There are borders that are meant to keep people in. They prevent people from traveling to see how life looks on the other side. When you see something different, you compare and evaluate. Terms of comparison are threatening for regimes that are built on delusions of grandeur and uniqueness: “Why would you even want to go out? This is the best place to be anyway!”
There are borders that are meant to keep people out. Their role is to prevent those who are unlike us to mingle with us. Foreigners are threatening for regimes that are built on delusions of racial and cultural purity, and the idea that purity needs to be defended at all costs.
Borders that are meant to keep people in or keep them out are clearly visible, militarized, cold. They are places where people need to comply with conditions in order to be granted passage to the other side. They are places where people who do not comply are stopped and fined. Places where those who try to cross anyway are imprisoned or shot.
There are also invisible borders. They mark administrative and political divisions but are not visible any longer to the casual traveler. There is no need for a visa. No control. No conditions to comply with.
This summer I spent part of my holiday close to such an invisible border and I hiked seamlessly across it. As I was doing this, I couldn’t help but think about the borders from my childhood, built to keep people out.
I also thought of how we define the other, the stranger, the one who needs to be kept away from our sunny shores and lively cities. I thought about the different stories we tell ourselves in order to dehumanize the other and turn him or her from a fellow human being into a foreigner, a migrant, an alien.
As I was hiking across the border this summer I thought about my own experience of being perceived as an alien and a migrant. Somebody less than fully human.
It’s funny how so many of us don’t seem to realize that we are all potential aliens in the eyes of others. We can all happen to be part of a group that is not welcomed somewhere. Just as we don’t seem to realize that we are all potential migrants.