Monday, November 22, 2010

To the end of the world and back

Sorry for the overly dramatic title. What I meant to say was that I took drove about 650 miles to the Mexican border over the Veteran's day weekend to see what the San Diego-Tijuana border was like. I've heard tales the death monuments dedicated to those who tried (unsuccessfully) to transverse the border illegally to the States, and the brutality that followed upon their discovery. I had wanted to somehow actualize these tales, attribute a picture to the memory, at least have a scene in my head to mentally reconstruct the scenarios. And so I drove to the Californian border.

Physically the landscape isn't much to brag about. It's an arid, dusty wasteland. The only sign of civilization in sight was the San Diego sewage treatment plant. On the other side, was the continuation of the interstate freeway 5, albeit the billboards were now in Spanish instead. But as I followed the highway back to its source my eyes came to rest upon the image of Tijuana. The stark contrast to the Californian desert was staggering..

Tijuana was built up to the physical border itself and densely populated, yet missing corporate the skyscrapers of the typical metropolis cities I've known. In the area nearest to the border were box like apartments stack two levels high, much like a shantytown, but is more likely a regular residential district. I was not sure if there was actually a centralized notion of city planning or the like, but many buildings in the city seemed poorly-maintained, even at this distance and I felt struck at the difference between the standards of living between what I've seen in East LA, another Chicano community, and over there. I've come to realize that the availability of economic opportunities is partly what drives Mexican immigration and accounts largely for the 250 (plus 500 illegal) million border crossings per year but now I could finally see why.

And sad to say I had the scene to to reconstruct images of brutality over a failed illegal border crossing I mentioned earlier.

This is the second layer of border fences. The first
layer was a simple barbed wire fencing which I found a missing section to drive through (at this point I was already in the "no-man's land" and was accosted by the Border Patrol once, but that's for later).

The fence was electrified with warning signs for not touching the fence or attempting to drag anything (anyone) through it, in event of a shock. The top of the fence was bent at an angle facing Tijuana, clearly demonstrating that the fence was to keep "them" out, rather than "us" in. Was the construction of this fence really necessary to protect the American national interest I cannot say. The only realization that resonated in my heart was that we, as fellow human beings are holding out one to raise another. And going to this extent too.

Needless to say, I was accosted, for the second time by another Border Patrol - visibly less tolerant and more curt than the first. Telling him I was from Berkeley doing some research on Chicana studies did not get me very far, and this one refused a handshake and introductions - just cut to the chase and asked if I was going to be here the entire day. It dawned upon that I looked really like a coyote driving up and down the patrol searching for someone to pick up and ferry to safety so I took my cue, apologized for the inconvenience I've caused, and left, still feeling the prick of his disposition in my heart.

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