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News > U.S.

Indigenous Tribe on US-Mexico Border Aims to Block Trump's wall

  • U.S. policemen guard near the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, in San Diego, the United States, April 30, 2018.

    U.S. policemen guard near the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, in San Diego, the United States, April 30, 2018. | Photo: Xinhua

Published 3 March 2020

"They can ignore us all they want, but we're going to be a thorn in their side,"

Their first adversary was the Spanish, followed by the Mexicans and later the inhabitants of the US state of Texas.

For the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe, their struggle dates back more than 500 years. It now is being waged against the president of the United States, Donald Trump, and his promise to his supporters to build a wall spanning the entire length of the US-Mexico border.

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The Carrizo/Comecrudo (reed/eats raw) - a name given to them by both Spaniards and Mexicans alike because of their tradition of covering their homes with canes or reeds and consuming uncooked kidneys and liver during celebrations - have lived on both sides of the border for five centuries.

But they say their ancestral lands now are under threat by the planned wall, which as conceived would not even respect the current frontier and instead encroach a few kilometers into US territory.

The chairman of the tribe, 66-year-old Juan Mancias, a heavy-set man whose thick head of black hair belies his age, is the leader of a group who is camping out on a plot of land near the border city of Pharr, Texas. That makeshift village has become the focal point of their legal disputes with the US authorities and their peaceful resistance effort.

Because of the White House's planned route for the wall, that tract of land located 1.9 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the frontier - as well as some nearby plantations - could end up located in a no man's area between the real border with Mexico and the steel barrier.

"They're creating this place that they're calling 'no man's land,' and what they're doing is that they're not going to have any law here, and it'll be the law of (the US Department of) Homeland Security," Mancias told Efe in Spanish while gazing out on the plot of land.

At least 28 US laws have been waived for the wall project that the Carrizo/Comecrudo, whose lands extend from this spot near the border with Mexico to the Texas cities of Houston, Corpus Christi and El Paso, see as a direct attack on their essence, identity, and culture as Native Americans.

Their tent village is adjacent to the Eli Jackson cemetery, which is named in honor of the person who founded it in 1865 and contains the tombs of some war veterans, Jackson's family members, and area residents.

Trump's wall, if it is eventually built, also would leave that burial ground in the freshly created no man's land.

Although on the surface the resistance of the Carrizo/Comecrudo seems to be a David and Goliath struggle, Mancias said he and his people "are not easily defeated."

The idea of erecting a wall separating the US from Mexico is not a new one, but the Trump administration plans to go further and place a barrier in areas where none had existed before.

"It began with President (Bill) Clinton and then (George W.) Bush, and later (Barack) Obama also put a piece of wall over there near Brownsville," Mancias said.

Of the various objections to the border barrier, one of the chief complaints is it's cost and where the money will come from.

"The idea for the wall is something built on pure lies," Mancias said. "Because he (Trump) promised that Mexico was going to pay for it and also later that it was going to be on the border. And these are two lies: (the wall) isn't on the border and ... Mexico isn't paying for it."

Trump has sought during his three years in office to obtain funding for the wall, but he has met staunch resistance from Democrats in Congress and different organizations that have taken their battle to the US courts in a bid to hinder his plans.

The US president has pledged to build more than 805 km of the wall by the beginning of next year. Thus far, 203 km have been completed, around 340 km are under construction, and nearly 670 km are in the pre-construction stage.

However, according to Mancias, no matter what progress is made on the wall, the Carrizo/Comecrudo will not relocate.

"They can ignore us all they want, but we're going to be a thorn in their side," he said, adding that his people need to fight back by exercising their right to vote.

"I often say to our people who haven't voted to go out and vote, to stop the ignorance because ignorance is the enemy. Ignorance is what makes us more insecure, more fearful, and more intimidated," Mancias said.

"They're taking away our air. They're taking away our water. They're taking away our land. And they're taking away our spirit, but we won't be defeated so easily."

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