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A Requiem Rant for the Borderlands

When I was consulting Prof. Google about Mexico earlier today, I was shocked that a number of travel sites take the line that "you are perfectly safe as long as you are not involved in drugs."

That's nonsense, and it's dangerous nonsense. I started paying attention years ago when thirty gringos died of gunshots in one year in Nuevo Laredo. As far as I could tell, none of them was doing more than loitering at the corner of flesh and bullet while shopping or eating.

Since then, the Cadillac Bar, which claimed to have invented the margarita, went out of business.

In 2009, some of my students from Indiana University took one of those inexpensive “Spring Break in Cancun” packages. Every one of them was the victim of crime. Separate crimes, except one group mugging.

The guys who used to truck arts and crafts from the interior to the Mercado Central are out of business. Nobody will risk death to buy huaraches from Oaxaca or tile from Saltillo or coffee beans from Chiapas or even a cheap bottle of tequila.

The barbacoa joints on the main drag where I used to sit and eat tortillas and beans when I had no money are out of business.

The guys they called the Green Angels who patrolled the highways between the border and the major cities below are all out of work. Motorists travel, when they do, in high speed convoys that stop for nothing.

The granny who used to roast pepitos on the Plaza Mayor in Reynosa lost that income. The shoeshine boys now run dope, I presume, because there are few shoes to shine. A friend who lives near Ciudad Acuna sent me a photo he took on a Friday afternoon. It was sad and shocking to see nobody on the street at that hour.

I grew up with Texas-Mexico economies tying the countries together like shoelaces. The legitimate part of it is all gone. Even most of the whorehouses are closed. The farmacias where you got your antibiotics over the counter are closed--you don't think the Mexicans kept that many farmacias going, do you? Those wonderful farmers' markets where you could get avocados or limes or mangoes by the case are shrunken to the size of grocery stores. Mexican vanilla seldom shows up on this side of the border anymore.

In those days, it took no credential to enter Mexico in the border zone and only a “tourist card” available at any Mexican consulate for longer stays in the interior. Coming back was a matter of convincing the border guard of your citizenship. When interrogated, I used to say “Cherokee Nation,” and the only time that did not get me right in I had to answer some questions about the geography of Oklahoma that any Okie could answer. If I claimed “Cherokee Nation” since 9-11, that would probably get me at least a body cavity search from Bubba of the Border Patrol.

A passport is now required, and one of my students who got hers stolen in Cancun had to go to Mexico City so the US Embassy could handle getting her home. Apparently, since 9-11, a college kid without a passport is too big a deal for a mere consulate to handle.

Fast money income on the border is now drugs and guns (in opposite directions), robbery, and kidnapping. The American stores that used to cater to Mexican shoppers for small appliances are hurting.

As much as I despise bullfighting, I have to observe you don't see those big colorful posters anymore advertising some dude in tight trousers on tour from Spain.

The guys who used to do car customizing on the cheap now do nothing but alter vehicles for smuggling. I say bring back the velour and the fuzzy dice! Even if you don't want to be a lowrider, you have to admit it's harmless fun and it has been a lot of legitimate economic activity...back when we could cruise unarmed.

Look at what we’ve lost! Look at what Mexico has lost! I want it all back. The barbacoa, the whores, the drunken tourists and even the barbaric bullfights. My world is smaller and I don't like the shrinking of my world one bit.

All of this so we can fight our futile "war on drugs" and maintain the right of one cowboy to walk into a gun shop and buy a hundred rifles....because maybe he has a big family?

Making Americans go though more changes to buy guns in big lots does not threaten our sacred right as individuals to go about armed to the teeth.

Legalizing drugs as a matter of law or of enforcement policy has never caused huge and permanent spikes in drug use but rather small and temporary ones. Are Americans that different? There will always be junkies no matter what the law is. Tax the dope to treat the junkies. Take away the need to steal to get drugs of dubious quality. Hit the drug cartels the only place they have feelings, in their Swiss bank accounts. Did we learn nothing from alcohol prohibition?

I want my borderlands back!

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He is a columnist for Indian Country Today. He lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at