Four minutes for tears, joy and shared humanity at Mexican border

In 2015, the two Koreas agreed to allow families split by the demilitarized zone to cross the border to visit, albeit briefly, with family members whom they had not touched in as much as 60 years. This month, the USA and Mexico allowed a similar family moment in a time of scarce altruism.

In a gully, in an area where the Rio Grande is generally dry this time of year, American Border Patrol guards stood on one side of the featureless concrete ‘river’ while the equivalent patrol guards of Mexico stood on the other. Previously prearranged small groups of a few hundred families were permitted to pass into that “demilitarized zone” for exactly four minutes of time with their banished family members who otherwise are banned from crossing the border due to deportation or some other offense.

Families had four minutes to introduce children, even twins, who had never met their siblings in the course of their cognitive lives. Older folks met their separated wives, husbands, aunts, uncles or relatives of whatever degree; to kiss, hug, exchange condolences for those who have died, or to exclaim in excitement for the newly born. There were tears and shouts of joy in multiple languages and dialects as humans were momentarily free to visit as humans do. 

But only because other humans, who have held control as the appointed “masters of the law” have granted at least this brief moment of compassion: four minutes. Then the families were again separated and sent back to their side of a border artificially imposed by people on people. Later, similar-sized groups would pass through designated check points and line up to locate the family they were equally fervent to visit. Having spotted them, they were ready, so that when the whistle blew they could make the most of the precious four minutes that some human had determined would be their allotted brief moment of compassion.

And so this ritual continued. I don’t know for how long, as this story of a tiny slice of altruism was not worthy of much news coverage. Reporters had moved on to fight for a chance to bark for or against whatever the next hot political issue of the day would become the ultimate photo opportunity.

Where has our humanity gone? Why do some people take it upon themselves to determine what other people may or may not do in the simple quest of living simple lives of familial love? While we so disparage the Koreans for their inability to recognize each other as equals, they exhibited some taste of compassion years before the United States could manage to permit even four-minute visits.

We scream murder at Russia for annexing Crimea, which was certainly not for them to do, still we hear of little dissent from Crimea about having been annexed. Did any reporter actually go and ask if that is what was generally desired by the populace? I have not heard of even one. If the people there want to be Russians, why should they not have the right to be Russians? We slam Russia for having annexed Crimea as an unfair act of aggression, and it may well have been one, but I don’t find any equal analysis of the issue in our so-called free press. 

Do we not have any memory? Do we not remember Manifest Destiny as our excuse for annexing far larger tracts of land than Crimea? Did we ask the indigenous Americans and Mexicans if they wanted to be annexed to the United States?

When the Spanish-American War ended in August of 1898, we took what we wanted as spoils of war. One such “spoil” was Puerto Rico. We tried to put a favorable light on the outright theft by gifting Puerto Ricans American citizenship, but when hurricanes crushed the island down to mere shreds of torn metal roofing and other debris, where was the American spirit then? 

That is not to say that there were no fellow Americans who gave all they could, and some still do; but it was not anything like the utmost effort it should have been by our government. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God. I do. But whatever God is, there are tears falling while humans struggle to separate themselves, except for an occasional four minutes.


Philip Truax built Sharon Computer and Mohawk Internet. His four sons all attended Housatonic Valley Regional High School. He is a third-generation resident of Sharon.