March, April & May 2016

 

Spring has made our pilgrimage to Friendship Park prettier, even though the road is still flooded

 

IMG_5996 copy

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.IMG_5438 copy 2IMG_6046 copyIMG_6230-1I 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?

 

IMG_5499 copy

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.

Abuelos conociendo a su nuevo nieto copy

IMG_6145 copyEvents:

 

Advertisements

On Orienting Myself To the Border

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.04.18 AMThis 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.Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.39.44 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-19 at 11.59.57 PM

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. Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.37.19 AM

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.

AbelMartin1998

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.

12799280_10154160639182018_7637998835057969999_n

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.02.06 AMWhen 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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.03.31 AMAfter 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)

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 11.56.10 PM

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.

IMG_3256

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.

The garden from all sides

Dan Watman

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.

IMG_1057 IMG_1058

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)

IMG_1063
Brocolli looking yummy ready to harvest.
IMG_1064
Cilantro
IMG_1065
letuce
IMG_1067
Strawberries not out yet.

IMG_1062 IMG_1066\

IMG_1097IMG_1093

Cleaning up the garden circles on Wed Jan 20th

Before:

 

IMG_1072IMG_1069IMG_1084

 

IMG_1090
I saw helicopter take off from Monument Mesa. Here’s a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkE1pLgrohQ

IMG_1085 IMG_1086   IMG_1099 IMG_1100 IMG_1101 IMG_1102 IMG_1103

After

IMG_1104  IMG_1106 IMG_1108 IMG_1109 IMG_1110 IMG_1111 IMG_1112

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.

IMG_1113 IMG_1114 IMG_1115 IMG_1116 IMG_1117

The nature walk out through the estuary at Border Field.

IMG_1118
An Artemisia Californica
IMG_1122
Border Patrol does this. They mow down areas of the estuary to make it easier for them to access.
IMG_1123
Clothes that washed over or were left by a migrant.

 

IMG_1124
The vehicle road that is flooded half or more of the year to get out to Friendship Park from US side.

The canopy has been removed over the picnic tables on Monument Mesa.

IMG_1125 IMG_1126

IMG_1128 IMG_1129

IMG_1127

Arriving at Friendship Park.

IMG_1130 IMG_1131 IMG_1134 IMG_1135

Agent Staples let me in to work in the garden but wasn’t allowing the public in today.  There was some trash and weeds.

Before:

IMG_1136 IMG_1137 IMG_1138 IMG_1139 IMG_1141 IMG_1152

IMG_1153IMG_1143

IMG_1160IMG_1168IMG_1162

After:

IMG_1144 IMG_1145       IMG_1154 IMG_1156IMG_1169

IMG_1171
IMG_1164IMG_1155 This is an invasive but I left one just cause it looks pretty.

IMG_1149

IMG_1158
The Bladder Pod is doing great. Made a comeback with the rains. It’s about 4 years old.
IMG_1165
Saying high to Humberto

IMG_1161  IMG_1163        IMG_1176

IMG_1173
Tijuana Christian Mission. I had met them the Wed before and gave them a detailed explanation of the area. They were fascinated and came back on their last day in the area on Sat before heading back to Indiana.

IMG_1177

IMG_1179
This metal is used to keep birds away and fell from the top of the Border Patrol watch tower.

IMG_1180

The walk back out on Sat

IMG_1181 IMG_1182 IMG_1183 IMG_1184 IMG_1185 IMG_1186 IMG_1188 IMG_1190 IMG_1192 IMG_1193 IMG_1194

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.

IMG_1208
The lonely garden on US side.

IMG_1195 IMG_1196

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.

IMG_1197 IMG_1198 IMG_1199 IMG_1200 IMG_1201 IMG_1202 IMG_1203IMG_1260IMG_1262

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.

IMG_1211
IMG_1205

IMG_1210

IMG_1209
The birds mocking are barriers.

 

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.

IMG_1214
The people living in the canyon started their own little huertito.

IMG_1212 IMG_1219

Lots a great greens

IMG_1222 IMG_1225 IMG_1231 IMG_1243 IMG_1251 IMG_1257 IMG_1259  IMG_1261

The garden greens were served after the Border Church that meets every Sunday at Friendship Park

IMG_1265 IMG_1269 IMG_1270 IMG_1271 IMG_1272 IMG_1273 IMG_1274 IMG_1275 IMG_1276 IMG_1277 IMG_1278 IMG_1280 IMG_1281

State of (some) of the plants in the garden/ Plant inventory – Taken Jan 20th-24th

IMG_1157
Cherry tree planted in Nov 2014. Doing ok. Seems like it should be bigger by now. It did get stepped or something about 6 months ago and lost half or more of it’s height.
IMG_1175
I moved this Encelia so it wouldn’t be in the pathway (by BP request) about 8 months ago. I spent two days digging up the roots. Some were probably 20 ft long. It looks like it’s gonna make it in it’s new spot.
IMG_1159
Agave Shawii’s doing great. Planted about 4 years ago.
IMG_1146
For some reason a lot of the Salvia Apianas (White Sages) are half dired up. This one and most were planted about 4 years ago.
IMG_1148
This malosma is about 4 years old and I’m a little worried. It normally has some “burning” from the sea breeze but this is much more than I’ve seen. Although it’s still got some green on the side that’s not exposed to the ocean.
IMG_1059
This Malosma Laurin belongs to Mateo as part of the children’s native plant adoption program. He hasn-t been watering it enough but it might still make it.
IMG_1060
This Rhus Integrifolia, Lemon Berry bush is looking pretty healthy. Planted March 2015.
IMG_1061
A baby oak tree planted in March of 2015. Looks it might make it.
IMG_1068
This Coyote Brush seems to be doing pretty well although I wonder why the bottom is dried up.
IMG_1070
This is an oak tree. It’s just a twig you can’t even make out. I don’t think it’s going to make it. It was planted a year ago now. I’m leaving it through the rainy season on the off chance.

 

IMG_1074
Toyon. The bigges heartiest plant in the garden. Planted 4 years ago, I believe
IMG_1073
Toyon berries.

2015

 

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.

 

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.

Family Ties/Children


   

IMG_1424 copy

IMG_1704 copyIMG_1495 copy

 

IMG_1485

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.

IMG_1859 chica

IMG_1685 copyIMG_1455 copy

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?
IMG_3702 copy

IMG_1551 copyIMG_1835 copyIMG_1491 copy
IMG_2440 copy

Friends of Friendship Park Member’s work honored

Women in the World, which is associate with New York Times, published an article today that features María Teresa’s photography work at the border.

You can read the article and look at some of her photos by clicking here.

Felicitaciones MT!

___________________________

“Women in the World”, que es asociado con los New York Times, publicado un articulo hoy que celebra la trabajo fotografía del muro de María Teresa.

Puedes leer este articulo y mira a algunos fotos por clic aqui.

Felicitaciones MT!

Firsts at the Border(s): US-Canada’s Peace Arch Park

Emily Packer

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.

102418840_4

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….

102418840_3

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.

102418840_5

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.

102418840_6

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.    

102418840_2

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!

630693P-R1-050-23A

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.

IMG_2206

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.

630693P-R1-046-21A

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.

630693P-R1-044-20AScreen Shot 2015-09-04 at 6.26.44 PM

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.

IMG_2240

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. emily@marginalgapfilms.com

IMG_2220