Inside Border Field State Park you can find the center of the immigration issue. On the American side, each Saturday and Sunday Friendship Park is open to the public from 10am to 2pm.
A gated area heavily monitored by Border Patrol, Friendship Park has a binational garden and thick mesh beyond which you can see Boundary Monument #258 on the Mexican side.
This park is where activist groups come to protest the ever increasing construction of fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border. Border Angels often comes here to bring awareness to the number of immigrants who have died trying to cross to the United States. Protestant Minister John Fanestil provides bi-national religious services on Sundays. Dan Watman has created a binational garden and also hosts events such as binational poetry readings. You can also find out what’s happening at Friendship Park through caring volunteers who run the website FriendshipPark.org.
If there is one important sight to see in all of San Diego County and Tijuana, Boundary Monument #258 on the U.S. and Mexico side should rank #1.
A Brief History of Boundary Monument #258
After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848 to mark the end of the U.S.-Mexican War, both governments assigned a Joint Boundary Commission to survey the new line. By 1851 the Commission placed an obelisk, at first marked #1, which was the only monument made of marble. It overlooked the sea and became an immediate tourist attraction. Purportedly, 100,000 people annually came to see the monument.
Tourists would chip pieces off the monument and take them away as souvenirs. As a consequence, the boundary monument needed to be replaced.
Another Boundary Commission resurveyed the line and replaced the marble obelisk in 1894, which was then renumbered as thelast rather than the first — #258. They also placed a steel picket fence around the monument so that people would not destroy it.
(There are a total of 276 today, stretching from El Paso, Texas to San Diego, CA. The marble obelisk still retains its #258 number and additional markers are designated as A’s and B’s.)
In 1910 Customs officials complained that animals were crossing the boundary line and upsetting farmers, so the federal government erected a three wire fence along the line. Then, in 1929 the United States Navy purchased the land, calling it Border Field Naval Air Station, and the marble obelisk was forgotten. Only service members could enter the area, which was closed to the public.
In the 1960’s the Navy base was deactivated and the land became part of the California State Parks and Recreation Department.
In 1971, First Lady Pat Nixon dedicated Friendship Park inside Border Field. She came over to the three wire fence and was quoted as saying: “I hope this fence won’t be here long.”
The fence, however, remained throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. During that time, people could still swim in the ocean back and forth between the two countries. Many recalled being able to walk along the beach into Mexico to buy shrimp cocktails.
That changed in 1994 when the Clinton Administration launched Operation Gatekeeper. A unilateral American decision, a wall made of military landing mat (some people claim it was material from Vietnam, others say it came from leftover material from WWII) was placed three feet away from the actual boundary line. The landing mat also was built several hundred feet intothe Pacific Ocean. This barred people from swimming or walking back and forth between the line. Border patrol in the area also increased.
Then, after 9/11 more federal legislation allowed for increased security at the border and the creation of a double fence. From 2008 to 2011, construction seemed to be on-going until boundary monument #258 went entirely on the Mexican side and thick mesh went up inside Friendship Park in order to impede drugs and other items from crossing the line. Border Patrol also no longer allowed people to go to the border fence by the ocean. This was particularly hard for families who often came to Friendship Park in order to see one another, embrace, kiss and talk for a few hours.
The American Side
The American side of the fence is a heavily guarded area in a beautiful spot. Here, you can enjoy the pristine sandy beaches, the picnic areas and do some bird watching. It’s best, however, to check the opening times and events at FriendshipPark.org before going, otherwise the gates at the bottom of the hill are likely to be closed.
The Mexican Side
To really visit the boundary monument, it’s best to go to Las Playas on the Mexican side. There, the beach is pleasant with many vendors selling knick-knacks and restaurants overlooking the sea. The fence also has ever changing murals that expresses how our neighbors see the fence. While the boundary wall may have graffiti, the boundary monument remains unchipped and pristine.
Find out how to visit and check out Boundary Monument #255.
Barbara Zaragoza is a freelance writer who covers the South Bay. She recently published a photographic history of San Ysidro and the Tijuana River Valley.