New Aussie drinking game – “spot the wetback”

Paul Raven @ 25-03-2009

Texas-Mexico border fenceHere’s an odd twist on crowdsourcing; the publicly-accessible cameras along the Texas-Mexico border have attracted amateur border guards from a number of the southern states… and beyond. In fact, it seems to be quite the international pastime:

So far, more than 100,000 web users have signed up online to become virtual border patrol deputies, according to Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, which represents 20 counties where illegal crossings and drugs and weapons smuggling are rife.

“We had folks send an email saying, in good Australian fashion, ‘Hey mate, we’ve been watching your border for you from the pub in Australia’,” he said.

Not everyone is quite so impressed, however, especially considering the system’s cost measured against its successes:

Opponents have dismissed the project as “the perfect Google border” and say the cameras do little to deter criminal activity. “Border security deserves trained professionals, not pub-goers in Perth,” said Eliot Shapleigh, a state senator from El Paso, Texas, who claims that the programme has resulted in only a handful of arrests. “It’s wholly ineffective for the governor’s stated goal of security, it panders to extremists for political purposes and it’s not an effective use of $2m for just three apprehensions.”

One has to wonder whether all the people who’ve signed up to watch the border are sincerely interested in reporting transgressions rather than turning a blind eye to them; the barriers to entry are pretty low, after all, and not everyone wants to take America’s side these days. [image by Daquella manera]

But what interests me most about this story is that it seems to highlight one of my current obsessions, namely the fragmentation of nation-states into parts that borders on a map just can’t represent. If an Australian is voluntarily watching a piece of land at the edge of Texas (which, a long time back, was part of Mexico) to make sure that no Mexicans (or Guatemalans or Hondurans or anyone else) cross that fence-line, could he not be considered a temporary US citizen? Or is he merely a form of contractor, or neither?

Think about it – to enforce a geographical boundary, the US is using tools that contribute to the ongoing erasure of geography; meanwhile, non-citizens on the other side of the globe do work that a citizen would need to be security-screened for… and do it for free, or for kudos. What does being a citizen actually mean, beyond defining who you pay your taxes to? Where does citizenship actually take place – on the ground, in our own minds, or in the network of mutual assumptions that we call society?

Isn’t it possible that one day that one way to cross the conceptual border of the US and become a citizen thereof would be to have spent a considerable amount of time and effort ensuring that other people didn’t cross the geographical border?

[26/03/09 – Note: it has been brought to my attention that the term ‘wetback’ is a lot more fundamentally racist than I – unused to some of the subtleties of US slang – initially thought; had I thought it referred to anything more than person who attempts to cross the Rio Grande, I wouldn’t have used it, and I’d like to apologise for any offence caused.]

Be Sociable, Share!

3 Responses to “New Aussie drinking game – “spot the wetback””

  1. Wait Bach says:

    Actually, wetback has become a term of respect within Mexico itself. Pronounced “wait-bach” it refers to any persons who have made multiple trips across to El Norte without being apprehended by officials on either side of the border.

    Some wetbacks are making a point of exposing themselves to the border cameras as a type of cockiness and arrogant charm.

  2. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    While it’s hard not to be amused (and even heartened) by the irony that a device being used to “protect” the U.S. border is an example of the growing irrelevance of borders, this story still makes me mad. Speaking as a Texan — and therefore someone actually affected (in good and bad ways) by immigration from Mexico — I think those Australians should mind their own damn business.

    U.S. immigration policy is a complete disaster — we make it difficult and dangerous for people to cross the border from Mexico, yet big segments of our economy (such as it is right now) are built on cheap labor by undocumented immigrants. While we could use some intelligent and compassionate insight on the subject, I don’t think we’re going to get that from a bunch of guys playing drinking games in a pub in Australia!

    And, btw, while I know “wetback” is occasionally used with pride, or affectionately, it’s one of those slurs that should probably be avoided unless you happen to be a person who crossed the Rio Grande illegally (or, perhaps, the descendant of someone who did). Though I must say, calling the pub game “spot the wetback” is an excellent way of conveying just how offensive this activity really is.

  3. jon says:

    Citizenship questions aside, technology is allowing communities of like-minded people to form with little regard to physical borders or distance (for example, I’m an Aussie but identify more with the poster from Texas above than with a bunch of fellow Aussies playing drinking games like this one). And while ‘communities’ are nowhere near as powerful as ‘citizens’ there’s no doubt that greater numbers bring greater influence, and the fact that we feel more comfortable discussing an issue with people in two other continents than with the guy in the house next door is significant.

    And that goes for redneck border watchers just as much as future-speculative blog readers.