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Journal 9 - Borders

February 02, 2006

"Ceuta: Ciudad Abierta," or "Ceuta: An Open City," reads the large sign that welcomes those who make their way through the border checkpoint. It's ironic how close that sign is to the barrier that runs all along the border here in Ceuta. How open of a city is it, and open to who? We are finding that there are lots of conditions that are attached to that openness.

There would have been a period when Ceuta would have been under the Moors' control, but for the most part Ceuta has been European land for a long time. First occupied by the Phoenicians hundreds of years ago and during the medieval period it was controlled by the Portuguese. The significant mark that they left in the city was a great wall and a moat that separated the peninsula from the mainland. When the Spanish came to power, they fortified the city with more massive walls to fend off the enemy. These walls have been restored and are open to the public today. Since then, the modern border has moved farther outside of those walls, but today another barrier separates the city from the surrounding territory. While it certainly complicates leaving the city, the main purpose is to control who gets in to the open city.

The movement of people is something incredible to think about, and the way nation-states and borders have organized is a sort of phenomenon as well. There is an enormous amount of energy and money that goes into maintaining a line that some people agreed upon once upon a time, for political and economic reasons. Violence and discrimination of many forms go right along with the enforcement of those laws. Last fall, between August and November, I understand there were a number of "avalanches" of immigrants in Ceuta and/or Melilla, when Africans would charge the fence with ladders and a number would make it across. There are a number of charges for assaults and a number of deaths involved in these avalanches that are still being processed.

The make-up of the city makes the border situation that much more interesting. Culturally, there is a significant Arab influence here in the city which is certainly present on both sides of the fence. The difference is that on this side, there are the additional Spanish funds and Spanish people. However, it's a border town in every way. On the streets, the languages obviously mix together in conversation, and few generalizations about "race" differentiation are valid.

There's another little side of the border issue that I've thought about. The pedestrian bridge that goes between the Spanish and Portuguese walls into the downtown is named the Puente de Cristo, the Christ Bridge, and right behind the mighty Portuguese fortress hangs a crucifix. To me, it seems the church is or should be the body that transcends barriers and borders. When people came to Jesus with their needs, he didn't ask for papers first. Having the same mind as Christ, his followers should also try to work indiscriminately between peoples and nationalities.