The Cross-Border Walleyball Game That Has Endured for Nearly 40 Years

While many U.S. politicians today continue to insist on the need to build a bigger wall at our border with Mexico – like, say, Donald Trump – a group of Mexican and U.S. citizens have something else in mind: a net. For more than 30 years, a group of residents in the border towns in Naco, Arizona and Naco, Sonora have been staging a cross-border walleyball game (a volleyball variant). Using the border fence as a net, their game is a call to rethink the political line that divides the two countries.

First walleyball game, 1979.
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With an approximate 350 million crossings annually, the U.S.-Mexico border is the most legally-crossed border in the world, and also one of the busiest gateways for illegal migration. Now add the violence and rampant corruption in Mexico, and the border becomes an easy scapegoat for U.S. politicians looking to score points with voters, many whom have never been to Mexico or even a border state.

The cross-border walleyball game – a party, which also features picnic tables and food stands set up along the fence – puts a human face on the often empty and vague speeches politicians utter. The fiesta also serves to remind us just how flexible the border is. A quick look at Mexican-U.S. history can quickly confirm this.

Walleyball match during Fiesta Bi-Nacional, 2007.
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The fact that members of the same family can play for different teams –different countries– also evidences the arbitrariness of citizenship.

Walleyball has also inspired similar events in other places. In 2010, a soccer match named the Transborder game, was played between the border fence that divides the Baja Californian and Californian towns of Mexicali and Calexico (notice the combinations of the words Mexico and California used in the name of the towns). Players from each team were divided on both sides of the border; the defenders were tasked with staying on their side and trying to get the ball across the border to their forwards, who’d be waiting for the ball in order to try to score a goal.

Transborder game, Tijuana. 2010.
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The Nacos might be small (they have a combined population of less than 10,000), but their symbolic act is very big.

In fact, its roots can be traced to Ulama, one of the oldest continuously played sports in the world – a proto-volleyball game that originated in Mesoamerica and features an imaginary line dividing both sides of the court. Ulama is still played in some parts of Mexico, and it used to be played regularly in the places now known as Arizona and Sonora. The walleyball game held annually in the Nacos is an echo of this ancient game; it makes the statement that the fence is nothing more than an imaginary divide residents have to play along with every day.

The everyday life of the border is just like a walleyball game, where its participants are forced by the rules to play with an imaginary line.