Beyond the Wall: Overcoming Obstacles

A closeup view of the Mexican side of the International border wall, looking through to the American side


Ev Meade looks at the U.S.-Mexico border as more opportunity than obstacle. His perspective and that of his students — through internships and courses featuring pioneering field research — is the result of firsthand knowledge of the area and its people.

“The land border is kind of a red herring,” says Meade, the director of USD’s Trans-Border Institute (TBI) and Kroc School professor of practice. “There’s this huge binational relationship that dwarfs, by any measure, the illicit relationship. It’s just so much bigger.”

He notes that two million Americans live in Mexico. “The size of commerce, the cultural exchange, the number of trips people make back and forth while doing business, being tourists and staying with their families, is so much bigger than the illicit piece,” he explains. “But it’s the illicit piece that gets the attention.”

Meade’s educational expertise is Mexico’s history, U.S. relations with Latin America, human rights and researching individuals and families who’ve fled violence in Mexico and Central America. He pursues creative avenues to build peace and trust. Toward that end, he and Kroc School students conduct nonpartisan research and analysis of the border’s most pressing issues in an effort to encourage solutions to localized conflicts.

Their newest project is in Culiacan, Sinaloa. There, Meade and local emerging leaders are pioneering an oral history project in partnership with a non-governmental organization called Construyendo Espacio para la Paz (Building Spaces for Peace). Using long-form interviews, the project asks locals to document, then analyze their everyday experiences of violence over the course of the last decade in the area, which is the epicenter of the drug war in Mexico.

Six Kroc School graduate students and 80 local volunteers are working together on the project. “Sinaloa was at the core of the drug war. It’s a shared problem and the root of this violence we’ve had since 2007 or so,” Meade explains. “But it also very clearly relates to the border. Illicit commerce is what fuels it. It’s about the border, but it isn’t on the border. It’s 800 miles from us.”

Powerful stories have been shared: “We’ve heard from spouses and mothers of the forcibly disappeared, survivors of kidnappings and sexual assaults, widows of fallen police officers and many other witnesses to and victims of acts of violence.”

Meade says there are plans to make policy recommendations and produce a book, as well as to consider repeating this exercise in Tijuana. “It’s not being done by the government, or a prosecutor or the U.N. It’s a group of citizens interviewing fellow citizens,” he says.

Meade offers everyone a chance to join the conversation and learn about the region through his TBI Opportunities Certificate summer program. In it, working professionals, students and aspiring civic leaders can gain essential tools to better engage with border issues.

“We can do things in a course where our students can go to the heart of a conflict and not just be there, but be involved in a major peacebuilding effort.” — Ryan T. Blystone

Read our complete border story package, Beyond the Wall


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