marchers approach the bridge that separates the two countries.

The group gathered in the middle of the bridge – the dividing line between the United States and Mexico – and waited for their Mexican neighbors while chanting: “Viva la frontera,” or “Long live the border!”

u-s-mexico-boundary-lineSasha von Oldershausen

Beneath the bridge, the narrow Rio Grande ran languidly as three horses grazed on the verdant grasses by its edge. For them, the river is only a lifeforce, not as a dividing line.

One river, two countries.Sasha von Oldershausen

One river, two countries.

“We all get along beautifully over here,” said Laurie Holman, a Presidio resident who organized the solidarity march. “That’s what we want to show the world.”

It’s not that folks aren’t shocked or angry by the election results. Presidio, a mostly Hispanic community, was one of a handful of Texas counties that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.

group-shotSasha von Oldershausen

That should come as no surprise, considering that much of the antagonistic rhetoric that defined Trump’s campaign targeted their family and friends in Mexico. If Trump makes good on his promises of building a wall and slapping tariffs on Mexico, it would undoubtedly upend people’s way of life here.

But it’s all that angry and divisive rhetoric that inspired folks here to organize a peaceful march.

“We live very peacefully here no matter what you hear or see on the news, on television. We’re one of the safest counties in Texas and we’re right next to Mexico,” Holman said. “We want to show unity, solidarity. We want to show Mexico that we got their back. They’re not alone.”

lupe-and-rafaelSasha von Oldershausen

Once gathered on the bridge, people smiled and cheered. Commuters that passed by honked their horns in solidarity.

The mood was one of unity and hope, but it wasn’t a joyous occasion. People who live on the border know better than to believe in happy endings.

“I’m not going to be ignorant in thinking everything is ok,” said Dimitri Garcia, a Presidio city council member, who brought his son to the march. “I have some very serious concerns but I want to be positive. I want to be hopeful. I want to move forward.”

Cars crossing the bridge honk in solidaritySasha von Oldershausen

Cars crossing the bridge honk in solidarity

For Garcia, trust in the government has been lost.

“Even if the entire community comes together, that in itself is symbolically powerful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a catalyst for positive change,” he said.

Zorayma Lackey, a Presidio resident who also brought her children to the march, echoed that sentiment. For her, showing solidarity was about reassuring her children, family and friends that the community will continue to be here no matter what the government does.

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“They don’t know what the future holds,” she said. “Are they going to be separated from their family members? Are they going to build this wall? Are they going to be able to see people that they love? I wanted them to know that, we’re here, we support you and whatever comes against us, we’re going to unite.”

But she’s also bitter about the whole thing. “It’s so sad that [Trump] created this tension,” she said. “He created this anxiety and now we have to clean up this mess. His mess.”

Residents from both sides met on the bridge to demonstrate in unitySasha von Oldershausen

Residents from both sides met on the bridge to demonstrate in unity

When the march ended, Presidio residents slowly meandered back across the border to Texas, where several met in the local bar, where the owner grilled meat and served it to his patrons for free.

They sat, drank beer and watched the game. When a Border Patrol vehicle passed by, a common sight in the town, one Presidio woman shouted with her hands up, “I’m legal!” The others laughed.

In that moment, it seemed that life on the border was as it always would be—people looking out for each other within their community; laughing and sharing a drink. Getting through it together.