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The border between the United States and Mexico along the Colorado River just north of San Luis Rio Colorado, looking toward the Mexican state of Baja California and the setting sun. Photo/Allen Best

Why this Facebook post about a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border went viral

You’ve heard the expression, “gone viral.” One of my Facebook posts from February 2017 has done so in these early days of 2019..

I knew there was something new at play Sunday morning when I checked my Facebook page. Some 23 people wanted to be my friend. I get several friend requests a week from young and nubile women who share nothing about themselves more than mild cleavage. I automatically deleted all this rash of friend requests, figuring it represented a new strategy by scammers to get into my pants. I’m talking about my pant pockets.

Holy cow, another 25 Sunday evening.  Again, they were people I had never heard of. This time I noticed something more. They weren’t just exotic-sounding feminine names. There were men. and upon closer inspection, there were older people, too (as I would generally be described).

Here’s what happened: In February 2017, I had posted my observations from the previous day after a visit to Yuma, Arizona, and the border crossing nearby at San Luis. There’s a tremendous influx of agricultural laborers daily from Mexican  to work the fields around Yuma and in  California’s Imperial Valley. This daily reality, I concluded, was shockingly at odds with President Donald Trump’s boastful rhetoric about building a big, beautiful wall.

That original post got 14 comments and some shares by my few hundred Facebook “friends.”

As of Monday morning, this same post had been shared 1,800 times and there had been 1,200 likes. When this began, I can’t tell. I am guessing Saturday afternoon or evening. I don’t look at Facebook every day.

Praise abounds, but also some disparaging comments. “Stupid asshole,” begins the comment of one of the latter. This critic had a point. I had failed to distinguish between legal crossing and illegal crossings. But the I think my broader point remains the same. Trump’s call for a wall is wrong-headed in almost every way. His strategy is based entirely on fear, not facts. He has failed to offer constructive or realistic solutions.

I spent maybe a half-hour going back through a couple hundred of these 1,800 shares. The post has been liked by  people from Queens, New York, to British Columbia, including places like  Sandpoint, Idaho, and Snoqualmie, Washington. There’s a guy who has a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado-Denver, a real estate agent somewhere, a cook, a teacher, a construction manager.

Those sharing are disproportionately Hispanic and from Arizona and California. From their comments, I see a pattern. They’re mostly not immigrants themselves, but they feel a common bond with those from Latin American who want a better life in America. Trump’s prattle about a big, beautiful wall offends them deeply and in a personal way. He’s not, in their eyes, talking about illegal immigrants. It’s a statement o0f disrespect for the labors of Latinos everywhere.

Actually, I don’t know that Trump intends this, but neither does he care if it is perceived that way. His ego is shallow. I think that all he cares about are the cheers it brings him with his base.

On Saturday in the New York Times, Timothy Egan suggested we do too great an honor to Trump by taking his ideas seriously with angry rebukes. He has a point. There’s a place for humor.

My own suggestion is that we should agree to build a low trellis for the length of the U.S-Mexico border, then stage photos taken at ground level to make the wall look big. Let Trump and his followers proclaim victory, then get on to the real work of trying to get something accomplished that recognizes the great nuances of the United States and its relationship with Mexico and other Latin American countries.

As for the obvious question: how did this post go viral? I have no idea. — Allen Best 

A laborer in a cabbage field near Yuma, Arizona, pauses momentarily to size up a photographer. Photo/Allen Best

Story originally posted on Facebook on Feb. 17, 2017

Story/photos by Allen Best

Yesterday morning I got up at 2:45 a.m. to drive a half-hour south from Yuma, Arizona, to observe the daily flux of labor from Mexico through the border at San Luis. Arriving there at 3:30 a.m., I saw a former school bus, now painted white, with its lights on, one of dozens of such buses that congregate each morning in San Luis. Easing my rental car into a parking spot in the dirt lot about three blocks from the crossing station, I saw huddles of people, talking and looking at smart phones, awaiting the start of the work day.

During winter, 8,000 to 10,000 people each day cross the border here to labor in the fields of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage and other items you and I find at our local grocery stores. For many, the commutes had begun much earlier that morning. A large number of the laborers employed by Elkhorn Shipping Co., one of several dozen companies that contracts with growers in the Yuma area, live in a village nicknamed 57. It’s about 40 minutes south of San Luis. Others come from within San Luis Rio Colorado, the city on the south side of the wall of corrugated metal topped by sharp edges and, in places, concertina barbed wire. That is the international border that I saw, in many places prowled by SUVs white and with a dash of green, the logo of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They carried guns.

Wherever their origin that morning, the waiting time at the border station for the laborers was the same. Some crossed even as early as 1 a.m., to avoid the crowds. Most told me that an hour wait was the usual, or even two hours, and three hours or more had been known. This morning, though, had seemed easier than usual. Were some workers staying home, to observe the calls for immigrants to not show up for work in protest of President Donald Trump’s blustery talk about Mexicans taking away American jobs?

But these men and women were showing up for work and money: $10 an hour, the new minimum wage in Arizona, although perhaps some got a little better. The story I had heard in the previous three days in Yuma was that without the immigrants, there would be no planting of lettuce and cabbage and carrots from September until Christmas, no harvesting into April.

Old school buses parked in a McDonald’s parking lot await the pre-dawn border crossings before heading to fields in Arizona and California. Photo/Allen Best

One man, with passably good English (to compensate for my subpar hearing), told me moments after he had crossed the border that he figured he spent 16 hours a day getting paid for 8 hours. The clock for him and others doesn’t start until they get to the fields. For some of them, the fields lie across another border, in California, in the Imperial Valley, another hour and a half of bumpy riding away.

There’s much more to this story, but not for a Facebook posting. Suffice to say that by the time I first noticed light in the eastern sky, most of the old school buses that had clogged the parking lot of the McDonald’s a block from the border station and the Chase bank across the street and all the others businesses along the Main Street of San Luis, Arizona, were gone. The men and the women with the small backpacks carrying their lunches and other daily necessities had been replaced by school children, many of whom had also crossed the border on their way to school. There were mysteries about the border that I didn’t unravel.

But the greatest mystery of all awaited me after I had flown home yesterday evening to Denver. Eating dinner, including coleslaw that was composed of cabbage and carrots that may have been harvested by some of the men and women I had seen, I watched the press conference of President Trump on C-SPAN.

Before inviting questions from reporters, Trump talked about jobs lost to Mexico and about his plans to beef up border security. “And we’re going to have a wall that works,” he said. “We’re not going to have a wall like they have now that is either nonexistent or a joke.”

Drugs gets across the border. Criminals get across the border. Wages and prices south of the border are less, and those to the north higher. That much we know. Still, I’m having great difficulty bridging the giant gap between the Trump rhetoric and the realities that I observed this week along our border. He speaks of threats and of fear, not of what we share. The brush with which he paints is too big, too broad, and completely off any canvas that makes sense to me.

Photos: the parking lot of McDonalds at 5:46 a.m.. Then, cabbages soon to be beheaded at 10:07 a.m. a few miles north of Yuma.