“Somos familia de Dios, We are family of God,” Silvia offered with a smile. I had just asked if she was here with her family, and Silvia reached out to testify. “Are you a Christian?” she asked.
I stopped to chat with Silvia today at Parque del Mar, the Tijuana half of Friendship Park, when she invited me to join her family. A few yards away, a man was crouching down at the wall, deep in conversation with his wife Maria.
After 3 long years of negotiating with border patrol, today was the first day that Friendship Park would be open under the new, consistent schedule. We, the Friends of Friendship Park, had just hammered out the final details with Border Patrol in September, and San Diego Sector Chief Paul Beeson promised to make the hours consistent. Visitors can now count on the park gate being open. On Saturdays and Sundays, from 10-2, border patrol will now staff the gate, allowing visitors from Los Angeles, Riverside and other distant locations to know the park will be open when they make their long trip to come visit with family.
And so today, we of Friends of Friendship Park were there to see who might stop by.
Like hundreds of visitors to the Tijuana side of Friendship Park, Silvia was posing for a photo op in front of Boundary Monument 258 while her friend Gabriela snapped photos with her cell phone camera. In a typical Friendship Park moment, Silvia explained, in Spanish, that she’s from El Salvador while Gabriela’s teenage daughter piped in, “And we’re from Cali!” Since it was established in 1971 by then first Lady Pat Nixon, Friendship Park has provided a unique binational space for visitors from both Mexico and the U.S. to come together. Alongside families separated by immigration status, and recently deported young men hoping to cross back soon to San Diego, tourists come to see the border, to say they’ve been here.
Two couples stopped, wondering why there were bars on the other side, and I took the opportunity to tell them the history of Friendship Park, and our struggle to save it. Turned out, both couples were from New York, one couple now living in Las Vegas, and they all made the trip to Tijuana together–to see the border.
Then I noticed two guys sitting by the border monument and I headed over to take their picture. On the U.S. side, reporters had gathered, and after a couple of interviews, we settled in for a more relaxed chat.
Originally from Mexico City, Jerry and Christian were now roommates in downtown Tijuana, Jerry had just been deported after working in downtown Los Angeles for eight years. An assault by a police officer in L.A. left him with a deep scar on his head. But ironically, this act of violence offered Jerry the occasion for a petition to return to the U.S. He was now eligible for a U-Visa, he said, a special work visa for victims of violence that offers eligibility to work in the U.S. for four years.
We talked and talked–about the abusive police in Los Angeles, the police abuse that migrants deal with in Tijuana, the relative merits of the U.S. and Mexico. “Even though there’s no work on either side of the border right now, at least in the U.S. you can make enough to survive,” Christian argued. We talked about the new regressive labor law just passed by the Cámara de Diputados last week that is bound to reduce the already dismal minimum wage in Mexico.
As the afternoon wore on, a cool marine layer began to roll in, and the guys decided to take off and find some lunch. Visitors continued to come and go near the boundary monument, but on the U.S. side at Friendship Park, it was approaching 2 PM, the hour when the border patrol would close the gate and end public access for the day.
Later on, at the bus stop I ran into Jerry and Christian again, and we hopped on the bus together to head back downtown.
Click here for my photos on Flickr!