Music was in the air as people congregated on both sides of the U.S. – Mexico border to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Friendship Park.
On one side, the Foo Fighters, AC/DC and the Eagles blared in full surround sound. On the other, Son Jaracho music played with acoustic emotionality.
But something was turned around.
It was Tijuana residents singing Highway to Hell while San Diegans swayed to the traditional music style of Veracruz.
“See, this wall means nothing,” said Andrew Motiwalla, holding the hands of his two young daughters. “Nirvana goes that way just as easy as tacos al pastor come this way.”
A portion of Border Field State Park was established Aug. 18, 1971 by former First Lady Pat Nixon, Friendship Park is within Border Field and has been a place to share much more than music for decades.
The event also hosted salsa dancing and a moment of silence for the thousands of migrants who have died while crossing the border. To reawaken the spirit of Nixon’s words, a tree she planted four decades ago was planted again by Henry Sanchez Pardo, a man who is walking from Argentina to Alaska planting trees along the way.
“We used to have families on both sides of the border eating and talking together,” said Congressman Bob Filner. “They didn’t try to cross illegally. They were here to talk to each other - to visit.”
Much of that interaction came to an end when the Department of Homeland Security began construction of a border wall in 2009. The newest metal fence - one of three cleaving the binational space - puts more stringent restrictions put into effect and inhibits individuals from accessing each other.
In poetic juxtaposition, the U.S. side was adorned with sunflowers and a black and white picture of Nixon reaching across the once diminutive barbed wire fence to touch the hands of those across the border line.
During the ceremony Nixon said she believes there is no need for a fence that “separates the people of two such friendly nations.”
“It feels like a war zone now and it looks like one,” said Christine Moore, a Tijuana resident and San Diego professor. “I haven’t been here for about a year and when I drove in I was appalled. I was disgusted. Families can’t get together anymore now.”
Congressman Filner and members of the public joined Friends of Friendship Park in calling for the reestablishment of the space as a place for meeting and greeting in the northwestern corner of Mexico and the very southwestern corner of the continental United States.
Tijuana City Councilwoman Maria Luisa Sanchez and dozens of others on the other side of the fence joined in the call.
“This is the one place you can come and have a picnic together down on the beach,” said Jamie Gates, a steering committee member with Friends of Friendship Park and professor at Point Loma Nazarene University.
“You can sit and share stories in the park. And now that’s been taken away just in the last couple of years. I just don’t think we’re that kind of people. I don’t think we’re that stingy. I don’t think we’re that unfriendly. Symbolically, it’s a big black eye for the region.”
During a rather unorthodox interview, Filner spoke to Mexican journalists through corrugated steel about his vision for a fenceless border. After 2012 elections are held, the 51st Congressional District will span from Imperial Beach to the Arizona border and represent all California border towns.
“We are never going to solve any problems between our two nations unless we start doing it in a friendly and respectful way,” he said. “This wall says that we are trying to block each other instead of work with each other. Its time to take down these walls.”
Motiwalla’s brought his three and five-year-old daughters to the park so they would know their family’s history.
“The idea of a border is kind of artificial for our family,” he said. “We have family on that side of the border and this side of the border.
Fortunately our family can cross because of our American passports – but for us, Latina America and North America – it's fluid.”
While he sees the wall as “inhumane” he sees the injustice as an opportunity to bring attention to a major issue.
“This has really raised a lot of attention and put a spotlight on this issue,” said Motiwalla. “It gives us something to rally around.”
Moore, who moved to Tijuana after falling in love with the culture, said the immigration issue became personal when a star student of hers was deported. After residing in the country since she was two, she was kicked out of the country with only a handful of classes left before she was to transfer.
“She had no idea she didn’t belong," Moore said. “She was American.”
Morones along with Friends of Friendship Park have submitted a proposed design to Border Patrol that would allow families and friends to once again have access to one another along the border. The proposed design is still under review.
“Fences make good neighbors. Walls aren’t what we want,” said Gates. “It really is that simple.”
“Build friendships, not fences,” he said.