Editor’s Notebook: Borderlands
The world loves borders. Here, an aerial view of the American flag flying over an international bridge as immigrants line up next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence to seek asylum on December 22, 2022, in El Paso, Texas. (John Moore | Getty Images)
Political boundaries – call them borders if you’d like – are as much mental constructs as they are lines on a map.
There is nothing natural about the invisible border between, say, the United States and Canada. While there may be topographic elements that align with a political division – rivers or mountain ranges separating nations, for example – the lines that are monitored and protected exist nowhere, really, but in the minds of those who identify with one flag or another.
On some level, we all understand the arbitrary nature of borders, but any alternatives we might entertain suggest chaos. Erase the lines, we say, and just see what happens.
Humanity loves nothing more than borders, and so we embrace divides of all kinds. We are not just Americans, we are Granite Staters. We are not just Granite Staters, we are from the North Country, the Seacoast, the Upper Valley. We are not just Seacoast residents, we live in Portsmouth, Rye, or Hampton. Our towns and cities are divided into neighborhoods, our neighborhoods into properties, our homes into rooms. Within and without our walls we are Republicans or Democrats, Yankee fans or Red Sox fans, dog people or cat people.
Ours is a divided world. Ours will always be a divided world.
On Tuesday, the Bulletin staff met with a group of international journalists representing Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Venezuela. Our visit was by invitation from the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire, through the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. It was a wonderful morning in every way, and more than anything the conversation was a reminder of just how flimsy borders can be.
Interpreters helped us dissolve the language barrier, our common work as journalists made us familiar to each other, and the human story we are all trying to tell was unspooled as a single thread. Unity is easy to find if you choose to look for it.
The questions, heavy on our lips, breezed past borders: How do you make people care about the enormity of climate change when they are worried about how they will feed their family that night? How do you reveal corruption, lies, and repression as news when the audience accepts each as the immutable way of the world?
Where do you point, how do you point, to help them see?
Ours is a divided world; ours will always be a divided world. That is a fact. Borders may stretch and shift, but the invisible lines that pen us in and keep others out will remain.
The stories, though, have no such allegiances. Poverty is poverty, whether in San Salvador or Manchester. Extreme weather driven by climate change makes no distinction between the Isles of Shoals and the island country of Cuba. Suffering, no matter the cause, is suffering.
Report after report – the accounts of the world’s witnesses – confirms that the keepers of the lines have it all wrong, have always had it all wrong. There are no borders, no “other,” no inside, and no outside.
The stories, from all countries and all corners, merge into a single truth: Nothing separates us.
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