By Donna Olmstead
Almost everyone has an opinion about the U.S.-Mexican border. But Duke University anthropology professor Charles D. Thompson Jr. has a challenge for his students and anyone else before they crystallize their thoughts.
“My recommendation is simple. Before you make up your mind on immigration, get to know an immigrant – at least one,” Thompson says in a phone interview from his office in North Carolina. “The people are the border to me, the individuals I’ve talked to on both sides. You realize you are talking to people and not statistics. The reality of the lived border is much different than the imagined border that is steeped in fear and resentment.”
While his challenge is simple, he acknowledges the solutions to the myriad issues of immigration for workers and refugees, is complex. “The history of the border is sordid. It’s not all as we’ve been told. Still it isn’t simple. I know many people lost jobs to globalization in this country. I do know, if people can move past their fears, they can solve the problems. America is in danger of losing its soul to its fears.”
Thompson, a farmer turned activist, traveled the 1,969 miles of U.S.-Mexican border to follow his own advice and wrote a book, “Border Odyssey: Travels Along the U.S.-Mexico Divide,” (University of Texas Press, 2015) with companion films and a website, borderodyssey.com. “I went to talk to as many people as I could and to cross the border as many times as I could,” he says.