Gibson’s interviews entice readers to be a fly on the wall, so to speak. Readers should accept the enticement.
The book’s setting is the international border where San Diego County, California, abuts Tijuana, Mexico. It is where panel prototypes for a new wall are assessed and an early 14-mile segment of the steel-beamed barrier from the Pacific Ocean east to the Otay Mesa goes up.
Gibson zeroed in on San Diego County because he felt it was the most dynamic area after surveying all of the counties along the 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico.
“San Diego was the obvious choice. It had international conglomerates, the military, the demographics,” Gibson said by phone from his home in Hawaii. “I also grew up in Orange County (just north of San Diego County) and maybe I was thinking that familiarity might inform things.”
Interviewees explain how they’re impacted by a new wall. Or is it a fence? One is the eloquent Stan Rodriguez, an elder of the Kumeyaay Indian tribe. Part of its reservation sits east of where wall prototypes are being erected.
Rodriguez said the tribe, with communities on both sides of the border, are like the Kurds, with populations in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
The Kumeyaay, he said, has seen its traditional settlement area shrink over centuries from 10,800 square miles to the current 193 square miles.
The Spanish arrived in 1798, he said, then in 1841 Mexico took over California. Seven years later the U.S. took control; it finalized a treaty giving the Kumeyaay 1,000 square miles, Rodriguez said, but didn’t immediately ratify the document.
Others interviewed include:
• The flamboyant, elusive, entrepreneurial Roque de la Fuente, a major land developer on the U.S. side of the border.
• California state assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who coauthored a bill requiring employers to bar federal immigration officials from entering private work areas without a search warrant and requiring employers to give a 72-hour notice if an inspection is scheduled.
• Bob Maupin, who lives in rural San Diego County (East County), learned how to make citizens arrests of those crossing the border and trespassing on his property.
• Jill Marie Holslin, an American artist taking photos of the border for 10 years. San Diego’s growing housing shortage and rising home prices forced her to look elsewhere. She lives in Tijuana.
• Haitian-born Civile Ephedouard pushed through Central America and headed north to cross into the United States. He’s applying for asylum. Meanwhile, he’s living in an old church sanctuary for migrants run by a former Methodist minister.
• Victor Ochoa, a well-known muralist/activist who is keeping watch over the murals in San Diego’s Chicano Park in the face of an announced lunch and tour “to peacefully view these anti-American, brown-supremacist murals in a public park.”
• Aurelia Avila was born in the U.S. but lives in a scrap-wood shack in a Tijuana barrio with a full view of the prototype site. Avila doesn’t have all the documents to prove her U.S. citizenship.
• Rod Hadrian, an innovative concrete contractor bidding on a wall prototype.
• Giselle Haro, 18, and a member of the Border Patrol Explorer Program, which teaches teenagers what it means to be a Border Patrol agent.
• And Chris Harris, a Border Patrol agent who is also an official in the agents’ union local.
Harris has read up on farmworkers leader César Chávez, who he said was against illegal immigration. Gibson adds that Chávez was also for employment verification programs so migrant workers could live here legally.
An important piece of the story of the wall construction, Gibson said, is that the border is vital for American capitalism.
“What’s really happening is the government and the private sector are working together to build more commercial crossings. Eighteen-wheelers are bringing products that flow into the country more freely. But people don’t,” he said.
Ephedouard is one of thousands of Haitians who have entered the U.S. through Mexico, Gibson said. He noted there’s a lot less discussion about the influx of Haitians, East Indians, or Chinese than there is about migrants from Mexico and the “Northern Triangle,” meaning Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Gibson is also the author of the books “Not Working: People Talk About Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today’s Changing Economy” and “The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century.”
Book of the week review