By Hillel Aron
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She shrugs. “And in many cases, they die in the Arizona desert.”
Yet illegal immigrants are only a minor part of the problem. Despite the headaches they create for the Mexican side of Naco — including Border Patrol escalation and political chafing with their neighbor to the north — illegal immigrants are usually peaceful and keep to themselves.
Drug dealers, on the other hand, are the true cancer, constantly on the lookout for new recruits — and new users. Dulce says the drug trade affects nearly every aspect of her life, and defines Naco’s economy. “You can pretty much say that drug trafficking is king here. Everyone here works in it.”
In a tone that is brave yet desperate, she describes seeing numerous friends sucked into the lucrative world of drug smuggling. Many others have become addicts themselves. Violence often spills onto the streets, she says, making her scared to go outside after dark.
“It’s like two different cities. There is Naco during the day, and there is Naco at night. I don’t leave my house after I get home at 6 o’clock.”
Despite the teens’ resentment, narco-trafficking remains a seductive option for teens in a town awash in poverty and stagnation. There is no public high school. Once they graduate from middle school, the Mexican teens must pay to attend a private high school, or else discontinue their education. More than a third of their class has already dropped out. (“One of my friends is pregnant, another already got married, and the rest are just bums,” Dulce explains.)
Yet surprisingly, very few of the Mexican teens express any desire to live in the United States.
Maciel Anaya, 15, says national pride keeps her where she is.
“Being Mexican, how can I let my country down by moving to the States?” she asks. “This is my country.”
Bielcka mentions her distaste for the Iraq War and the fact that female soldiers are sent to fight. She also says she’s often treated badly when she visits America because her English is not good. “My mom runs a school-supply store here, and whenever Americans come in, I always try to understand them and be nice about [the language gap]. It would be nice if they could do the same when I go into their country,” she says.
But she acknowledges that ultimately she will have to leave Naco to follow her dream of becoming an architect. “There are other cities [in Mexico] — I’ll end up somewhere else,” she says sadly. “You have to get out in order to succeed, because in Naco there aren’t many opportunities to get ahead. If you want to be someone, you have to get out of here.”
THERE IS NOTHING SIMPLE about life on the Arizona border. The border keeps people out, and it keeps people in — defining not just the boundaries of two nations, but the boundaries of countless lives.
The Sonoran Desert is a place of strong sun, strong wind and strong opinion.
In a strictly physical sense, the border seems heinously out of place. It flouts the open-skies, open-frontier ethos of the desert. It is a scar on the haunting, O’Keeffian landscape; a reminder of violence gone by, and violence yet to come.
Helen Brady is curious when she looks at the majestic purple mountains south of her home, and curious when she sees Mexican city lights bouncing off low-hanging clouds. “It’s cool,” she says, after a long spell of thought. “They’re lights from another town, and you think: ‘Wow, half that mountain is in a whole other country.’ ” A country she has never visited.
Being a teenager — on the edge of adulthood — is difficult anywhere. Being a teenager on the edge of such a seemingly forbidden nation is downright bewildering.