Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A photo essay on the border.

(My partner teacher and I are doing a project with our students called The Walls that Surround Us. We are looking at international borders/ walls, doing a case study on the local US/ Mexico border/ wall, and finally, looking at invisible walls that divide people in our society. As a part of our case study, we took a field trip to the US/ Mexico border.)
As our big yellow school bus approached the border, it was cold and misty, with clouds encroaching in upon us. The border left us feeling the same way as the weather- both had an ominous presence as we exited the bus and waited.
Our tour guide is an activist who works to build cross-border connections, hoping that people on each side of the border will see common humanity in one another. He began to point out that there were two walls and a fence dividing the United States from Mexico; the federal government has been putting a lot of money into building up the border in the past ten years. He spoke of how the increase in the amount of money spent on border enforcement correlates to an increase in deaths of people trying to cross the border. As he was telling us this, Border Patrol drove up to meet us. They let us touch the wall and peer through it. All we could see through the fence was another wall. 
Our next stop was Smuggler’s Gulch, which was given its name during the Prohibition Era, due to the alcohol that was smuggled into the U.S. on this road.
There was growth and beauty at the border, despite it's seemingly destitute ambiance.
Like this picture shows, many people just want paz (peace) at the border instead of separation and death.
The grand finale was Friendship Park, which was established in 1971. It has been a place where people from the United States and Mexico could reunite even though they there was a fence separating them. They could speak through the fence, eat a picnic together, or even embrace each other. Since the second wall has been built in the last couple years, creating a gap that makes it impossible to see let alone communicate with people on the other side of the fence, the park seems less friendly.
The walk to get there was a couple miles along an ecological preserve and the ocean. As we approached Friendship Park, Border Patrol stopped us, telling us that we wouldn’t be able to go into the park, despite our tour guide having spoken to Border Patrol and California State Parks ahead of time. We stood at the bottom of the hill looking up to where we were supposed to be, waiting for permission to walk about 100 more feet. 
We could see that construction was going on; they were working on rebuilding the stretch of fence that went into the ocean. It was the third time in the past ten years they have had to rebuild that part. Not surprisingly, sand isn’t conducive to building border fences. 
Finally after thirty minutes, they let us walk the extra 100 feet and we found ourselves in Friendship Park, looking through two walls to see people on the Mexican side of the border. We waved to each other from afar. The air was heavy, as was my heart. I contemplated how the only thing that really separates me from many people on the other side is the location we were born- one of us in a place with more economic opportunity and the other with less. As a symbol of this division there were two walls dividing us, making it impossible to interact or even make out the faces of those on the other side. 
Earlier in the week, before our field trip, Enrique Morones, who started an organization called Border Angels, came to speak to us. He told us that since 1994, when Operation Gatekeeper was passed and more federal money went into building walls, approximately 10,000 people died trying to cross the border. Some people consider this a human rights issue in our own backyard. Many people immigrate due to economic desperation or to reunite with their families. His organization's goal is to reduce the number of deaths at the border.

As he spoke to my students, he told the story of how he saved two men who were walking through the desert. One of the men had been living in Los Angeles for years, but had to go back to Mexico to bury his mother. He was now on his way back to L.A. to reunite with his family. The grieving man was carrying another man, suffering from dehydration, on his back. Enrique gave them water, and ultimately, saved their lives that day. Enrique works hard to make change in this issue, organizing marches and even meeting with President Obama to encourage him to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He said that people often ask him if he thinks he is actually making a difference, and he always goes back to the story of those two men. As he told my class, though it may seem difficult to make large-scale change, he knows that, on that day, he made a difference to those two men. In fact, the men told him so when they called him two weeks later to say thank you. Enrique went on to tell my class how it is possible to make a small difference that can have a wider-reaching impact, and I hope that in my own small way, I am making an impact by encouraging my students to seek social justice with learning experiences like these.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry to see how friendship park has changed. What a loss.