On Thursday, a friend and I drove down to Nogales to go to a used clothing outlet.
I could have sworn that I've been through Nogales before, but the scenery was completely unfamiliar. As you approach the town, the highway runs among hills and comes out parallel to the border, so that you can see down the length of the wall and across it to the country on the other side.
It was a glorious day, mid-eighties, a bright sun. It made clear the one huge visual distinction between this side of the wall and the other: over there, the houses look nearly the same (close together, boxy, betraying signs of age and poverty), but they're painted bright fuchsia, blue, yellow and orange, instead of dingy grey. Some of the hills on the other side are so high and steep that one could, hypothetically, hang glide off the top of one and land easily on this side of the wall.
The roads of the town are narrow and vertiginous, such as I've rarely seen in this state, and the shops were somehow more decrepit looking than even the roughest parts of Tucson. We shopped for awhile, and once we were back in the car, I suddenly realized why the shopgirl had asked me, with a studied casualness, if I were from around there. The whole time we were inside--which was close to an hour and a half--I hadn't seen anyone besides ourselves that wasn't Hispanic. I didn't even notice, until that moment, but she must have.
The one narrow road very clearly marked "BORDER CROSSING" in the familiar green highway signs was filled with cars and at a complete standstill. I wondered at the patience it would take to sit in that line, waiting to be looked over before going through.
There's a checkpoint several miles north of Nogales, where a large white metal canopy bridges the northbound I-19 like some overarching insect. The border patrol vehicles are lined up on either side of the road, shiny white sentiels, noses toward the highway for quick calls to action. We waited in line for a few minutes, and when I rolled up to the officer, my window down, an overly-cheery "hi" escaping my lips, he waved us on without hardly giving us a glance.
I'm white, driving an SUV, with a four year old in my backseat. I could've had anything in my trunk, under my seats, along the floorboards, and they never would have known.
I'm not the sort they're looking for.