Over the past year, I have made a few contributions to the great Borderlands History Blog (also on facebook). I am reposting them here to keep all of my stuff in one place, and will double-post links for future contributions.
Originally published on the Borderlands History Blog, 12 December 2012
First post in the Violating “The Border” series, which seeks to challenge and complicate our assumptions about U.S. borders and borderlands
To start off, let me introduce my old hometown stomping-grounds: Whatcom County, Washington.
Situated in the far northwest corner of Washington State, my hometown of Bellingham and its county constitute the westernmost 100+ miles of the U.S. Canadian Border. Bellingham, the largest city in the county (>100k), is 23 miles south of the U.S.-Canadian border. Closer to the border is Ferndale (11k) and there are border crossings at Blaine (5k), Lynden (12k) and Sumas (>2k). These crossings are all situated in the western 20 miles of the border, and as you can see from the populations of the respective towns, that region is not heavily populated. The remaining 80+ easternmost miles of Whatcom County’s U.S.-Canadian border are either rural or back-country wilderness. Zoom in on the map and look for settlements or even roads in the eastern portion of Whatcom County. My own travels in the back-country borderlands of Whatcom County and the adjoining British Columbia were spent in canoes (see Ross Lake) or on footpaths and trail – more concerned about Mountain Lions and Bears than border patrols.
Does this sound like a heavily policed demarcation? It isn’t.
For heaven’s sake, at the primary border crossing at Blaine, we find “Peace Arch International Park.” A spacious park featuring a white arch and undulating, well-manicured, park lawns.
You can (and I have) literally walk across the grass field into Canada and visa-versa. Every summer they host a “Hands Across the Border” event which features – you guessed it – Americans and Canadians holding hands across the border. And, for the times I attended, I didn’t see the INS, RCMP or U.S. Border Patrol spying from the bushes.
So, why does this fit into the Violating “The Border” series? First, it highlights that the United States has, in fact, 2 borders. While at The Newberry Library’s Borderlands and Latino Studies seminar last weekend in Chicago, a few of us in attendance commented on how we often flippantly refer to “The Border” and everyone understands you mean the U.S.-Mexican border. However, if you make a cursory search on Google News for “Border,” you will find plenty of U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canadian border items. Second, it highlights that not all U.S. border regions represent the much talked about portions of the U.S.-Mexican border – replete with walls, drones, roving agents, and drug smugglers firing drugs over the wall via cannons, high-centering cars on homemade ramps, etc… I grew up in the shadow of the U.S.-Canadian border. My experiences in crossing the border, however, were anything but dramatic.
To illustrate just how undramatic much of the Washington-British Columbia border is – I offer the following Google Streetview image.
If you zoom out to the map, you will see that this image is taken from British Columbia, looking south. The houses and hills you see on the opposite side of that farmers fence are in the United States. As a kid my dad used to point that fence out (from the U.S. side) when taking the back-roads to visit Silver Lake or Black Mountain. “That’s Canada,” he would say.
You see that top bend in the road? That is just a few hundred feet across “The Border” from the previous Canadian streetview image looking south. What a “Border” it is! Did I ever sneak across the field, climb through the rickety barbed wire, yell at the night sky “I’m in Canada!”, Violate “The Border”, laugh and climb back into the the United States? I’ll never tell…