Million Mile Walker Dispatch, March, Drama on the Border: No Easy Solutions

Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,

As the number of asylum-seeking migrants, including unaccompanied minors, crossing the southwest border of the U.S. soared to 3,500 a day in February, and the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America rose 60%, many of us are asking, “What’s going on in Central America anyway?” I’ll explore this and more in Culture Watch. My Writing & Book Reviews will include several book and movie reviews.  We’ll look to inspiration in Voices of the Day and, as always, What Others Are Saying.

My latest article, “Tschiffely’s Epic Ride: Part of the Yin & Yang of Travel Series,” was in the February issue of Literary Traveler, and tells about one of the great equestrian treks. The author takes three years to ride his horses 10,000 miles over the Andes, through Central America to Washington D.C.  I parallel some of his treks with my own stories from my five-month sojourn over the continent.

Culture Watch  

Unfortunately, as has been the case in the past, politicians like the Governor of Texas began the debate by blaming President Biden for the influx of migrants, and politicians headed to the border for photo ops in heavily armed boats on the Rio Grande, while businesses continue to benefit from the influx of cheap labor. But so far, our immigration policies continue to be woefully inadequate.

One thing should be clear by now; we need to go beyond our border in order to deal with the underlying causes of the problem. According to the Democratic representative from El Paso, “Until we address what motivates vulnerable people to leave their home countries, they will continue to come.”

But the representative from California who was born in Guatemala, Norma Torres, is quick to point out that we can just throw money at the problem and, if not scrutinized, the aid may not find its way to those we want to help.  Central America has some of the more dysfunctional regimes in the continent. In Guatemala, one of the few counterweights to corruption, the justice system, has been taken over by the President, eliminating the few investigative entities in the country like U.N. based CICIG.

The Biden Administration has already begun to reverse many of Trump’s policies, starting with the separation of children from their parents, and plans to use U.S.’s wealth and diplomatic clout to reverse the influx, but this is easier said than done, as this article describes.

Basic immigration reform, such as confirming the citizenship of “Dreamers” and offering a path to citizenship of the 10 million undocumented people already in the country would be a start. As would a renewal of the traditional work visa program, starting with agricultural workers. NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America) recommends more basic changes, such as President Biden and López Obrador’s administration adopting political discourse, policies, and practices that decriminalize human mobility.

Clearly, much work and research remains to sort out the basis of the growing number of immigrants from Central America. Guatemala now has the highest rate of malnutrition among children in Latin America—worse than Haiti, resulting in an ongoing metamorphosis of our documentary to reflect the nuances. Consequently, “Trouble in the Highlands” has a new website and trailer. We’re adding some Maya advisors to our team and will include a segment about the headway made by indigenous groups in Bolivia becoming represented in their government and the economy, which could provide solutions for the indigenous groups in Guatemala.

My Writing & Book/Movie Reviews

This book is timely, as the U.S. continues to expand its military might to the level of the closest ten other countries in the world. Excellent investigative journalism reveals how the United States is outsourcing its border patrol abroad and essentially expanding its borders in the process.
Also, our former President’s highly publicized focus on the “Wall” between the U.S. and Mexico is missing the bigger picture of strengthening border enforcement around the world. These borders have expanded thousands of miles outside our territory to encompass not only American land, but Washington’s interests. Resources, training and agents from the U.S. are deployed to the Caribbean and Central America and, according to the author, go even farther afield enforcing division between Global South and North.

The story begins in my favorite place on earth, Guatemala, at a military base in the hot, dry town of Zacapa. Although the base is over 1,400 miles from the U.S. border, in a sense, it was the U.S. border, which is why the author was there. The military base, which is close to the Honduras border, is also located in the “drought corridor,” a long swath of territory that extends throughout Central America to Panama, which one climate scientist called “ground zero” for climate change in the Americas, and which will lead to unprecedented levels of migration, going hand-in-hand with an unprecedented thrust in border militarization around the world.

I embrace the critique of this book by Greg Grandin, author of The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America,
“An indispensable guide to our bunkered, barb-wired world. For more than a decade, well before Donald Trump landed in the White House, Miller’s reporting has revealed the conceits of globalization, documenting the slow, steady garrisoning of U.S. politics behind ever more brutal border policies. Now, with Empire of Borders, he looks outward, to a world overrun with so many border walls it looks more like a maze than a shared planet. If there’s a way out, Miller will find it.”

I’ve read and reviewed the last six books from the iconic travel writer, Paul Theroux, and was fortunate enough to snag a copy of the uncorrected proof of his next book, which will be available in mid-April. Initially, I was unenthusiastic about reading of the life of an aging surfer in Hawaii, but after reading “On the Plain of Snakes” about Mexico, I felt sure he’d manage to turn Hawaii into one of his ebullient tomes—and I was not disappointed. After all, the author has lived there for over 30 years, during which time he’s been gathering stories and materials about this unique 50th State.
Although he’s traveled the world, he lived the longest in Hawaii, whose complexity has fascinated him all that time. In an article in Smithsonian Magazine entitled, “Paul Theroux’s Quest to Define Hawaii,” the author revealed, “My love of traveling to islands amounts to a pathological condition known as nesomania, an obsession with islands. Each island is a small self-contained world than can help us understand larger ones.” He has written several fiction books like “Hotel Honolulu” but said, “I have struggled as though against monster surf to write non-fiction about the islands.” Although he’s connected with people from different social classes and places of the world he asked, “So why are the islands so difficult and why is a place like Hawaii, one of the 50 U.S. States so uncooperative, so complex in its division?”

The author definitely dispels the popular image of some writers who stay for a week, gushing about the marvelous beaches, the excellent food, the heavenly weather, filling travel pages with holiday hyperbole. As Theroux points out, “Hawaii has a well-deserved reputation as a special set of islands, a place apart, fragrant with blossoms, caressed by trade winds, vibrant with the plucking of ukuleles, effulgent with sunshine spanking the water…” and none of this is wrong, although Theroux’s book shows that there is so much more.

William Finnegan, author of Barbarian Days, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, sums up the mastery of this book, “Extraordinary. A frightening ride to the bottom of the soul of a man with a previously unexamined life. This is contemporary Hawaii as it’s rarely evoked, with surfing strangely near its troubled heart.”

This amazing Turkish drama, “The Miracle” takes place in 1961 when a teacher, Mahir, from the West is placed to the Far East, in a village that doesn’t even have a school. Mahir isn’t really pleased about the situation; however, his only condition is that girls should go to school, too. And Aziz … a 34-year-old, not married and can neither read nor write. He is disabled. But, together they build a school. Neither the disability nor poverty, nor the different languages or other cultures are a problem. The story will be an inspiration to all teachers or Returned Peace Corps Volunteers or anyone who wants to see the strength of the human spirit at work.

My next article coming out soon:

  • “Tschiffley’s Epic Equestrian Ride Through the Andes and Guatemala and up to Washington D.C.” will be published by “Revue Magazine” where I’m a contributing writer. This is an adaptation of my other article on Tschiffley, with a focus on my own experiences with working horses in Guatemala.
  • I’m also asking for essays for, “Six Decades of the Peace Corps in Guatemala,” which I hope will be published in “Revue Magazine,” among other places. I’m looking for one Returned Peace Corps Volunteer per decade beginning in 1963, who served in Guatemala, to tell us how their time in Guatemala impacted them and their careers and what’s changed in Guatemala since they left?

 Voices of the Day
We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation.
– Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (2014)

What Others Are Saying About Us
No real accolades this month, but on the other hand, no real criticisms either, which is relatively encouraging. I did receive a few rejections of my proposal for “The Moritz Thomsen Reader: His Books, His Letters and His Legacy: Told by the Writers Who Knew Him Best,” but that’s par for the course.

Click on the poster above to check out “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and More” which is part of the Arizona Authors Association Newsletter. You can find all 60 book reviews and 25 articles plus several videos at “Follow” me on Twitter., @millionmile_wal Facebook for the latest on international affairs and literature. And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” by all means, rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it.

Mark D. Walker


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