Spring has made our pilgrimage to Friendship Park prettier, even though the road is still flooded
Friendship Park has opened my eyes to the sad reality that many Latino families across the country face by being separated from their family. I have befriended some of the people visiting Friendship Park and I have heard their stories. They have also shared their concerns and honest emotions. They keep asking for their picture together, but they want their relatives to be seen clearly even though they are behind the fence, so I am trying to help with a little magic.I have already talked about this concern before, but it is something that constantly plagues me during my visits to the Park… As I watch the little kids and interact with them, I keep wondering how this situation and ritual is going to affect their lives: are they going to be familiarized with seeing their relatives through the Fence? Are they going to work in order to better the circumstances that their parents are living? Are they going to adapt, not be fazed by it, and do nothing? Are they going to respond positively to all the sacrifices and efforts made by their parents in order to for them to grow up with more opportunities?
Ecumenical service on both sides of the fence continues to be an important event on Sundays, also lawyers keep listening to the needs of the migrants and deportees, trying to help as much as they can.
Weekend after weekend we hear a new story, a number of years being separated, the different places they are coming from the US: Texas, Atlanta, Chicago, Arizona and mainly California; different towns they are traveling from Mexico, and I still can’t help but to be affected by each individual story and always feel tears fill my eyes. It is said that after living for a while with a situation, you get used to your feelings, that you become immune to sensation and your skin becomes thicker in order to feel less… I do not think that will ever happen with me. There was a situation two weekends ago that made me think about this… An intrigued couple visited the Park; they knew the border existed, but did not know about this Park or anything about it. She was from the US and he was from Colombia. They are world travelers. During their visit at the Park, they had the opportunity to see some of the families and talk to them. Once they left, he wrote to me telling me that it was one of the saddest places he has ever visited in the world.
Written by Emily Packer; Images by Emily Packer and Jill Holslin
The process of looking, the process of figuring out where we are in relation to each other, can help us better understand who we are with respect to our relationship with each other.
I have always taken pride in my sense of direction. People seem to gather this about me, because I am often asked for directions.
I am even asked for directions in Tijuana. As a gringa, this both amuses and surprises me to no end.
In San Diego, I am often asked for directions to Friendship Park. Despite the resilient efforts of the Friends of Friendship Park to work with the state and national governments over Border Field State Park to develop official, clear signage leading up to Friendship Park, the journey is confusing.
Often, the main road is flooded and those wishing to access the park must abandon their vehicles (there is no real way to access the park on public transportation) and walk along one of the two paths for 40 minutes in order to reach the first gates. The two paths seem to go in opposite directions; the first veers to the left on through the mud and stillwater left over from the rains, which is often difficult to navigate depending on the dryness of the day and whether you know about/can remember the entrance to the trail that runs along side the road.
This path presents other obstacles as well; personally, I have seen three rattlesnakes while walking this first path, I have seen elderly women in wheelchairs attempt this walk, I have seen families with young children attempt this walk. The other path leads out towards the ocean, but seems to go the wrong direction. I have given people instructions on how to avoid the mud by taking this path, but when they see the fork in the road, they abandon my advice and head towards the mud. I can’t blame them; taking a northwest path in order to get southwest is unintuitive. Both paths are deceptive, the landmarks of the bullring and lighthouse that help locate Friendship Park, seem impossibly close to also be this far away.
It should also be noted that there is no such hike or confusion in finding the park from the Tijuana side. Tijuana is nestled up close to the wall, and Playas de Tijuana, the neighborhood where Friendship Park is located, is expanded as far north as its economy will allow—the wall and the border reality just another fact of life in the city.
From the Park on a clear day, I can easily see the San Diego skyline as well as the apartment building where my grandparents live on Coronado Island. Logically, this means I should also be able to see the wall from their apartment. As a part of my most recent film about the border, La Frontierra Chingada, I have included a scene in which my mother, grandmother, and I look for the border from the window and try to orient ourselves to the wall.
In the months I spent reviewing the footage, I find that the auditory descriptions of where we’re looking at the time that I took the footage don’t quite match up with the visuals. It took me several viewings over weeks to finally find what I’d been looking for…the bullring and lighthouse. I encounter this process of orientation through film review in many instances, and just as I come to new conclusions about conversations I record, it often takes me multiple viewings in order to come to new conclusions about orientation at the border. Upon imaging these spaces, I am also more able to lead others in their viewing by creating new video-maps.
My friend and Friends of Friendship Park member, Jill Holslin, is an activist, academic, and a border photographer. Much of her more recent experience in doing border photography she’s described to me as orienting herself. Although she’s journeyed to several places along the wall from both sides, it’s often hard for her to know where she is in relation to the other side. The arbitrary separation of space becomes real, becomes disorienting. There are no real landmarks that close to the strange non-space that the border creates by cutting off our vision to the other side. Jill’s photoseries Rastros: fotografías del muro fronterizo features close up photographs of inscriptions and drawings on the physical wall. The photos are so close up, unique, and colorful that they could really be any wall, and once they are explained in a context that makes sense of the materiality (the fact that it is a photo of THE US-Mexico wall), their meaning is amplified and what is unseen (the space that these inscriptions exist in) becomes an integral part of the meaning of image, even if it can’t be seen in the photograph itself.
Although each of Jill’s photos are art on their own right, this process of charting her understanding of the wall takes on new life. Jill is a border resident; she lives in Tijuana and works in San Diego. I was fortunate enough to spend a few weeks working in her studio in Tijuana, which is lined with a several-paneled map of the border region that is often referenced as a way to help make sense of her confusion and where her photos were taken on one side or the other.
Jill and I are both cautious of how this region’s careful mapping and charting is presented in such a sanitized, finite way. The space was first colonized by the Aztecs, then the Spanish, and in 1821 by Mexico, and then in 1848 by the US and eventually with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that determined the limits of border as we know it, and finally by the border wall itself which was built after 9/11, and in how that wall has been built up since then. I think there is a notable difference in our artistic mapping of the area: while we are trying to understand, we’re not trying to contain this space by mapping it. (Although I both Jill and I are open to criticisms of our mapping and countersurveillance methodologies.) We’re trying to pose and begin to understand answers to basic questions, such as Where are you? Where am I? Where am I in political space, in spatial history? What landscapes do we share, and how does that help us understand each others’ perspectives?
Just as there is a pride in knowing where I am, I also feel great embarrassment when I do not. The first time I went to Friendship Park, I got a little turned around (read more here). When a stranger asks me for help figuring out where they are going, it is a great honor to help the landscape become clear to them, and there is a sort of shame in not being able to. In this case we are both lost but the trust that was built in and having one party admit to not being completely in control, is lost as well.
These maps that Jill and I are building through image-making are more human than the delineations of these treaties and official maps that are born out of violent histories. They aren’t as clearly identified with lines in the earth, or even bends in the river. They are stories we can point to, experiences that tie our memory and emotion to a space. Again, this is much like making video for me. I can look at some of my footage from last year and remember who was with me when I took it, what conversations were had that day, where I was. Our spatial understanding is shaped by what sticks out to us personally. It helps us orient on an individual basis and turn moments into landmarks. For that reason, my map of the same space is different than yours, because you don’t orient yourself to the best coffee shop on the Playas boardwalk, or the street on the way to Friendship Park that had my favorite fruit stand. Maybe this is one reason why asking for directions sometimes feels like a compromise of the self; we have to admit to not knowing how to orient ourselves and rely on others’ personal maps of the world.
When I first got to the border I dreamt up some performance art ideas I could do, one of which was watching the sun set on the beach with someone on the other side. Now that I’ve lived briefly in both places, I see that this is more of a regular happening than any sort of intentional artistic resistance.
There is a communal mass migration to the edge of both cities. After work gets out in Tijuana and in San Diego, everyone heads to the beach. They watch the sun set out of their stalled cars, gasoline still running, or if they’re not in a rush, they get out and walk down to the waves. Once the sun sets completely, they get in their cars and drive home. I have spent many sunsets with my grandparents on Coronado, who take part in this daily event, looking towards Tijuana knowing that I am watching alongside many communities. There is something magic and ritualistic that draws us to the beach: a shared understanding of the beauty of the world which is unique to this coast where you can watch the sun set over the ocean and know that its worth stopping your day to do as often as possible.
In this orientation process, it is particularly strange to show the film to other white folks here where I’m based in New England. They’ve never seen images of the wall, let alone oriented themselves to it or imagined their implication in the border wall. The image of the wall at Friendship Park in particular – a place that is so inherently beautiful because of the beach – is striking to them. Seeing the wall jut out into the water is astonishing, something they’ve never had to consider because it is happening so far away.
After the sun set last December, the last time I was able to spend such an evening with my grandparents on Coronado, I pointed to a flashing light on the coastline to the south. Now that I’d spent so much time looking, I could say with confidence that the light was coming from the lighthouse, el Faro, which marks Friendship Park and the border wall itself. Tijuana shimmers behind it in urban paradise. (You can see that moment here)
Part of my intention in the visual theory of the film was to confuse a global north/common understanding of a singular way or method to orient us. (For this reason I’m sort of notorious for flipping maps upside down or sideways, reconsidering the “correct” way to look at or understand a space.) This also means the film comes across as confusing. I find myself drawing maps of the region constantly, and using this map to explain the micropolitics of Friendship Park itself as well as my personal experience there. I never fail to include in my description how I relate to the space, how often I visited and where I walked in order to get to Friendship Park, or where it was in relation to the best tacos in Playas, or where I stayed while I was living there. Yes, this type of orientation is confusing, but the purpose of my film isn’t necessarily to explain, but to get viewers to look.
I am asking viewers, I am asking you, to orient yourselves to the border: to create your own maps. The choice to look, the choice to try to understand, is an acknowledgement of our importance to one another across borders and a commitment to care for, respect, and empathize with different perspectives and experiences. Orienting ourselves to that wall and to the histories that produced it, implicates us in the image.
Pictures of some of the things I saw and did at and around the Bi-national Friendship Garden of Native Plants located inside Friendship Park this Jan 20-24
After being away for 4 weeks, I got up early on Wed Jan 20th and jammed over to the garden.
First I checked out the Food beds, They looked great! They were created in October of last year as a pilot program called “Realimenta Comunidad” (Community Feedback) to help homeless living in Yogurt Canyon and under the Board Walk and to promote the concept of people growing their own food. I thought it’d be a good idea to harvest the veggies and give them out at the Border Church on Sunday and my coleagues with Cultiva YA! approved (see pics near the bottom for Sunday’s activities)
Cleaning up the garden circles on Wed Jan 20th
Going out to the garden on the US side on Sat Jan 23rd.
The Eco staging/education area at the entrance to Border Field Sate Park in progress being built out of trash (discarded tires more than anything) by 4walls International with some volunteer help from Surfrider.
The nature walk out through the estuary at Border Field.
The canopy has been removed over the picnic tables on Monument Mesa.
Arriving at Friendship Park.
Agent Staples let me in to work in the garden but wasn’t allowing the public in today. There was some trash and weeds.
The walk back out on Sat
Sunday from the Mex side. I brought some plates and some people with the Border Church helped me harvest the vegetables in the garden and we served salad with the Pozole.
Lots of families were meeting through the fence. Still no access allowed to the garden on US side.
Lots of families meeting Beautiful day. Here people separated by immigration status travel from all parts of the US and Mexico to be together through this barrier. Nearly every Saturday and Sunday there are mothers that haven’t seen their sons in 10 years, brothers and sisters who grew up separated from each other, and grandparents meeting their grand children for the first time.
Adriana and Pedro just like the garden. They live in Playas and sporadically swing by to help clean it up and do what they can to keep it up.
In prep of the salad and pozole to be served, I went into Yogurt Canyon about 300 yds East of the garden to see if anyone was hungry. A few living there came up. They’ve been having a hard time with the recent rains and cold. They camp there, waiting for an opportunity to cross. The ones I know, have been living there for four months now.
Lots a great greens
The garden greens were served after the Border Church that meets every Sunday at Friendship Park
State of (some) of the plants in the garden/ Plant inventory – Taken Jan 20th-24th
Throughout 2015 there were events to remind us of the importance of having this Park as a place to share emotions and feelings on both sides of the fence. From Dia de Reyes, Dia del Niño, Fandango Fronterizo, Homenaje al Veterano Deportado, Dia de la Madre, Papalotes, the Posada, to the Ecumenical service every Sunday, the Park served as a place to bring people together during all of these holidays and special occasions.
Sometimes the families were allowed to go to the bi national garden to see their relatives without having the mesh between them, but there was still a large space dividing them.
We had the opportunity to see smiles, laughs, joy, tears, grief, and distress…
We had the opportunity to witness how families suffer trying to get to Friendship Park. For some of us, the route is our Sunday routine, a way to meditate, to make friends, to discuss actual events, to exercise but for some of the families the road means anguish, time lost instead of being with their relatives, a walk full of effort carrying little ones or pushing strollers through the flooded roads and trails.
We had the opportunity to greet our weekend-friends on the American side of the fence … and on the Mexican side of the fence, we touched the tip of their fingers and they touched our hearts with their stories and tribulation.
Dermot and Brooke
John and Enrique
Robert and Hector
Dan and his mama
We had the opportunity to see the volunteer attorneys who once a month provided legal advice to deported and disadvantage people who were looking for some help in the Mexican side of the fence.
2016 is here and we wish Friendship Park could continue to be a sanctuary for divided families to see their loved ones.
Weekend after weekend anxious families arrive to Friendship Park to visit their relatives. With respect, I ask them where they come from, and how long it has been since they have seen their family members that live on the Mexican side. For those that live in Mexico, I inquire what state of Mexico they are from… How long it took for them to arrive to the Park… Names, states and numbers fill my notebook. For them, those numbers and statistics mean pain, sadness, hope, and dreams. They encounter their loved ones and they talk, they laugh, they cry, and it is palpable how important family is for them. This place, aside from showing pain from separation, also shows the beauty of family ties.
But there is something else that worries me when I am in the Park too… I frequently see a great number of little ones joining their parents on both sides of the fence. In their innocent eyes… how do they feel? What are their thoughts on this place? How does it feel to meet their grandparents for the first time… to talk to their deported father… to play with their cousins through that mesh where your pinky finger barely fits through? Do they think this is normal? Do they live this experience as a routine in their lives? Will this ritual become “el pan nuestro de cada dia” for them? Is this visit causing an impact? Will they do something to try to change what has become a routine trip for their parents and attempt to do something more once they grow up? Will there be another Sophie Cruz? Will they create a world where their children will not have to talk to their family through a fence?
I was recently fortunate enough to travel to the state of Washington and visit the Douglas Border Crossing Station, a busy crossing station into Canada. After spending many weekends documenting and observing the goings-on in Friendship Park at the US-Mexico border, this spot was particularly interesting to me because of the international park that lies there. Although Friendship Park and the “Peace Arch Provincial Park” exist approximately on the same latitude, book-ending the west coast of the US, the culture of the parks is vastly different. I will be comparing these two parks somewhat, but for a better understanding of the unique situation at Friendship Park, please scroll through the incredible photos by María Teresa and others, and take a look at our “About” section.
So there I was, at the border again for the first time. The signs on the freeway leading there warned against picking up hitchhikers, not running over families. The place itself seemed to condone the celebration of the border, even hosting advertisements for the historical place on the official lamp poles. The same border patrol cars and camera towers patrolled the area, although I found out later that you can access some of these feeds in order to ease your traveling across the border (see here). Even though I could already tell it would be different from outside the park, I was nervous, and I was thinking about the first time I went to the border in San Diego.
To give you a sense of how hesitant I was on that first day, or how strange a place the border is, below are some notes I wrote on December 29th, 2014 (all of the photos included here I also took on that day):
As I’m driving to the site at the border, the landscape begins to change somewhat rapidly. I don’t remember reading anything about ranches, farms, or mountains leading up to the dirt road towards the border. I am along on the road and I imagine that I can pass through some secret portal into Mexico, one that hasn’t been sealed off but no one knows about and I can’t find again, even to get back. Suddenly I’m there accidentally, as if my eyes got wider or the land swallowed up me and my car as if we’d never know the difference. I wonder where this fantasy comes from, this wanting to slip by undetected. Because I could easily just cross. I could cross, even when others can’t. So why the imagined portal? Maybe I’m projecting my ideals of the border as its own cultural space—virtually the same on both sides—or maybe a desire for the threshold not to exist at all.
I pull up to the dirt road parking lot where there are mysterious quartered off sections with barbed wire atop the fences, and a decorated sign that says “Border Field State Park”. As I’m looking more closely at the signs and directions next to the official sign, a woman named Candy approaches and mutters something about wanting to get to the ‘memorial’. I say that I am too, assuming that she means Friendship Park, or if not, that I should find out what she means. We determine that we are each alone, and walk together, eliminating that distinction…. As we approach the historic site on the beach, we can see the thick bars that I’d thought had been taken down years before. We consider going up to them, but there is no one else on the US-side of the gate and there is a Border Patrol car positioned above us, surveying the space….
We don’t walk up to the thick barriers but instead follow the path to the double-gated entryway to “Friendship Circle”. These gates are tall and built of unmalleable material. (Although I learn later that sometimes the sand pushes the thick bars apart, which has caused trouble for the border patrol who can’t stop kids from the Mexican side from slipping through and playing with the boundary.) It takes until we cross through the first barrier that the attitude is jovial. There are only two Border Patrol agents there, dressed in green and milling about the crowd, smiling, and answering questions.
The maximum occupancy for the circle is 25. There are about that many people there, mostly clinging to the gate, trying their best to see through the patchwork of metal and have a semi-private conversation with their family members. There are a few white tourists from Arizona questioning one of the agents. There is a man walking around in a suit who is a reporter from Philadelphia. There is a preacher giving something of a sermon via a faulty microphone. There is a man on the other side with a similar microphone translating.
Eventually, one of the agents asks me not to shoot video for the ‘privacy’ of the people there. I stopped filming and asked her who I would talk to about getting legal permissions to film there. She directed me to the other guard, “Agent Alvarado” who was answering questions next to me. Frank has recently taken over the job as ‘park manager’. He told me he had to apply for it, and I tested the waters by asking him why he was interested in the job. He immediately determined himself as ‘a moderate’ and said he wanted to be there so that the park could stay open. He remarked on the uniqueness of the space on the border and kept his comments well-rehearsed and distanced. Upon request, he brought me to Dan’s Jardin Binacional and showed me and Candy the wishing rocks.
It seems like Frank is interested in keeping the space as a portal for good press and set himself out to be accommodating for me and my needs, offering official tours and giving me his business card with a new number scribbled on the side. All this and hunk of metal, too.
Candy and I got lost on our way out of Border Field State Park that day, hyper conscious that there were patrol cars around us. We felt unwelcome there, like we were being watched. At this point, it’s hard to imagine getting lost on a walk I’ve taken countless times, but without proper signage, Friendship Park is hard to find. The path on the way there is sandy, muddy, usually flooded, and has all too often discouraged or delayed families. Many then can’t find each other or have physical disabilities that make it virtually impossible to get to Friendship Park during most of the year when the driving road up to the Park is closed. By now, my associations with the park are much more varied–having spent time with new friends like Candy and having been to important and exciting events at the park, my relationship to the space has changed enormously. But there’s nothing quite like first impressions!
By contrast, I arrived at the Peace Arch Park quite easily. I walked in through the parking lot and saw the open field with a playground to my right as I made a beeline down towards the Arch. On my way, I was impressed by the gardened coves that lined the park. They were beautifully maintained, and by the looks of it, had a lot more funding available to them than our beloved Jardin Binacional. After just a few minutes of walking (as opposed to the half an hour it takes to get to Friendship Park via Border Field State Park), I saw the Arch. In between the two lanes of traffic waiting to go through one custom checkpoint or another was a huge field of grass, with an open Arch in the middle. Both US and Canadian flags were waving on top, and just underneath, inscriptions of “Children of a Common Mother” and “Bretheren Dwelling Together in Unity” stood boldly affirming the nations’ shared heritage.
I walked around the arch a bit, taking note of the tourists who were there, which side they came from, etc. The field where the arch stands is open to both sides, so people can interact freely. On either side of the field, border-crossers waited in their cars to get to customs.
I sat in the center of this Peace Arch, next to the words “May These Gates Never Be Closed”, and thought about what its like to sit on the edge of an idea as big and as small as a country. I faced forward into the US, looking at the customs checkpoint, and the walls around me waved like water, as if even the solidity of the concrete law or concrete wall is flexible. Even if boundaries exist, they crash in and out of focus and move when we aren’t quite looking.
I walked back through the first part of the park afterwards to see what the edge of the countries looked like aside from the arch. At first I thought I saw a small fence through the wide area, but then it was actually open to the residential street in Canada beyond. The open border ran along the north side of the park, so that the park is technically in US territory, although without much of a physical separation between. There was a small plaque every 50 yards that said “Leaving US Border” on one side. I walked around one of them, anticipating similar writing on the other side, and found that the sign facing Canadians walking into the park in the US only said, “Keep dogs on leash”. Given that at Friendship Park, the security is so incredible that you are only able to stick a small finger through the wall, you can understand my amusement at this concept.
Although the park at the Peace Arch is relatively open, there is still a border patrol agent on duty and regulations that need to be followed. To understand them better, I asked the agent on guard if people from el otro lado were allowed to cross, since there was no fence. He said yes, that people on the Canadian side were allowed in the park but couldn’t leave out into the US side. I asked how they determined that, and basically one or two agents sit there and watch people come and go, everyday from 8 to dusk (as opposed to the 8 hours per week that Friendship Park is open). If the agents don’t recognize someone leaving the park into the US side as someone that came from that side, they stop and search them. People from either side are welcome to use the park, but people on the Canadian side are not allowed to exit the park as an entryway to the US. The agents apparently also switch out regularly so as not to make “affinities” with those who frequent the space. The agent I talked to then volunteered his opinion that “this park is a bad idea” because there have been a few people–“bad ones”–who sneak through. The emphasis on the word “bad” leads me to believe he doesn’t just mean they’re “bad” because they’re rule-breakers, but because of some other unspoken reason. I asked him if they usually catch them [does this type of surveillance system work?] and he said “Yeah, usually we do”.
Of course, where there is a loophole, occasionally there will be people trying to take advantage of the situation. From the sounds of it, this is a small minority of the people who use the park, but it helps perpetuate unreasonable fear and distrust along border lines. I saw something in the news the other day about one of the presidential candidates suggesting that we put a wall up on the Canadian border. Having been to this peaceful location, I can’t help but wonder what type of threat this open border is permitting, or what national ideal we would be protecting.
But on the whole, this park shows that not only is an open border park possible; it’s already happening! Border Patrol Agents are able to staff this space with much more time, fewer agents, and hardly any external structures. If we were able to duplicate something like this at Friendship Park in San Diego/Tijuana, the familial reunions and gatherings for friends would be that much more beautiful. The next question is, why not? Although many of the arguments here may be insensitive, it is also important to consider what practical difficulties we might face if we are able to make this open border park a reality.
Much of this post was written to describe the Peach Arch Park as a model for Friendship Park. As we move towards imagining the future of Friendship Park, it is imperative to collaborate and share our stories. Do you have a border story, or memorable first experience with the border? Send me an email! Please feel comfortable writing in Spanish, English, or Spanglish. firstname.lastname@example.org
Like the night before when I tried watering at 1:00a, at 6:30a the next morning nothing came out of the spigot when I opened the valve. Damn! nice try. Oh well, I had put on FB that I woudn’t arrive til 8a so I went back to PFEA to download a book in case I had some extra time and call the water board hotline to see when the water was coming back. Turns out it’s coming back on after 5p and was shut off due to a main break.
At 8a the heat had already hit, I cowered over into some shade against the trash can to read Holy Ghosts, by David Shcmidt while I waited to see if anyone arrived. I saw my friend Bernardo coming up the ramp toward the garden holding his sleeping bag looking slightly desheveled and wearing a sweatshirt wrapped around his head to protect him from the sun. All of the sudden, after thinking how tough it must’ve been for him to have slept under the boardwalk all night, the 85 degree humid heat to walk around and take pics and pic up trash seemed like not that big of deal.
“Anoche llegué y el agua se estaba tirando mucho. Alguien la había dejado abierta. La cerré. “, Bernardo explained after he came back from stowing his sleeping bag somewhere in or near the next door canyon. He told of his adventures the night before, “la locura pistiando” he said with a nostalgic smile. He had a lime green vest on on, “Voy a cuidar aquí hasta que llegue el guardia.” He went on to start picking up some trash and such at the parking lot near the garden.
I had picked up FIVE piles of shit in and around the garden using platic bags I pulled out of the trash and the abandoned empty lot across the street around the bull ring. ‘I should include th instalation of one of those dispensers with biodegradable plastic bags for dog shit in the proposal for fixing up the garden over the next couple months with the Tijuana River Action Month’ , I thought. I walked in and around the garden taking a few more pics, picking up trash and pulling a few weeds. While excess water is hurting the Rhus, lack of water is hurting the strawberries and the Encino looks a bit dry. I’ll be back tonight to get to those. The strawberries, I decided, we’re going to water when we water other plants but, since they are more native to the forest, it would be a waste of water to try to create those conditions here. In other words, I decided to let them go and just see if they survive this climate with less water than there natural habitat. It was kind of a mistake, we didn’t know when we got them, but they’ve survived pretty well and expanded the last 2-3 years and only recently with this heat wave have shown some drying up. I suspect they’ll come back again when the rains come.
I kept wandering around in and around the garden picking up trash and pulling weeds here and there and sometimes just meandering. It was around 9:30a and I saw a middle aged sun bathed man with the bill of his blue cap shoved between the tubes right next to the stawberries.
“¡JESUS!” He yelled to someone on the other side of the secondary barrier. “FALTA MEDIA HORA!” He was very excited to see his son. I meandered a little more and worked a little less trying to get a good shot of the two shouting acroos the 150 ft distance through the two walls.
He noticed me kind of meandering around him and started a conversation since it was pretty difficult to converse with his son, “¿Estás esperando a familia?”
“No, yo cuido aquí el jardín.” We got to chatting and I told him all about the different points of access and how sometimes they let people out to the garden but it’s up to the agent on duty. He saw his son not too long ago because he can cross over to Tijuana, pero a mi hija hace un año y medio que no la veo. Tiene su visa para trabajar pero no puede cruzar.” He lived and worked in a catering business for many years in San Diego where he raised his kids and was deported or left and can’t go back about a year and a half ago.
I decided, since there wasn’t much I could do at the garden at the moment I’d dedicate some time to documenting stuff at the park in general.
On the pathway over I saw this message:
I saw the Jesuses (father and son) along with his daughter and kids and other families all gathered together and they called me over to say hi. “El que es americano y prefiere estar acá y yo queriendo estar allá.”, he said and then going on to explain to his family that I help at the garden. When I told him earlier that I was born in the US he asked, astonished, “What are you doing here?”. I get that sometimes from people who have struggled horribly in Mexico and manage to get to the states and make a better life for themselves. “Allá pobre como sea puedes vivir. Aquí si eres pobre está cabróm.” All his kids were born and raised in the states and, although they like Mexico to visit, they much prefer to live in the states. At that moment with the whole family there, I told Jesus that I had taken a picture of him earlier and asked if it would be ok to put it on my blog. He was totally fine with it and explained it to his family.
“Pues, ¿dónde está tu cámera?” one of them asked me through the mesh, thinking I was asking if I could take a photo of them for the blog now all together.
“Es una foto que tomé antes pero, si quieren les puedo tomar una ahora con todos juntos.”
His son gave me his email and asked me to send them the photo, “xxxx AT HOTMAIL DOT COM”
His dad answered, “¿Que qué ¿Hombre caliente?”
We all lauged and I left them to keep chatting.
It was only around 10:30am and there were already 2-3 families hanging out and tourists were filtering in and out starting right at 10a . I didn’t get a picture but one elderly lady had brought another friend to show her the place. They walked up to where I was standing and we started to chat through the thick mesh. “I can barely see you but nice to meet you… we heard there was a monument around here… ”
“Oh it’s right here.” I pointed to it just about 5-6 feet away. With that mesh it really is difficult to make anything out except what’s right in front of you. They were very curious and I ended up explaining to them when the replaced the wall and what it used to look like and how the monument used to be on both sides and BP’s logic of making more difficult to pass things through. “Do you want me to read to you what it says?”
I explained the inscription with the line dividing the two countries and the Spanish and English.
“Read the English we don’t know Spanish”. So I read the inscription explaining how it was erecte with the treaty of Guadalupe in 1849 and then renovate in 1894 by the International Water and Boundary Comission. It reminded me what a large roll the IBWC plays at our border and made me think I should be more in conact with them, could learn a lot. They thanked me and strolled out.
I noticed from the beginning that Agent Alvarado wasn’t there which kind of bugged me a little since he had agreed that we would be allowed to clean the garden from 10a-11a. Not that big a deal cause we didn’t plan anything and there were no volunteers on that side, but I did announce it on FB and people could have came. Anyway, Agent Duane Cody and Chris… can’t remember his last name who is normally there on Sats and Susn with Alvarado were there. Agent Cody, a short clean cut dark complected stout guy, is normally really nice but I assumed he wasn’t going to let anyone over to the garden since it seems, when Agent A isn’t there, no one is allowed to the garden. Besides, he was keeping his distance and since I could have continued some conversations I’ve been having with Alvarado that no one else could really cover, I didn’t bother saying anything, thought if he came up close to the fence I may ask if people are allowed to go over to the garden just to get his justification since he normally isn’t there and might be different or, who knows, he might even let people go. Just then I saw him come up to the fence and talk to a family and then escort all of them out. The members on the US side were stunned and sat there for several minutes looking through the fence as if they wanted to continue with their original plan to hang out and talk through the fence for four hours. I asked what happened why their family was kicked out and they explained that a small child passed some skittles though the fence. This bugged me, couldn’t they have gave them a warning?
“Ni modo.” They said and started packing things up. They had just seen each other the previous week, “…. y nos hablamos por teléfono pero no hay nada como verse frente a frente.” They seemed bummed but not devasated like I imagine they would would have been if they hadn’t seen each other in years like in other cases that are very common here at the park. They continued to chat in the garden by telephone while waving to each other from 150 ft away.
Now it was almost 11a, so much happened in just that hour. I decided to escape the heat, somewhat at least, and go back to PFEA and work a bit and possibly come back around 1 or 1:30 and see if I could convince Cody to let people go over to the garden. America called around 11:30a and i told her I was coming back at 1:30 and she said she’d hang out and do her thing of offering families polaroid shots. I told her there would probably be a lot of people cause there were already a good amount when I was there at the time when it’s usually the least amount of people, but when I got there there were actually around the same amount of people. She told me there were more earlier but that it probably didn’t reach the maximum 25. “I guess no one’s allowed in the garden today since Agent A isn’t here.” I said to her as we chatted through the fence.
“You want me to go ask him if people go out the garden?”
“Yeah, thanks.” That saved me from having to yell to him to come over and talk to me through the fence. She came back to tell me that she asked him why no one is in the garden and he said, “No one asked.” As messed up as that is, I mean, how would anyone know to ask? I wasn’t too surprised but America was indignant. “Let’s ask people if they want to go over there.”
“Yeah sounds good.” She informed a couple about it and I told a large family. It was already 1:40 (park closes at 2p) and Agent Cody had told her that the people would have to ask him first so the big family didn’t want to bother. The couple she talked to however was interested. It was two women and their son. The woman on the US side had her WHOLE family living in Tijuana and she couldn’t come because her papers are in process. Her girlfriend just got deported almost a year ago under what seemed to be very unfair circumstances and she’s living with their son in Playas only a 1/2 mile from the park. The story was that the woman living in Playas and their son who were all living together in San Diego almost a year ago, brought her Mom up for Thanks Giving last year to stay with them for a few days. She and their son brought her mom back to Tijuana and when they went to cross back to the states, they got a customs agent who was in a really bad mood and wouldn’t let them across and decided to take the woman and their son’s visas away which weren’t set to expire for several months or years.
“Tenemos a un abogado y si no se resuelve para diciembre yo voy para allá, no me importa si vayamos a ser pobres. Yo quiero estar con mi familia.”
When Cody first escorted them over to the garden, they realized how well they could see each other and the girl on the US side turned to Cody and begged, “Andale, dejame acercarme para dar un beso a mi hijo.” Cody just lowered his head slightly while moving it back and forth.
While all this was going on, Agent Cody was watching over intently and all of the sudden one of the Agents on quads peeled off the road North of the garden area through the vegetation right up to Cody. That bugged me cause he might have run over a native plant.
The quad agent noticed me taking the above attempt at a picture of him talking with Cody and got off his quad and walked up to only 5 ft way away from me and pulled out his camera phone making it obvious that it was like revenge for me taking his photo. I instinctively (and smart assily) waved to the camera and smiled for him. :-). Thinking that the picture I took of him probably didn’t turn out and wanting to deescalate things or maybe just respond in some way, I told him as he walked back to his quad next to Cody, “I didn’t take a picture of you if that’s what you’re worried about.” I then went on still trying to smooth things over, “My name’s Dan, nice to meet you.” He just nodded at me and drove off a few seconds later.
“He was kind of upset with me.” I said to Cody.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said not turning his head away from the families he was watching over. The other family that had originally declined cause it would’ve been a pain to ask had come over as well after all. America and I chatted through the fence a little distance away while the families got the last 5-10 min together at the garden. America felt like it was important to try to convince the families to come over to the garden, I wasn’t so sure since it was so late. Anyway, hope it was worth it for them. Thinking about it now, turns out it would’ve been a good idea for me to ask Cody in the morning if people could go to the garden. That would’ve set the trend for the day. America also told me that Agent Cody got upset with her having something to do with the polaroid and how that was encouraging people to pass things through the fence. She told me she told him, upon seeing he was upset she didn’t want to argue and just said, “Ok, I’m going to separate myself now.” and walked away.
America told me earlier that Agent Cody asked her rhetorically if she was with the families that she was asking could go to the garden and she started eak out an answer when he cut her off, “I saw you come in separately.”
And she said, “yea I came to meet Dan.” I was ok with that and fully accept and am comfortable with the fact that I’m going to look like the trouble maker in BP’s eyes no matter what that, although it’s good to make an effort to get along, that most likely they are going to judge or twist whatever I do into trying to get away with something. Neverthless, thinking about the fact that Friends of Friendship Park has a meeting with the chief on Thurs, I still tried to smooth things over, “AGENT CODY!” I yelled from 100 feet away as he prepared to close down the park. He didn’t respond. “AGENT CODY!” He turned his head. “THANKS FOR LETTING PEOPLE INTO THE GARDEN!”. He nodded and waved.
Now, I’m at the PFEA offices where I’ve spent the whole day (except for the time at the park) writing this, oh and I stopped to visit a friend for 1/2 hour and had a nice lunch near by and read Schmidt’s book a little more. It’s 7pm. Hopefully, I can get SOME other work done in prep for the upcoming weeks working in the garden before it’s time to go back and water. In additon to the need of a few plants that might not be able to hold out in this heat much longer without it, I also told Bernardo that I’d be there between 8-9p with the spigot so he could get some water for the night.
In studying the border, I often think about how this wall functions within a history of walls in general. What does it add to our understanding of San Diego-Tijuana to consider China’s Great Wall? Or physical structures in between neighborhoods within the US? How can we think about these global border concepts theoretically without taking away from the personal, local personalities and situations that we encounter at Friendship Park?
A while ago, while taking a tour with the Border Patrol (you can tour the wall with the Border Patrol in San Diego as an individual or as a part of a special interest group or institution), I heard one of the BP agents that I know describing a country. He said something to the effect of, “You need borders to have a country.” And he’s right, to a degree. In order to function as a nation-state, territories are distinguished. However, “border” does not necessarily mean “wall”, and not all functioning governing bodies are considered nation-states, either. Later on, I heard the agent talking about the Canada-US border, which has no wall, but does operate as a border between nation states. Then, I heard the comparison most often used when talking about “the wall”. The agent said, “This isn’t like the Berlin Wall…this isn’t going to come down.”
First off, let’s consider why this comparison is being utilized, and why this logic is flawed. The Berlin Wall was taken down peacefully in 1989 by both sides of what is now just known as “Berlin”. Previous to this public response, the wall had been functional through the city for 28 years, and was heavily militarized. During this time, over a hundred people were killed at the wall, insuring that the public understood the integrity of this separation was more important than the lives of individuals. In talking about this wall at Friendship Park and refusing the implication that these two walls are a part of the same history, this BP agent was essentially saying that some walls are mistakes, others are not. In other words, it is clear, given the history, that the Berlin Wall was wrong in some way, but that this lesson shouldn’t apply. We need the wall, apparently. “This wall won’t come down”. This wall won’t be a mistake.
For more on the Berlin Wall, check out this list of facts presented by History.com (this source also mentions a second “death strip” or retainer wall that reminds me of our double-walled system at Friendship Park). For more on the inter-connectivity between walls in general, I highly recommend Wendy Davis’ “Walled States, Waning Sovereignty”. Davis argues that the very concept of this type of separation is backwards, and that walls cause tensions in a supposedly “globalized world”. In my opinion, this also means that in this era, they cannot be justified and that if the logic of walling fails once, it will fail again. It is important to recognize these similarities so that we can learn from each others’ mistakes; so that in 20 years, we won’t be looking at a new wall across the world saying, “but this one is different.” To this day, much of the structure of the Berlin Wall remains intact, now covered in paintings and other artworks. Some of it has been sent to other parts of the world as a tangible piece of history, but a lot of it remains in Berlin as a testament to its very destruction.
In returning to the local with regard to Friendship Park, my friend is working in the photo department in Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany. He recently came across a photograph that he thought I may be interested in. I don’t know if you can tell, but it’s a poster of the US-Mexico wall at the beach at Friendship Park hung on top of the Berlin Wall.
I’ll leave you with this image, but first, a couple more questions: What does it do to transport the image of a functional wall onto a liberated wall, and what happens when we layer these histories on top of each other? How do we understand these two together, when figures of authority insist that they are separate? How do we live in the space in between?
I can’t help wondering what will be left after our wall comes down. Maybe some will stay standing for the sake of the history. Maybe there will be art on both sides of the wall. Maybe even the Border Patrol will acknowledge it as a mistake.
Apparently this photo was taken as a part of a series in Berlin featuring walls from all over the globe, shot in 2006 by photographer Kai Wiedenhoefer that was hung during 2013. The rest of the photos are also really stunning, click here to see more.
Left Imperial Beach on the Scooter at 7a and got to the garden on the Mex side by 9a. I hadn’t watered since Wed but was ok leaving it til the middle of the night tonight with the confidence in Cesar’s advice that they didn’t need as much water. It was going to be a long day. The first think I saw when I rode up on Paty’s blue bici were these amigos who had crossed the border and were running in a pack. Jeje
The next thing I noticed was that nearly all the signs had been taken up and damaged and thrown across the border. Weird.
Another thing to add to the list of tasks for the day. I decided to do this first as it was still before 10a when headquarters agents arrive and they might say something about me reaching through the fence for them.
I hooked up the hose just to wet down the area to make it easier to pull weeds and saw this guy hanging out by the Yerba mansa where all the water collects
After pulling the signs through the border wall and just setting them up against the tubes for the time being, my next task was to talk to Agent Alvarado. I wanted to kind of inform him and warm him up to the Tijuana River Action Month and Network (TRAM/TRAN).
“It’s a network of basically all the environmental organizations in San Diego and Tijuana working together for a month cleaning the canyons, doing environmental workshops, and cleaning the beaches. The idea is to clean and preserve the Tijuana River in a binational cooperative way,” I explained through the tight mesh to him only a few iches away but in another country. I talked about my roll as a rep for the Friends of Frienship Park and that last year, they called on FoFP to help for the final celebration in which there were 100 people in the garden on the US side and the media and politicians were present to do a symbolic planting on both sides of the border. He signaled over to the other Agent to listen in to the info. I told him we’ll be in the garden every Saturday leading up to the event.
“What will you be doing in the garden exactly?”
“One of the main ideas is to put a perimeter in around the circles made of recycled tires.”
“Tires won’t work…” I was take aback a little and didn’t say anything. “I could give you a list of reasons why, but believe they’re not a good idea.”
“Can you tell me some of the reasons on the list?” in a notably defensive tone.
“If they are steel belt tires someone could cut themselves so it’s a security issue for one and for another, I don’t think it will look very good.”
“Ok” I said trying not to get riled up at what I was taking to be a bit of a power trip. “I guess I didn’t really explain how they would look.”
“Oh, yeah, tell me how it would go…. le puedo ayudar señora?” he interrupted our conversation to attend to a lady standing next to me on the Mex side that was obviously waiting for someone. He ended up asking her to call her family member and put the phone on speak so he could give directions through the fence. “Sorry, I had been talking to her before” he said and we went back to our discussion. We ended up walking out to the garden together because he wanted to escort someone out before we sarted talking again.
“As far as the tires go,” now talking to me through the tubes at the wish garden, ” it all comes down to what the chief says… if he says tires are ok than they are ok. We’ll have to talk to him at the meeting on Sept 3rd. and see what he says”
I had a strong feeling that he, personally, just didn’t like the tire idea. “I’m ok with waiting til what the chief says as long as that’s not an excuse because you really just don’t want them.”
“You have to understand that there is a chain of command and whatever the chief says we have to do.”
“Friends of Frienship Park isn’t part of that chain of command.”
I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went after that, but basically he said that I have to follow what the chief says. I tried to smooth things out by just explaining exactly how the tires would go and saying something like hopefully that’ll be ok with the chief. I went further to explain that this isn’t one of “my events” (border encuentro event, garden tour, etc.) because I’ve noticed in the past that whomever is doing the most activity, gets kind of the hammer and BP starts not letting them do things anymore. They’ve even made things up and painted a false picture that I’m purposely trying to provoke protests or do things to put Agents in harm’s way on purpose. Anyway, I explained that I am merely a player in the Tijuana River Action Network and that when we meet with the others on the 25th, they can go into further detail. “Just wanted to let you know there’s others taking charge on this one.”
At this point I felt like we were communicationg in a friendly tone, but to finish the converation he gave a monoton, “Have a good one.” which surprised me because he usually does his job of staying friendly really well and made me wonder what it was exactly that got to him.
I went back to work in the garden while digesting it all, completing another task of taking out the dried out Isocoma Mensei. I thought I need sheers or pruners (which I didn’t have and they weren’t willing to lend me at the Bathroom) but the dried up parts didn’t have any roots and came right up. The idea, per Cesar’s suggetstion, is to chop up the branches and turn them into mulch.
While I was doing this work and fixing the signs, I noticed Agent A was bringing more people over to the garden and giving them the Border patrol speal, always very friendly. I couldn’t help but feel like he was trying to compete, show me who was boss. I was tempted to jump in and try to give my perspective, but decided it was best to separate myself. I had forgotten a rake so I packed up the major stuff and went back to PFEA to get it. When I got back there was no one in the garden on the US side. I’m sure it was just a coincidence but I couldn’t help but let it cross my mind that he stopped bringing people over because I left.
I kept working and had gotten and started thinking about Agent A and I’s discussion and started to see things from his perspective. After venting to my friend Charlie, a young guy who’s always hanging out there, telling him how it’s not fair that bp act like it’s their garden when they tried so hard for so long to get rid of it., I realized that Agent A wasn’t there then and that he probably does feel a bit of ownership of the garden and friendship park and it’s important to him that his opinion be taken into consideration.
I talked to him again before he left the park just befor 2p.
“Well another Saturday,” he said in a really friend voice after getting out of hus vehicle and walking up to talk to me through the mesh again seeing me there without me even trying to get his attention. “Yeah,” same friendly tone, “just so you know it’s not TRAN that makes the decisions it’s the chief.”
“Well, but you have some influence right?”
“You give me way too much credit.”
“You spend a lot of time here and, although I’m resentful at times cause I know Border Patrol for a long time didn’t like the garden, our discussion made me realize that this is kind of your garden too so I don’t want you to think that your opion doesn’t matter since I acted like that when I saw you didn’t like the tire idea.”
“Thanks, yeah, well it all comes down to the fact that every body has a boss. Even you with Fofp.” he was kind of grasping now to make his point I think but I went along with it.
“Yeah, if everybody with Friends of Friendship Park said they didn’t like the tire idea, than we wouldn’t put tires in even if I like them.”
“Will you be you her tomorrow?” he asked as he started to back away to get in his unit 30 feet behind him.
“Ok, see you next week.”
I kept working on the signs and smoothing out the area where I had removed the golden bush since, on the Mex side it’s a wide open area to the public 24/7 and I chatted with someone who I recognized that hangs around there sometimes. He had a water bottle and wanted to fill it up.
“Antes había un circulo de deseos aquí no?”
“Sí, se movieron las piedras y se formó este diseño que ya no es un circulo pero se ve bien por ahora.”
“Oh, mucho muy bien. Había un letrero no?.. circulo de deseos…”
“Sí lo voy a reparar.”
“Mucho muy bien. Yo tenía una piedra, no la encuentro…” he said as he looked through the rocks for his wish rock.
“Perdón. No tengo la llave.” I went on to explain that I didn’t bring the spigot for the water cause I’ve left it before and the pipping isn’t very good and it got moved around and the broke. I felt bad that he needed water and he couldn’t get it. Just then a police car drove up and called him over to the curb 10 feet away.
“Sí sí… está bien.” I could only here him and couldn’t here what the police were telling him, but then they drove away.
I went on to tell him I’d be back around 7p and I’d bring the spigot. He was kind of in a hurry to leave and confirmed the time with me. I told him I’d be back really late as well to water.
“Sí, sí, ahorita me tengo que ir porque me corrieron pero echo una vuelta después, de todos modos aquí duermo debajo del malecón.”
I came back around 7p to finish up and then again at 12:30a to water. I didn’t run into Jesus again. When he left it bugged me that he could be “kicked out” of a public area. He wasn’t doing anything wrong and clearly wasn’t under the influence of anything. I didn’t see him later. Hopefully I will at some point to give him some water and find out his story.
Here are the pictures of the redone signs and of the people visiting during the day and a video of me kind of delirious watering at 12:30a.
I did notice during the 10a-2p open hours on the US side, that cars were allowed to drive in today but didn’t notice that anyone was left waiting outside the gate because they were at 25 person max like tragically happened last time the road was open this year where families that had traveled from great distances and hadn’t seen their family members in years couldn’t get in or had to wait and had their already restricted time to visit with relatives cut even more.. Today it didn’t seem like the max was reached.
peritoma arborea -4-6 gallons (just a stub might not make it, was stepped on)
salvia apiana picada nueva en jardin flores amarillas – 4-6 (just a stub maybe dead)
Encino main circle – 4-6
Encino with strawberries – 4-6
Prunus icilifolia Mex 4-6
Prunus icilifolia US 4-6
Salvia apiana hidden flores amarillas – 4-6
Salvia apiana main circle in new area – 0-1 (very dry maybe dead)
Both transplanted encelias US side 2-3. looking good