By Beth U
This morning a violent windstorm battered against our windows as I packed. My clothes damp, caked with sand and the dust of Central America. Only a few minutes until the first ferry leaves. We say hasty and half-asleep goodbyes, uncertain when we will see each other again. I have grown accustomed to us parting in random outposts with 6 months or 3 years until we pick up where we left off. And then I am running through the gale. The ferry pounds its way to Belize City, a swirling mess of water as we clench its slippery side rails. I’ve left so many times. When will I next return? At the terminal, I ask a man in a loitering car if he will drive me to the airport. Yes, yes, he agrees, but will I wait while his neighbors buy meat pies and would it be okay if we swing by the bus station first? A chattering family climbs into the car, carrying the early-morning scent of warm crust. The sun breaks, revealing enormous puddles in the deeply rutted road. On the long drive to the airport, we talk about his new baby daughter. He is leaving her with her mom for 6 months because he transports cars for a living. From Belize, through Mexico and into California. A long, arduous trip. We talk about the possibility of Trump becoming president and how anti-immigration policies might shutter this business. He has a son and brother-in-law in California – it is a long-standing family business, one that has allowed his son to attend college in the U.S. His son still comes home for Easter, of course, but is “mostly American” now. He is sad to think he may not be able to visit his son as often or at all, if the borders are closed to him. And with a new baby girl, how is he going to make money if the business is no longer good?
On the plane, I reread pieces of Susan Meiselas’ In History. As a photographer in Nicaragua during the Sandinista uprising, she asked “how will anybody see me as different than that American Policy?” We embody where we come from; we embody the actions of our nation-state when we travel, when we conduct research. There is no escaping this, even if we are seen as individuals in fleeting moments or because of long-lasting relationships. Meiselas asks: “As an American, do we have a responsibility to know what the U.S. is doing in other countries”? Absolutely and especially when we are in that country.