P.O.V.'s Borders visitors sent Elijah
Wald these questions in response to his work and his
answers to P.O.V.'s initial 6 Questions. Read on!
Question: As an average American listener, if I were to read the
lyrics to a popular narcocorrido, what hidden meanings or messages
might I not pick up on?
Elijah: What is an "average American listener"? If you
speak fluent Mexican Spanish, you will understand the lyrics of
all the older narcocorridos. After "Pacas de a Kilo,"
(a hit for Los Tigres del Norte, written by Teodoro Bello using
self-consciously complex language) though, a lot of corridos have
gone in for tricky phrasing and veiled references, and fans love
to search them for hidden meanings. "The pines give me shade,"
a drug smuggler sings, and if you know that "Los Pinos"
is the Mexican presidencial residence, that means something you
wouldn't understand without that information. Sometimes, the fans
are right, sometimes they are wrong, but it is an entertaining game
in any case.
Now, the LA corridistas are beginning to use more contemporary urban
street slang one of Lupillo Rivera's early hit compositions
was "El Pelotero," his own translation of the word "baller."
Me, I'm 43 and rarely listen to rap, so I didn't know what "baller"
meant any more than I understood "pelotero." Lupillo's
listeners seemed to have no problem, though. Am I average enough?
I get confused by quite a lot of street slang, but not as confused
as I get when I listen to people who have studied modern literary
criticism. "Trope" confuses me as much as "baller."
Every group likes to have its private slang, to shut out outsiders.
The corridistas are no better than the pinche academicos...
Question: Elijah, when you write:
"That is the tragedy of NAFTA for Mexicans, that rather than
allowing people to travel, it jails them in a poor country, but
allows companies from rich countries to use their labor as if they
lived up here. I would reverse this, having controls on the large-scale
movement of goods, but none on individuals."
I think this sounds really good on paper but can you help
me picture what this world might look like? Thanks.
Elijah: Until roughly World War I, there were no formal passports,
and people were not bothered at borders unless they were carrying
goods. If you were carrying nothing of value, you could walk from
France to China, or vice-versa, and nobody gave a damn. So what
would the world look like if we returned to that model? First off,
a lot of poor people would rush to the richer countries, and Europe,
the US, Japan, Australia, Canada would panic. If they could not
close the borders, the only other solution would be to try to provide
good reasons for people to stay home, like better jobs and living
This is not utopian. As I say, it was the norm until the Industrial
Revolution created such extreme imbalances between industrial and
Today, "free trade" is the lie used to maintain those
imbalances the myth of a world where open borders for goods
would allow poor countries to level the playing field. Even if the
free trade advocates were not a bunch of lying hypocrites
which they are, as witness President Bush's recent support for tariffs
to protect his buddies a world in which the fruits of labor
can be shipped without control, but laborers are trapped wherever
governments care to keep them is simply a neat way to create what,
in the end, are little more than geographical slave plantations.
That is pretty much where we are at today, with the US government
ready to go to war to maintain the status quo.
But I'm getting off the subject. What would the world look like
if people could move freely, but goods were controlled, rather than
vice-versa? It would look like a crazy mess that everybody could
wander around if they had the adventurousness and the energy. What
does it look like now? A crazy mess that very few of us can see
except on television, when the electricity happens to be working,
because that is good business for the businessmen. Me, I'm with
the Statue of Liberty: Give me the poor, the huddled masses, yearning
to breathe free. They are much better company than Trump or Cheney,
do a lot less harm, and play better music.
Question: Do you see the development of the European Union
as a move towards a world where BOTH goods and people move freely
across borders? Or do you see it as just a larger border being created
to keep others out?
Elijah: Interesting question. My initial take like, ten years
ago was that the EU would allow free movement of capital,
which can easily organize across huge geographical and linguistic
boundaries, while crippling labor, which is very hard to organize
across such boundaries. These days, I find that it has already made
Europe a lot more interesting, with all sorts of interesting folks
traveling all over the place.
But that's just within Europe. In the bigger picture, no, I do not
see it as a move towards a more open world. On the contrary, it
is an attempt to create another big white island to balance the
US. (And yes, I know that the US isn't all that white, but the folks
running it sure are...)