Walls Are Meant to Protest
The North Face came out with a marketing campaign called, “Walls are meant for climbing,” which ignores the reality of walls and borders, particularly during this time of crisis for immigrant communities. With the Trump administration terminating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, 800,000 young people will be stripped of protections that allow them to live in the United States. For years, young immigrants have been telling their stories, protesting in the streets and risking arrest and deportation to preserve DACA. Unfortunately, The North Face campaign trivializes the rescinding of DACA program by the Trump Administration by diminishing the crisis into a five-word ad.
Painted as a political stance, this campaign is nothing more than consumer activism and The North Face plans to get a return on investment. The North Face is raising one million dollars by traveling the country with professional climbers and putting on events in gyms to raise the money, which will be put towards building public climbing walls. The North Face campaign glosses over the risk that asylum seekers, migrants, refugees, families, children, individuals, and communities face, and also implies that more public climbing walls will benefit everyone. This sorely misguided campaign has dangerous consequences because it distracts people from taking real action against the Trump administration, white supremacy, and the wall.
Trump’s wall is founded on paranoid jingoism, a phenomenon that has authorities trying to decipher who is “legal” and who isn’t. However, the discourse of “legality” is a social construct. It is the government’s desperate attempt to convince the public of an enemy. This “racializes a category of human beings… who embody illegality, regardless of their status. This erects a real and imaginary border to police the boundaries of an imaginary community,” writes Alexandros Orphanides in Moving Beyond Illegal Immigration: Settlers, Latinx, and Imagined Illegality. Racial identification in this way reinforces power relations and imagines a dichotomy between the “Western self” and “the non-western other.” The discourses surrounding citizenship, legal equality, human rights, and social justice are all laced with European colonialism and imperialism. The notion of a nation is a myth built on narratives of “othering” certain groups. This construct of legality is a product of “othering,” and directly linked to the criminalization of Latinxs, people of color, and the colonization of native peoples.
The forever War on Terrorism, which convinces the American public that they should fear “illegal aliens” and “terrorists,” is a continuation of the horrific legacy of endless Western invasions, massacres, expropriations, and military-backed coups. Several U.S. presidents have backed military operations and/or the overthrowing governments in Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatamala, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and El Salvador, all of this leading to multiple, ongoing wars. Though Trump’s rhetoric emphasizes a fear of perceived “terrorists,” the American government and the settler-colonial project is actually what creates terror. 
So, who is the border meant to protect and who is it meant to keep out? It keeps people perceived as non-white out and keeps white Americans safe. The “imagined community” is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson to analyze nationalism. The “imagined community” describes how a “nation” is a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. The people perceive themselves as a homogenous body. The media plays a major part in perpetuating the “imagined community” by targeting a mass audience or generalizing and addressing citizens as the public. The “imagined community” is broadcasted through radio and television, and bolstered by the time symmetry of everyone getting their news at the same time, from the same places.
“Imagined communities” are also upheld by political boundaries. Though political boundaries are social constructs as well, they have material effects on people. Because American nationalism is based on whiteness, how well a person of color assimilates to white society determines how they will be accepted into the “imagined community.” Therefore, individuals who are racialized as undocumented immigrants are at risk of being harassed, violated, or detained at the hands of law enforcement officers. In Arizona the law titled “SB-1070” allows officers to demand papers of anyone who appears to be undocumented. This is blatant racism because how can someone “appear to be undocumented”?
Anthony Ng, a policy advocate for immigrant rights at the Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles legal advocacy group, told Al Jazeera, “Like many undocumented communities, undocumented Asians and Pacific Islanders face language access challenges, access to resources, such as healthcare, livable wage, and many more.” Many live in such fear of being deported that they are afraid to drive their cars without getting pulled over and getting deported. Jayes-Green, a Black undocumented immigrant, described being compounded by the criminal justice and the immigration system, “this is all happening silently…traveling while undocumented is dangerous. Traveling while Black is also dangerous. But to have these two is even worse.”
One college student, interviewed by Border Zine, is a Juarez-El Paso commuter who describes her daily encounters with CPB (Customs and Border Protection) agents as stressful. They may check her bag, her visa. They may question her ability to speak English, or they may just say “good morning,” if they are having a good day. These stressful encounters sometimes leave students feeling dehumanized and deterred from continuing their education. Assistant Professor in socio-cultural foundations Dr. Christina Convertino is an educational anthropologist in her third year at UTEP and believes, “it is really important on sort of a local level as well as a wider level for us to have these more nuanced understandings about border crossing activities that complexify or problematize the sort of wider narratives that you see in mainstream media that don’t reflect the daily activities and the daily lives of the people actually living on the border,” Convertino said.
With current events as they are, for The North Face to vapidly mention walls in a marketing campaign, and then not back it up with action and support for communities affected by the Trump Administration, is an egregious display of self-centered profiteering. This campaign should be taken down and denounced by the climbing community because it does nothing to account for the complex realities of immigrants. The North Face would be wise to support DACA by donating the money for example, legal or renewals fees, supporting the existing movement led by communities that are threatened by the Trump administration. “Walls Are Meant for Climbing,” is consumer activism that creates an imaginary sense of “do-gooding.” The campaign is not only inadequate, it is drawing support away from the communities impacted most by the threat to build a wall.