“Imagine all the people, sharing all the world…”

There could not have been a better excursion than this for the 2023 SUSI scholars visiting Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, before their departure in three days for Los Angeles. The scholars stood before a harsh political reality on the afternoon of July 1, a border wall turning a single city into two: Nogales in Arizona (USA) and Sonora (Mexico).  

After a Friday night concluding party in Phoenix, the scholars started their journey around 6:30 am on Saturday in order to explore three spots in Arizona: the San Xavier del Bac Mission, the town of Tubac, and the Santa Cruz County Border Fence in Nogales.

Chairman Austin Nuñez addresses the SUSI Scholars in the council chambers
Chairman Austin G. Nuñez of the Tohono O’odham Tribal Nation talked about various issues in his community to SUSI scholars at the San Xavier District council.

On the way to the San Xavier del Bac Mission, the scholars were mesmerized looking at the overwhelming beauty of the Valley, desert farmland and trees across the highways. Before arriving at the historic landmark Mission of San Xavier del Bac, the visiting scholars had an opportunity to listen to Austin G. Nuñez, chairman of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The scholars learnt about the lives and livelihoods of these Indigenous people from Chairman Nuñez, who has been serving the community as a key leader for the last 36 years. The scholars were especially fascinated by the narration of the legal battle of this community to protect their rights to water in the region.

Colorful pottery and metal decorative items on display in Tubac, AZ
Glimpse of a colorful street in Tubac, a small town in Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Later, the SUSI participants spent around two hours in Tubac, a small town in Santa Cruz County. Some scholars could not hold back their excitement in seeing the beauty of this colorful town.

A scholar strolls through the center of Tubac
Smiling SUSI scholar Angela Van Der Kooye from Suriname was spotted on the streets of Tubac

“I have liked this small town so much! It is so colorful, and every lane here is decorated in a unique way,” said SUSI scholar Elira Turdubaeva from the Kyrgyz Republic.

Before boarding the bus for Nogales, the scholars had lunch and explored various gift shops and art galleries in Tubac.

The scholars reached Nogales Arizona around 2:30 pm. The fence splitting the city into two parts, on the U.S. and Mexico sides, drew the attention of the scholars as soon as the bus pulled to a stop. The scholars expressed mixed reactions, predominantly sadness, while roaming around the border wall.

The border fence that bisects Nogales
Fence that draws a borderline between the people of a single city: Nogales in Arizona (USA) and in Sonora (Mexico)

“I understand that you might need to build a wall to distinguish two states. However, I feel bad when I see black wires like these used to separate two countries. Such wires may create questions in people’s minds about whether these wires are used for the purpose of defense or not,” said Shang Fang “Felicity” Hsu, a SUSI scholar from Taiwan.

SUSI scholar Alejandro Vargas Johansson from Costa Rica also does not feel nice about the global phenomenon of building fences across borders. As he said:

“The idea of constructing fences in border areas is not something fancy. When we build a fence to separate two countries, it is not just a borderline to segregate two territories but it is a wall that separates two cultures which should not be welcomed in this modern and globalized world.”

Alejandro Vargas Johansson (Costa Rica)
A border guard stands at the crossing station, with a sign pointing toward Mexico
A US security officer patrolling the border area in Nogales, Arizona

SUSI scholar Anida Sokol from Bosnia Herzegovina also thinks that building fences across borders around the globe is nothing but an outcome of bad policies. As she noted:  

“I think everyone should be free to move, especially when people are in bad conditions and they want to move to some places for better opportunities, they should be allowed to move. After all, we all live in this Mother Earth.”   

Anida Sokol (Bosnia Herzegovina)

Elastus Mambwe, a scholar from Zambia, thinks that political figures may have reasons for putting up large fences in borderlines, but at the end of the day, these politicians never explain what happens to the people who live across the border areas.     

After listening to all these reactions, I felt that the life of humans is not all about color and decoration like the streets in the beautiful town of Tubac; it is also about black wires and fences. Before I conclude, I would like to share a couple of lines from the famous singer John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” The lyrics are “Imagine all, the people, sharing all the world…”

“Imagine all the people,
Sharing all the world…  

Finally, the SUSI scholars boarded the bus at around 3:20 pm from Nogales, returning to their destination in downtown Phoenix.