Ironically, “The Wall” came out 39 years ago this week — Nov. 30, 1979. I don’t mind saying that I was about 3 months old. “The Wall” tells the story of Pink, a man who is slowly, through the course of almost the entire album, building a wall around himself. Pink’s wall is one built with bricks fired in the furnaces of human misery; bricks made with the mud and straw of his own failure, loss and fear.
I was thinking about this the other day, driving home from work, listening to “Hey You” and considering how lucky I am to have a dad with such excellent taste in music. I was thinking about who the wall Donald Trump wants to build is meant to protect. Is the wall meant to keep us in or to keep others out? Is it both? Just a few days ago, the border crossing at San Ysidro was shut down — northbound traffic, yes; but southbound traffic, too.
That’s the funny thing about walls — we build them to protect ourselves, but in the end we only end up more isolated, playing a game of “Ten Little Indians,” where one by one our diversity, our heritage and our identities are killed off. When we build walls, we seem to be insisting that the people inside the walls hold all the same values, worship the same God in the same language, and hold tight to some twisted version of a same founding dream.
I hold up, for example, the pilgrims, who didn’t immediately flee to America to seek religious freedom, but who fled first to Holland. In Holland, the pilgrims found a sort of Eutopia, a place where people of many faiths and races came to live in peace with one another. The pilgrims felt it was hard to hold onto their English identity in Holland, and they wanted a place to make an easier living. They sailed for America dreaming of religious freedom, maintaining their English patrimony and to make a better living for their families. The echoes of those reasons are very real today.
Today, we are arguing about building a wall to keep people out. But the recent border closure proves that, when the border closes, those inside are trapped, too. The people who want to cross our southern border also want to hold onto their heritage, they also want religious freedom, and they mostly want to make a living, to support their families. If the caravan moving toward the southern border did indeed mean to invade America, it would be too silly to believe. Thousands of women and children walking for hundreds and hundreds of miles carrying only what they could fit in a backpack.
Are there armed men? Possibly. That’s a pretty vulnerable herd of people to leave completely unprotected. Are there enough armed men who are actually walking (read: not in tanks) to invade and overthrow the United States government? Use your heads a little bit, because the whole scenario of an invasion is ridiculous and a disgusting caricature of those who seek what America has always boasted. Is our military not mighty enough that it could be overthrown by 3,000 people on foot?
Pink eventually learns that the wall he’s built is actually holding him prisoner. He cries out “Hey You!” to the other side of the wall, and begins to tear his wall down.
Even the best and strongest walls fail. The Berlin Wall failed. Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, heck, even the “Game of Thrones” wall could not stand.
Historians are pretty varied on what actually happened during that “first” Thanksgiving. But we do know that regardless of whether or not it was the first people who are indigenous to America welcomed a boat of people who probably stunk pretty bad, people who had lost loved ones on the journey, people who had left their entire lives in hope of a hospitable land where they could have religious freedom, make a good living and hold onto their mostly white heritage — which they found.
“The Wall” album ends as Pink sings about what is really outside the wall that he thought he was building to keep himself safe. He sings, “Alone or in twos, the one who really love you walk up and down outside the wall …”
The people who really love America, who love it so much that they are queued up at border crossings and fording rivers and crossing parched deserts, those people are outside the wall that some of you would build. Those people love you so much that they have trekked thousands of miles for the small chance of a life here, for a scant possibility of actually being your neighbor.
Tear down your walls. It’s terribly maddening to only hear your own scared voice echoing off the bricks. There is light out here, and food and dancing and languages and joy, and so much hope. Tear down your walls.
— By Alicia Hager, Tribune community columnist