Why Walls Won’t Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide by Michael Dear – Some Thoughts, Lessons, & Takeaways

Why Walls Won't WorkMichael Dear has traveled the entire length of the border between the United States and Mexico, partly on a grant from The National Geographic Society. His experience, and plenty of history and reflection, is found in his book Why Walls Won’t Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide (Oxford University Press. 2013). I am presenting my synopsis of this book at today’s Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare.

Here is my summary paragraph of the book, from my synopsis handout:

It is a new thing in North American history to have a wall separating the United States and Mexico. And, this book argues, ultimately walls won’t work. The people on the two sides of the wall are a “new people,” a “third nation,” that interact together in ways that will ultimately make the walls come tumbling down…

I graduated from High School in Harlingen, Texas, sandwiched between McAllen and Brownsville, just slightly more than a good golf shot away from the border. So this book had plenty of personal interest for me. It is a good, important book.

Here is the author’s conclusion, from the last chapter of the book:

I offer one incontrovertible conclusion regarding the borderlands: the Wall will not work.

  • Because the Border Has Long Been a Place of Connection
  • The inhabitants of this “in-between” territory thrive on cross-border exchange and collaboration, both of which have flourished for many centuries.
  • Because the Wall Is an Aberration in History
  • For most of human history, there was no United States of America or Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Both nation-states arrived relatively late on the global scene, and the international boundary between them is little over a century-and-a half old.
  • Because Twin City Prosperity Requires There Be No Barriers
  • Because People Always Find Ways over, under, through and around Walls
  • As long as migrants hold onto an American Dream, and as long as Mexican labor is required in the US, people will cross the border with or without papers. Walls don’t work simply because people are too inventive in circumventing them.
  • Because Governments and Private Interests Continue Opening Portals in the Wall
  • Because “Third-Nationhood” Is Already on People’s Minds
  • Because Diaspora and Diversity Trump the Border Industrial Complex
  • Because Mexico Is Going Global and Democratic
  • Because Walls Always Come Down
  • The Wall won’t work because the third nation has strong connecting tissue that partition cannot compromise.

And here are some of my thoughts, and lessons, and takeaways

1) People will migrate. You cannot stop them all.
2) The wall is ultimately counterproductive – and, will not work; and ultimately, will not stand.
3) We are woefully ignorant of our own history…

  • the influence of “Native Peoples”
  • the influence of those from South of the “Border”
  • the very “recentness” of borders
  • the interconnectedness of all the cultures, of all the peoples

4) It really would be a better plan to treat all as equal participants for the greater good.

This is not a book about the “immigration debate.” It is a book about the wall at the border between two countries, and the people effected by that wall. But it certainly informs the wider debate. I think it is worth adding to your reading stack.


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