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Ready to Delete the Border 


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Commentary by Fran Ilich  |   Also by this reporter

02:00 AM Aug. 23, 2001 PT

Many people have thought of us, borderhackers, as people who are against the new world order. And in fact, I could easily say with closed eyes that I'm more of a fan of the USA than I am of my own country.

I am a border kid, a pocho from the wrong side of the border, which for years consumed life and material goods at American malls, museums and libraries. A kid who grew up in a country where the government couldn't care less for its people during many years. And all of a sudden when time came for university, I noticed the things I would never be able to get, confined to an educational system lost in time, which is eager to generate as much possible workforce for NAFTA factories.

It was not a dream for me to pursue. It wasn't about preparing the student to become what he wanted to, but to make him ready to fill the ranks of qualified mensch-machine.

But the border was always there; whenever I would come to the U.S. with my American-citizen dad, I would remember I was an alien in California, not even a tourist. And I couldn't understand why. Truth is, we borderhackers simply don't believe borders should exist.

Boundaries and limits are meant to be broken by human endeavor; they're OK as inspiration sources (factories of human energy that will take you to the next level of the videogame). But then again, didn't the Berlin Wall teach us of the damage of keeping people apart, of splitting the world in regimes, races and classes -- when at the end we're all human beings?

Last year –- the first Borderhack -- we tried to penetrate and understand the border with a very critical mindset, acknowledging the strange attractors that keep the people from both sides of the border together and at the same time apart.

We tried to stay apart from the clich├ęs of border activism: There is a reason why Mexicans gamble their lives in order to become American citizens. When people gamble their lives in the desert, river, freeway, etc., in order to find a better future in another country, it's because the situation has reached a limit. Why are people leaving Mexico to go to the USA? If people could be happy staying where they are, with their current situation, why would they leave?

If one thing is true, it's that the border isn't as real as when you are next to it. It doesn't matter if there are laptops or ISDN lines and a lot of campers. The rusted metal borderwall goes all the way into the Pacific Ocean, the helicopters fly in the skies, the border patrols are everywhere.

There's no way you can deny or even forget that you are on the verge of a world. You can almost see replays of those legendary hunting days when in this same spot of land, Mexicans were the thing of prey, a prize to put on the wall. You can almost play back images of families running on Interstate 5 in order to catch their future wonderful lives, brown indigenous characters at U.S. Customs repeating "American citizen" like a scratched record, their only hope a new life in the U.S. Kids playing cat-and-mouse with INS officers, Mexican students crossing the border every morning in order to attend school.

Some call this Latin America, others call it Third World. But still the border is closed: The wall reminds you this is as far as you can get, one more step requires credentials, permits, and so on.

So this is Borderhack. Hacking the border. Don't be misled; hacking is not destroying. Hacking is done in order to get to know the system better. The system is always repaired by people who understand the system.

Borderhack is a camp where the world of technology and the Internet -- tools that are known to break borders and erase limits -- meet with the world of physical borders and passport handicaps. Hacktivists, Internet artists, cyberculture devotees, border activists, electronic musicians and punk rockers are ready to delete the border on Tijuana-San Diego if only for a few days, with java applets, port scans, radio, microwaves, ISDN, face-to-face communication, technology workshops, presentations, music events.

The idea to synthesize the camp is born out of our condition of dilettante border kids, out of our years of crossing the border and doing a little window shopping, pretending that we could be part of the American Dream of wealth, happiness and freedom. We are confused, we accept it. On one side, the malls are filled with happiness, and on the other -- the wrong side -- we are forever condemned to produce goods that we will never enjoy ourselves.

That is, unless we are lucky enough to come by a green card. This is the border. Our border. A place where we earn pesos and consume with dollars. Where we almost live in the U.S. Where we can smell the future coming from the freeways, from Silicon Valley, from Hollywood, yet we are trapped in a muddy hill with unpaved streets. We are the good neighbors of the U.S., always here, always smiling, ready to serve the next margarita. And ready to delete the border.

(Editor's note: Fran Ilich founded Borderhack in 2000).

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