By Raymond R. Beltrán
As borders are erected along the southwest United States, we, living along the walls, become blinded by the 2000 mile barricade when trying to define the meaning of the word ‘border.’ To us, it’s a fence that separates those without paper documents, identifying people as legal, or illegal. We define the word in terms of what protects us, of what keeps the iniquitous from what we think of as our very pristine, American lifestyle. We militarize and guard our borders as if they were the key to the greatness, if we can be so arrogant in using that word, of our culture.
The truth is that what we call the U.S. / Mexico Border is only a mere fence. It is made of steel, cement, chain links, and long posts that have been embedded deep into the soil of this land, and the fabric of this culture. It does not protect; there are internal terrorists as there are international ones. It does not separate countries, cultures, or economies; Mexican labor is to the southwestern States as African slavery was, and is, to the whole United States, the clandestine crutch by which our economy leans against. The border doesn’t accomplish any of this, because it is nothing more than a materialization of our segregated state of minds and cultures.
Within the past year, revolutionaries of the arts have been banning together in the name of crossing barriers, in order to leave a passageway for those waiting to take the step, and doing it in the name of Keep On Crossin.’ The title is not of one organization. It’s not a subversive militia trying to sneak Mexicans, or Canadians for that matter, into the United States. It is a movement of the mind, the very place where our borders exist. Keep On Crossin’ is a stepping out of the lax and reactionary barriers, physical, psychological, and spiritual, often repressing individuals for the sake of the socially acceptable.
One year ago, January 18, the Keep On Crossin’ manifesto was signed by co-founders Perry Vasquez and Victor Payan, who are currently looking forward to celebrating the one year anniversary of a movement to which they’ve provided a title, a bilingual manifesto, and even a magic monito.
“Keep On Crossin’ is a reaction to the unjust physical, emotional, psychological, economic, political and personal borders that are being constructed today,” says Keep On Crossin’ co-founder, Victor Payan. “So, there is a positive flow of humanity right now, but all we hear about is fear, terror, [and] security. So all we get is borders.”
Since this historic movement was titled, Keep On Crossin’ has spread what Payan and Vasquez call its mojo. Vasquez, being a visual artist, created a logo for the movement, which has been constructed into a ceramic statue. The logo now stands as a one-foot tall Mexican man with a sombrero on his head stepping into the U.S. with a huge foot inside a guarache. It is even said that the statue as well as the patch, which has been surfacing on the shirtsleeves of crossers all over, has magical crossing mojo.
“[T]he mojo issues in the direction the mono is placed,” says Keep On Crossin’ co-founder Perry Vasquez. “We found that out when trying to cross the San Diego / Tijuana border. We had cargo of fifty monos in the back of my Jeep. Even though we had papers, we were sent to secondary inspection, where we were interrogated as to our intentions and [were entered into the] database for future reference. When they finally let us pass, we realized that the mono in the front seat was facing south, back towards Mexico. That’s when we realized the mojo is directional!”
The Crossin’ movement, in its essence, has been the ideological backbone for such events as the Keep On Crossin’ Awards Ceremony, where crossers have been recognized for their work on expanding the social and psychological boundaries we’ve spent centuries creating. Those awarded include the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union Dolores Huerta (whose award was accepted by Richard Chavez), Chicano Park Steering Committee member Tommy Camarillo, and artists such as Mario Torero, Los Lobos, Los Alacranes, The Dixie Chicks, and Michael Moore, who have all received the mojo-carrying monito. Vasquez and Payan have also taken the crossing movement to venues like the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Thursday Night Thing and Galería de la Raza in San Francisco.
“The greatest success is seeing how the idea brightens the day of those who come into contact with it,” says Payan. “It lightens their load and inspires them.”
Perry Vasquez recalls an incident when he was questioned at a Crossin’ show whether or not he supported illegal immigration. “I don’t expect everyone to be down with the movement, but it always takes me back when I discover that many people see the issue through such a historical framework,” he says.
Of course the meaning of the Crossin’ movement, its essence, cannot be subject to repression, stuck inside a jar titled “Illegal Immigration Supporter.” There are more profound meanings in the idea of crossing, deeper than being defined by one ‘yes or no’ question. According to the founders of Keep On Crossin’, borders are created “for the benefit of one group at the expense of another.” It is up to the individual, the crosser, to indicate and highlight where their border lies, and stand at the edge of the line, and commence to crossin’.
Perry Vasquez and Victor Payan will be celebrating Keep On Crossin’s one year anniversary with an opening ceremony on Saturday, January 17 at the ICE Gallery (3417 30th St., San Diego, CA 92104) beginning at 7 p.m.