Last year, ABC unveiled a public relations 13-episode “reality” show on Homeland Security only to cancel it halfway into the season amid protests and lack of sponsorship. Now National Geographic is doing a new series depicting the lives of border agents protecting 2000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border against “smuggling, terrorism and illegal immigration” and other socially constructed threats.
Unfortunately, while playing a border agent might be an entertaining fantasy, the program runs into the danger of stereotyping Latinos as undocumented immigrants, drug-dealers, and human traffickers, while not giving a full dosage of reality.
The available video segments do not paint a positive picture. It’s Cowboys and Indians all over again– with mostly White border agents playing the supposedly heroic Cowboys and people of color acting as either criminals or victims. The invading “Other” never gets to set the script, speak from their point of view, or play the central role.
National Geographic has a lot of explaining to do, but the creator of the accompanying online game is already apologizing and defending the product as “balanced.” In an email published on Latina Lista, J.S. Earls reached out to the Latino community with a personal apology and claim that it was not his or NatGeo’s intention to offend anyone:
The fact that most (not all) of the people entering the US from Mexico in the game was simply based on reality — the same way a game on people entering from Canada would mostly be Canadians. I wasn’t trying to stereotype anyone. Most Hispanics I know are hard-working, huge-hearted people and this will be shown in our 3rd game where you play an immigrant trying to survive in the desert to find a good job to feed your family.
I will say that — from what I understand — the film crews weren’t legally allowed to talk to the immigrants as much as they would’ve liked and the Mexican government wouldn’t allow them to even film much of Mexico. So, legally, they’ve done the best they can and done as balanced as job as they possibly could have.
It’s easy to hold up innocent intentions as a defense anytime someone is accused of racism. Notice that the complaint is not about the intentions of National Geographic or J.S. Earl, but their actions. Their intentions are not up for debate here. The action, as in the game and television show, perpetuates a discriminatory, stereotypical and hateful view of Latinos that does nothing to advance race relations and immigrant rights in this country.
As a matter of fact, Border Wars seems like just another muscle-flexing, hyper-masculine entertainment simulation with nothing new to offer. A realistic “Border Wars” would also show border patrol agents taking bribes, busing undocumented immigrants to nowhere, raping immigrant women, and aiding human trafficking, and depict the rampant fraud within the agency.
While we wait for the series to air on Sunday, check out the game. I was told that I was “the weakest link” at the border between U.S.-Mexico. I guess U.S. Homeland Security isn’t employing me anything soon.
Photo: MJTR (´･ω･)