"Men build too many walls and not enough bridges."
BERLIN – Curator Elisa Ganivet's Borders-Bridges exhibition marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In her curatorial statement she writes her purpose is to "explore the wall as a symbol of the division between worlds and emphasizes the ruptures and stitches related to the contemporary migratory processes." The project I was invited to show, Keep on Crossin', is focused on US/Mexico border relations. In some ways Berlin is the ideal context for this project since the Berlin Wall has become a symbol of how political conflicts lead to rigid and inflexible borders of all kinds and how ultimately, those borders come down when enough bridges are built to cross them. For me personally, the experience of the Wall, and how artists responded to it, became a model for my own thinking about border art. In 1984, I met the West German author Peter Schneider whose novella, The Wall Jumper, is about a West Berlin man's fixation with the it. With humor and insight Schneider explores the stark differences between East and West through an examination of the main character Kabe's contradictory compulsion to jump the wrong way from West to East Berlin. Nineteen years later when I created the image of R. Carumba for the Keep on Crossin' logo the pose was borrowed from Robert Crumb's Mr. Natural, but its animating spirit was constituted with pure Schneiderian zeitgeist.
Today, Berlin is in a post-Wall era. The younger generation are concerned with the more immediate concerns of life. The Wall is no longer controversial. It has become an historical artifact. Segments of it are now scattered all over town in art collections, museums and souvenir shops across the globe. Having passed into history it is now fodder for historians, museum directors, entrepreneurs and preservationists of all kinds. I met a fellow who owns over 200 segments of the wall, some of the sections are preserved and others have been painted over by contemporary artists. Each sells for between €8,000 and €20,000 euros.
I was asked on more than one occasion what my view was of the future of the U.S./Mexico border fence. Can it endure? Will it cease to exist? It's a vexing question. For Berliners, in their post-Wall era, it is reasonable to think that all physical borders are temporary and must eventually fall as a result of political change, activism and even inertia. But from the U.S. it all seems so much more complicated. The political climate remains in favor of further spending for border security. Appropriations for the U.S. Border Patrol more than tripled from 2000 to 2011 and more than doubled from 2005-2011 (Rosenblum, 2012). However, a recent poll on the topic of the hispanic nativity shift conducted by Pew Hispanic Research reports that recent U.S. born Latino birth rates are increasing even as Latino immigration numbers are in steep decline thanks to increased border reinforcement as well as the downturn in the U.S economy. From this data emerges a statistical portrait of how the nation is changing.
- The top five states by Hispanic population in 2012 were: California (14.5 million), Texas (10 million), Florida (4.5 million), New York (3.6 million) and Illinois (2.1 million).
- Between 2000 and 2012, the five states with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations were: Tennessee (up 163%), South Carolina (161%), Alabama (157%), Kentucky (135%) and South Dakota (132%).
- The five states where Hispanics make up the biggest share of the population in 2012 are: New Mexico (47%), California (38%), Texas (38%), Arizona (30%) and Nevada (27%).
If these statistical trends continue into the future and the Latino population becomes the majority population could the United States find itself in a post-border phase of it's history? How will those demographic changes effect attitudes towards immigration and foreign policy? Is it possible to talk about a German-style re-unification of the parts of the United States that once belonged to Mexico?