Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Heeding the Call: A Program on Justicemaking for Junior High School Youth

Leader Resource 1: Understanding the Border

Adapted from The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration by Bill Bigelow (Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools, Ltd., 2006). 

Corn: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada that went into effect on January 1, 1994. Democrats and Republicans supported this agreement as a way to create jobs and wealth throughout these countries. However, corporations have benefited the most, and corporations had the wealth to begin with. Family farmers in Mexico went out of business when tariffs were removed that made it cheaper for United States corporations to flood the Mexican market with United States corn. The effect in Mexico has been devastating as poverty and desperation — not wealth — are increasing. In the first 10 years of NAFTA, the minimum wage in Mexico plunged 50 percent and Mexican agricultural production is half what it was before NAFTA.

Mexican Constitution: Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution gave farmers in Mexico the right to have land. It also prohibited foreign ownership of land. In order for NAFTA to take effect, Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution had to be amended allowing corporations to take priority over local community needs. Many Mexican politicians argued against this amendment saying that the repeal of Article 27 would displace 8 — 10 million people, about half of whom would migrate to the United States.

Pair of sunglasses: Maquiladoras (ma-KEY-la-door-uhs) are factories and assembly plants that depend on people living in poverty who are unable to support their families on the land. These factories make everything from televisions to plastic toys to sunglasses. They are not owned by the people of Mexico. They are owned by corporations that pay wages which do not provide a decent living for families. Also, neither the environmental waste nor the working conditions are monitored for safety. Maquiladoras do not operate to create healthy communities for families and children. They operate wherever poverty is prevalent, and they create even more poverty. Since 2001, many maquiladoras have moved from Mexico to Asia, especially China, where even lower wages can be paid to workers.

Map of Mexico: This map shows the borders of Mexico in 1830 when the country of Mexico extended north to the southern border of Oregon and east to New Mexico. When the United States government invaded Mexico, Unitarian Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his taxes in protest. His friend and fellow Unitarian, Ralph Waldo Emerson, visited Henry in jail and said, "Henry, what are you doing in there?" To which Henry replied, "Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?"