Making new meanings and memories through friendship
By Jill Holslin / Friends of Friendship Park
It has been a busy year for Friendship Park, the little park south of Imperial Beach where you can go to visit with people on the other side of the border wall in Tijuana. Friends of Friendship Park has continued with our mission this year: to maintain public access to the park on the border where friendships can blossom and families separated by deportation, by mixed immigration status, and by the injustice of border militarization can come together and maintain family bonds.
I frequently talk to people who look at the big border wall and ask, “But didn’t they close down that park?”
The good news is, the park is open! Back in 2012, after quite a few years of border wall construction, Friends of Friendship Park celebrated a “grand opening” of the Park. And since then, the park has been open every Saturday and Sunday from 10-2 pm. This year, with regular hours posted and a commitment from Border Patrol for staffing the gate, dozens of people come to the park every week to visit.
A variety of new initiatives were launched this year to serve families and friends who come to the park. “The Polaroid Project” was started by América Martinez, of Si Se Puede. Combining video and audio recordings, América documents visitors experiences at Friendship Park, leaving families with a Polaroid photo of their family visit. Every week, families from all over Mexico have come to see loved ones who they haven’t seen in 10-15 sometimes 20 years. Families from Sonora, from Zacatecas, from Puebla have made the long journey, waiting anxiously for their family members from San Diego, Riverside, Orange County, and even as far as Sacramento and Phoenix, to join them at the park. The recordings can be intense and emotional, as speakers break down in tears describing the joy and relief of seeing their mother, their brother, their grandparents for the first time in years.
Friends of Friendship Park started a blog this year to feature these stories of families and friendship. Under the leadership of Emily Packer, a film student from Hampshire College who was here in San Diego for a six-months to make a film about the park, El Parque de la Amistad features stories and photographs of our adventures in the Binational Garden, and of the experiences of happy families meeting up at the park. You can read more here: https://elparquedeamistad.wordpress.com/
In addition, a new short film will be appearing soon about Friendship Park, called “La Tierra Chingada” by Emily Packer. The experimental film engages with the female archetypes Tonantzin, La Llorona and La Malinche, and explores the breaks and ruptures produced by the border walls and our obliviousness to this pain and anguish.
Emily arrived in San Diego in January 2015, and spent six months filming at Friendship Park, in Barrio Logan and near the border crossing in San Ysidro. She joined the leadership group of Friends of Friendship Park and developed a Kickstarter Campaign to raise money for whisper dishes and benches to put in the park.
The big news this year for Friendship Park was a $5.9 million dollar settlement from the federal government that will be used to fix the road. This year, Monument Road and Border Field State Park were flooded and Border Field State Parks managers kept the vehicle gate closed almost every weekend. Instead of driving, people had to walk a mile and half to get to Friendship Park. When it’s family, you will make the sacrifice and so, on the road through Border Field State Park, we saw dads carrying toddlers on their backs, elderly people in wheelchairs, and one week a woman walking on crutches, struggling to make their way down to the high mesa where Friendship Park overlooks the ocean. The deplorable condition of this access road threatens the very mission of Border Field State Park to provide a recreation area for the public. The road construction now will progress over the next five years.
The growing Binational Friendship Garden of native plants continues to draw volunteers and visitors, led by coalition member Dan Watman of Border Encuentro. The garden design situates the border wall as the central axis of three themed circles of plants, while a pathway called the “White Sage River” crosses through each circle and moves back and forth across the borderline, symbolizing the course of the Tijuana River. This year, the garden volunteers networked with other Tijuana River Valley organizations Wildcoast, Surfrider Foundation, Tijuana Calidad de Vida, Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Binacional and others to bring together people from Mexico and the U.S. and educate visitors about native plants in the microhabitat of the Tijuana River Watershed. The groups together have worked on invasive plant removal and restoration of natives. This fall, Watman has started a food garden project on the Tijuana side of the park to help homeless migrants who live in the canyon nearby.
Another binational community, The Border Church/Iglesia del Faro has developed out of Rev. Fanestil’s Sunday communion services. The weekly binational service is celebrated at 1:00 pm on Sundays, and is co-lead by Rev. John Fanestil and Bishop Dermot Rodgers. The services have brought together celebrants on both sides of the border wall. This year the Deported Veterans group of Tijuana and the Dreamer Moms have joined together each week at these gatherings to build solidarity and raise awareness of the plight of separated families.
This year, we all felt frustration with border patrol who has constantly made new rules and restrictions, but at the end of the day, we are reminded that space and place–like neighborhoods–are often contested terrains. The meanings and histories of any place are generated through conflicts and consensus among its users. The act of creating and maintaining places is dynamic cultural work involving many stakeholders with often conflicting interests and investments.
The park, and the wall itself, are beginning to draw people together in an effort to forge new relationships: families reuniting at the wall, artists painting messages of protest, tourists snapping photos at the famous boundary monument where Mexico and the United States pledged themselves to a bond of friendship, musical groups hosting binational performances–all are beginning to compete with border security proponents to define the meaning of the space.
As the children write messages on the rocks in the Wish Garden, their smiles and laughter invest the space with a spirit and memory that will long outlive the walls that are supposed to divide us.
About us: The Friends of Friendship Park are members of the community working to create a future in which the public will have unrestricted access to this historic meeting place, for many families who depend on the Park to be able to see their families and friends, and because they see in Friendship Park the possibility of a better future for the peoples of both Mexico and the United States.