I was recently in Tijuana – el último rincón de la patria ( the last corner of the motherland) – having crossed over on foot from the southern suburbs of San Diego. The San Ysidro border crossing is the most crossed land border in the world. Heading south into Mexico,however, the crossing was swift and painless. A short walk across a pedestrian bridge, a rudimentary check of my passport in a near-empty immigration and customs hall and a friendly wave-through, past alsatians and federal police toting assault weapons. This in contrast to my northward crossing a couple of weeks before when I spent five hours crossing from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua to El Paso, Texas. The thing is, on the basis of my nationality alone, I am afforded free passage to the supposed land of the free, while millions of Mexicans are denied access to land that was once the sovereign territory of Mexico. The influence of cultural and demographic continuity on this prior sovereign territory along with continuous migration cannot be shut off by a fence alone. Nor a wall.
On my second day in Tijuana, I caught a rusty bus from Tijuana´s hectic downtown out to Playas de Tijuana (Tijuana Beaches), truly the last corner of the last corner. As we headed west, the border fence that divides the two nations was visible at several points but it did not prepare me, despite having previously seen photographs, for the starkness of the separation of the two nations where they meet at the Pacific.
Kids and adults alike frolic on the sand and in the shallows of the sea on the Mexican side. On the US side, the miles of beach that I could see were completely empty. The only human I spied was a Border Patrol Agent, leaning up against his vehicle, looking bored.
Something as ruthless as a fence does not recognise or understand the intertwined lives of thousands if not millions of Mexicans who have roots, lives, families and hopeful futures on both sides of the border. The politicians who authorise the building of such fences seem to have approximately the same amount of compassion as the fence itself.
This is where dreams rebound.
I had a conversation with a young Mexican guy who was staring blankly at the fence. He told me he was thinking of how he could get back – he HAD to get back – to his house in Reno, Nevada. His story, of course, is not unique. More Mexicans arrive to Tijuana after being deported from the US than anywhere else in the country. Many arrive to Mexico having spent the majority of their lives in the US, without Mexican documents or the means to obtain them, without access to funds they may have in the US, separated from their families, in some cases even with little or limited Spanish. Essentially, they are foreigners in the land of their birth. Embedded at the end of this post is a short documentary from VICE about the plight of deportees, their lives in Tijuana and their aspirations to return to their homes in el norte.
In spite of all this ,life on the Mexican side of the fence goes on. The mood at the beach on the Saturday afternoon that I was there was jovial and friendly. A lot of great art adds vibrancy and optimism.
Retro TJ. Surfer on the right could almost be the Lizard King, Jim Morrison who frequented the beaches of Baja in the sixties.
We are all migrants.
Rooster on guard.
Irony. The man who dedicated his life to fighting against Apartheid is depicted mere metres from modern-day division.
Where Mexicans gather for fun there is always food and invariably roving vendors to satiate cravings.
TJ latte set.
Rustic burger joint. Gringos eating – I only saw a handful. I didn´t see many more in the downtown on the (in)famous party strip Avendida REvolución.
Crusing on by.
The beauty of the vast Pacific.
The sun departs, rambles off to distant lands. A lone vendor rambles home.
Despite, the sentiment of injustice that invaded me after seeing the fence, all in all it was a great place to spend an afternoon and the killer sunset with a cold XX in the hand amidst friendly Tijuanenses swilling their Tecates will long live on in my consciousness.
All photos copyright – Peter W Davies (Please do not use without permission)
Here is the documentary I referred to earlier in the post and further below a link to an interesting article by Australian writer Ben Stubbs about the issue of immigration between Mexico and the US.