Before I read “The Crossing,” I was reading another article—“The Good Doctor,” a New Yorker feature story published in 2000 about physician and medical anthropologist Paul Farmer—for my Foundations of Global Health class. In this piece, Farmer is quoted for sharing a distinct memory in which he watched a patient die because she simply could not afford a blood transfusion. What Farmer remembers most vividly from that encounter was the patient’s sister, who repeatedly cried, “We’re all human beings.”
The erasure of those who are impoverished is a trend in society that I cannot seem to escape. For this reason, the image of sub-Saharan Africans attempting to cross over the fences that separate Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla especially affected me. And not solely on account of the absurdity in the contrast between the two groups of individuals photographed, but also due to my own guilt that I have recently come to acknowledge regarding my role in perpetuating dichotomies within shared spaces.
As an Oxford continuee, I experienced first-hand the “Oxford bubble” within Covington, GA. One of my classes last year required me to volunteer as a tutor in a Newton County middle school, and on my first day, I could not believe the amount of culture shock I felt despite having driven only a few minutes from where I had considered my home away from home. Even in the Silicon Valley where I grew up, it’s easy to characterize the area as a haven for opportunity, but gentrification over the past two decades has left many homeless, which the New York Times sought to explore in an Op-Doc about a 24-hour public bus line that serves as a shelter for many. Unfortunately, these stories often fail to find a place among the imagery of affluence that mass media has constructed.
This idea is reinforced throughout “The Crossing” by the descriptions of police officers burning tents and “the few possessions that boys like Beni had to their name— a blanket, a tattered pair of pants, and if they hadn’t already been burned, a photograph or two of their parents or younger siblings left back home.” The article even mentions that “police make an effort to pour any bags of salt, rice, or other food supplies out in the dirt when they raid camps.” To me, this inhumane treatment is comparable to genocide. It’s as if the goal is to ignore the issue at hand by eliminating any evidence of the existence of these migrant groups, and the consequence is a growing problem with no solution in the works. It is only when this culture of erasure is spatialized and in turn, critically observed, that “space and spatial relations yield insights into unacknowledged biases, prejudices and inequalities that frequently go unexamined (Low, 2014).” In other words, the Spanish enclaves are, unlike the two examples I provided from my own life, literal “bubbles” of freedom, and their proximity to the sub-Saharan Africans fighting for their lives serves as a microcosm for our societally ingrained tendency to separate ourselves from the problems facing others unlike us.
While reading about the migrant crisis in Morocco, I drew many parallels to La Carpio, a slum in Costa Rica known for its Nicaraguan immigrant population. I visited this region with my Concepts and Methods in Cultural Anthropology class at Oxford, and during our week there, we observed the tensions between the predominantly “white” Costa Rican population and the migrant “dark-skinned” Nicaraguans. For instance, located on the edge of La Carpio lies a landfill, which affects the Nicaraguans on a daily basis on account of the dump trucks which block their roads and the foul stench that consumes the air. From a symbolic perspective, the landfill associates the Nicaraguans in La Carpio with trash, and as a result, parallels between the Nicaraguans and the landfill can be observed. For example, many Costa Ricans have a tendency to ignore the growing Nicaraguan population, choosing instead to maintain a certain degree of racism as opposed to developing long-term solutions and fostering a healthy relationship between the two groups.