My first brush with Montanan nativism took place in a franchised women’s boutique. One of my coworkers was — and I’m sure still is — a proud fifth-generation Montanan. We worked together over the course of one summer, selling overpriced clothes and talking about the traffic jams of 19th Avenue, something “that would never have happened in the Bozeman of decade’s past.” And she was right, of course. This isn’t the same Bozeman that housed less than 20,000 in the 1970s.
Bozeman’s population has nearly doubled over the past two decades, and in the minds of many native Montanans, the concept of more people has an immediate link to less space. Considering the role that space plays in the local culture of outdoor recreation, immigration can feel like a disruption to a lifestyle strongly held for centuries.
This coworker serves as a wonderful sketch of a looming American statistic: 40% of Americans still support the expansion of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, according to a February 2019 article by Gallup.
Upon recent years, the world has reverted back to nativist ideals, following a global trend of fear: fear of displacement, of economic loss and, ultimately, of change.
Fear is a difficult emotion to soothe, and it’s easy to find comfort in the physical. For one, the physical can be touched, we can feel the solidity. The physical stands in way of our sight, and out of our minds goes the fear. Oftentimes, the physical plants itself as the obvious solution. However, in the costly case at present, the obvious is not the answer.
Here’s a strange suggestion: Let’s put the immigration argument to the side for once. A much more prevalent issue stands in the form of a $5 billion symbol of separation.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the majority of illicit drugs smuggled across the border come by submarine through maritime ports. Most smuggled across land make it through formal points of entry, hidden in vehicles. As far as the illegal immigration of people goes, both ladders and tunnels have been used. Besides, most illegal immigration involves visa overstay, which has nothing to do with the wall. Anything from upping border and immigration personnel to investing in new technology would be more efficient in stopping illegal activity than a physical wall, both in scale and cost.
However, these solutions lack tangibility, unlike “we’re gonna build a wall.” The literal pill is the easiest one to swallow. I urge Americans to look past the fear.
Where do Montanans fit into the whole giant mess of things? Sentiments are mixed among MSU students, though many in opposition to the wall hold much a stronger basis to their arguments.
When asked about immigration and the growth of Montana, wall opponents were in favor of both, citing growth, extended research opportunities, and increased diversity as reasons. In contrast, those in favor of the wall failed to produce other possible solutions and were against immigration without extensive reasoning.
A wall isn’t going to stop illegal immigration, just as our fears aren’t going to change things. Fear clouds the judgment of citizens, making better solutions harder to see. Considering immigration in general, people will continue to come, towns will continue to expand. The culture of Bozeman will change, though maybe local nativists could stand to give up space in return for growth. My ultimate suggestion: Rather than building a wall, let’s tear down our misplaced fears.