Friendship Park at Age 40

 The U.S.-Mexico Border is an overbearing presence in San Diego because of the fence that separates SD and TJ. The first time I saw the fence it reminded me of being in Berlin, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Today, our separation from Tijuana has become even greater, thanks to federal policy that insisted on securing the border by turning what was a single fence into a double and triple fence. The most dramatic effect I saw has been in Friendship Park.

Double fencing has gone up at Friendship Park

Friendship Park is the very southwestern corner of the United States: A patch of green on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean where people would meet at the border. You used to be able to walk right up to the chain-link barrier and talk with people on the other side. From the U.S. side you could see the TJ Bull Ring and the people visiting the Tijuana beach.

In 1971, First Lady Pat Nixon dedicated Friendship Park and shook hands through the fence with many Mexicans. Today, international friendship may remain but it finds no expression in the park. Today double fencing keeps the two nationalities well away from each other.

Prior to the 1990s, Mexicans in search of higher wages would pour across the flimsy border fence into San Diego until the Clinton Administration boosted the staffing of Border Patrol and started “Operation Gatekeeper.” A decade later, the terror attack of 911 gave xenophobic border politicians an excuse to insist on even more border security as they made the absurd argument that Al Qaeda would use the porous Mexican border as a way to enter the U.S. to cause further death and mayhem.

So now, Friendship Park is not very friendly. And I don’t know when or if that will change.

Below is a blog post I wrote prior to the double-fencing of the border at the park. I look at it to refresh my own memory of what kind of a place it used to be.  

 Good Neighbors at Border Fields State Park (5 yrs ago)

          Have you ever been to the southwestern corner of the United States? I’m not talking about San Diego or even Imperial Beach. I’m talking about those few acres of land that sidle up to Mexico and eventually give way to a bluff, a beach and the Pacific Ocean.

     I saw this place a couple of weeks ago. It’s called Friendship Park, a part of Border Fields State Park. It’s a pleasant grassy area along the coast just south of the Tijuana River Estuary. Along the southern edge of the park there is a fence, and beyond that, Tijuana. It’s the kind of place where you can remain in the United States yet feel like you’re in Mexico.

      In the park, you can walk up to the wire-mesh border fence and talk to people on the other side. On the day I was there a couple of Mormon missionaries in Mexico chatted through the fence with a family of tourists. While the American side is fairly isolated and out-of-the-way, Tijuana’s “Playas” region on the other side bustles with people who’ve come to enjoy the seaside. The city’s bullring looms just a few yards from the border.

     The border fence marches down the bluff, crosses the beach and goes about a hundred yards out to sea. The beach section of fence is a row of rusting metal posts with gaps wide enough for a child to squeeze through. Mexican children tease their parents by squeezing through to the U.S. side, giggling and dancing around before they wriggle back through, as if they want to be able tell their friends they visited America that day. A Border Patrol vehicle sits on top of the bluff, its occupant keeping careful watch on the scene below.

     This place brings to mind the Robert Frost poem, which says there is something that doesn’t love a wall. Yet we Americans are like the farmer in that poem who responds by saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”   

     In fact, if the Border Patrol moves ahead with current plans, there will soon be a triple fence running through Border Field State Park, and chatting through the barrier could become a thing of the past. My advice? Take a trip to the southwestern corner of the U.S. before that happens and take a look around. It might be your last chance to get at least a feeling of what it would be like if San Diego and Tijuana were one city.

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