Friendship Park, tucked away at the most southwestern point of the United States, is a place of mixed feelings. The beach on which it is situated is one of great natural beauty, bisected by the border fence. It is a place for people to meet and speak with loved ones through the international border, but it’s also a place that they are reminded that they cannot touch, except for the very tips of their fingers pressed through densely woven wire — a necessary addition to what once was just widely spaced slats, say border agents, so that people can’t pass drugs back and forth.
“Aquí es donde rebotan los sueños” is scrawled on a slat on the other side, the Playas side, facing north: “Here is where dreams are bounced back.” The other side — the Imperial Beach side — is free from graffiti, slung with lights and observation towers and studded with Border Patrol agents above the estuary and the park.
To go to Friendship Park on a Sunday, during the few hours each week that it’s open and people are permitted to go to the fence on the U.S. side, is to see laughter and tears, as families meet, press fingertips, trade updates and enjoy being almost face-to-face. Invariably, someone will remark on the way it was in 1971, when the border wall was just a few strings of barbed wire, and the park was officially inaugurated by then-First Lady Pat Nixon.
“I hope there won’t be a fence here too long,” she said at the time.
Nixon’s famous visit, in which she dedicated the park, took place 45 years ago this week. An anniversary celebration is scheduled at Friendship Park this Saturday at noon.
In 2009, thanks to the Secure Fence Act, Friendship Park was shut down and triple-reinforced. Activists pushed — successfully — to reopen the park in 2012. The slats replaced the barbed wire. A secondary gate blocked access to the wall itself. Border agents patrolled the area, keeping people from going straight up to the fence itself.
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Any families can re-unite and hug themselves silly; all in Tijuana or the USA. Oh wait, some people won't go into Mexico because they likely can't return to the USA because they are illegal aliens? No problem even then; since they love their families so much, they can move permanently to Mexico and have a blissful life where they need not fear deportation and can happily live with their families.
One of the most compete reports on friendship park I've seen. I'm left wondering, though, of the balance between our humanitarian needs vs our national security.