Tijuana is a complicated city. That I know.
A young city. A difficult city. A beautiful city. A border city.
A city where people travel up from the rest of the continent and other contients to try and cross an arbitrary line in the ground.
Throughout the week Hebert who works for the Tijuana City Cultural Council and is also a director / writer takes us to our appointments and to show us different aspects of the area. He is hugely generous with his time and talks with tenderness about his city. On Monday he says a very interesting thing about Tijuana – although it is a melting pot of people there is very little (if any) conflict between these different nationalities. He says despite its troubles Tijuana is city that is defined by friendships – building bridges… not walls – you could say. There are indeed, lots of walls in Tijuana – metaphorical and physical, though it is best known for the a physical one. At times it is a surprisingly crude iron fence and other times 20feet tall. It cuts a line down the city separating land and lives.
On the left – America, with a nature reserve running for miles. On the right – Mexico, built-up and bursting.
An on-going joke in the car?
‘Is that THE wall?’
‘No, that’s just a random wall’
‘Is that the wall…?’
‘No, it’s just a regular wall’
‘Is that the…’
‘Yes, that’s the wall’
We drive to where the wall meets the ocean. It’s horrible. It looks – as it is – entirely unnatural.
The wall is stuck deep into the bedrock and I am surprised at how little of it there is jetting out into the water. But apparently the swells of the water caused by this moment to separation makes a current that drags people under the water. It’s deadly.
There is graffiti and art all along it.
In parts there are white crosses put up by those who have lost someone in their attempt to reach the United States. These white crosses go on for miles.
You can watch the border patrol through the bars.
In the part we look at there is the ‘door of hope’ which is opened for 3 minutes, twice a year – once on Mothers Day and another on Childrens Day. It is a chance for seperated families to see each other. A pin prick of compassion considering it is a lottery about who exactly gets to be reunited. Apparently sometimes people travel for hours to try to embrace their family only to find they haven’t been ‘selected’ to be reunited. Which frankly, is so heartbreaking I am not going to say any more.
If you ask me, the wall is not Tijuana – it’s America and her big dirty hands pushing back and saying, no. A simple structure dividing a complicated continent.
You cannot help but think of those people so desperate to reach a better life that they are willing to put their lives in danger over and over and over again because few people suceed in their first time to cross the border. People who climb this metalic fences running from the bright lights of border control or pay a years worth of salary to a Cartel (gang) so they can walk in a hidden underground tunnel for 3 days solid with rats and no daylight or trudge for a month in the desert under the blistering sun with the distinct possibility of death. Unimaginable and for now, I am choosing not to imagine it.
Ximena says to me – you will go back the UK a different Stef after your time in Mexico.
And I think she is right.