In one of the Wizard of Oz novels, little Dorothy and her companions are on the yellow brick road when they suddenly find the way blocked by a wall. No problem: just close your eyes, and you go through without a hassle.
The road on Woody Guthrie’s song “This Land Is Your Land” is also blocked by a wall. On one side it is written “private property,” but there is nothing written on the other side. No walls can stop me “As I walk on the freedom highway.”
America, an imaginary creation of endless freedom and uncontrolled expansion, has always been terrified of walls. “Do not fence me in,” do not keep me inside fences and barriers, says Cole Porter’s song about the unlimited opening of the West (and another classic folk song laments the barbed wire, the new invention that puts an end to free roaming on the border).
America has identified itself as an open space with no external or internal boundaries. It has been a beacon of welcome in the Statue of Liberty (“give me your huddled masses…”), claustrophobically felt the limit set by the Iron Curtain, triumphed with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Unlimited freedom, expansion and hegemony without borders, the American dream of social mobility — the absence or immateriality of the walls make up many reasons for loving America, and many reasons for fearing it.
So, the Trumpian idea of ”making America great again” by closing it with a wall is paradoxical. But it is a paradox that has materialized in reality, with the process to wall off the southern border already begun by the U.S. administration. The four companies that will build it were selected and, in the meantime, also the four prototypes (models) of the wall were chosen, with a key characteristic: to prohibit climbing.
The absence of boundaries that made the world permeable to expansion and American hegemony fell in permeability with respect to the world of an America without hegemony.
Walls and borders always have two faces, they cross in two directions. Jack Kerouac ended the journey on the road breaking the border with Mexico as a Yankee in search of drugs and whores; in the reverse direction, laborers and migrants crossed the Rio Grande and the desert looking for work and wellness.
Trump may have the illusion that the wall will only stop those who rise but will let through those who come down like the Oz wall, and maybe Mexico will not pay the United States back with the same coin; but the wall enters the consciousness, transforms America from a universe into a province. It blankets the sky of imagination, it generates paranoia and fear. In order to feel big, Donald Trump’s America shrinks and goes back in time.
Trump and his world speak today as if it were 1892, when poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich said: “wide open and unguarded stand our gates, and through them presses a wild motely throng” — which would then become the “huddled masses” that the Statue of Liberty welcomed six years later.
More than a century later, the great Latino writer Gloria Anzaldúa warned: “We can no longer afford defenses and fences to be built around us… The whites in power want us colored people to stumble behind our separate tribal walls to kick us out one at a time.”
Now the frightened whites (of all the so-called West) are ridiculed by being locked inside their own tribal wall, in America, as in the Mediterranean, in the Balkans, in the deserts of Libya and Chad. But the sea cannot be stopped with bare hands.
As Trump chooses prototypes to build south-facing barriers, the migrants, emigrants and fugitives flow in both directions through the longest unattended border in the world — to the north with Canada.
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