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It’s been a busy time for Friendship Park, the meeting point between San Diego and Tijuana at Border Field State Park. Families gathered there on both sides of the border for Día del Niño and Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day is one of the biggest spending days of the year in the United States, injecting billions into the economy. The days leading up to it are filled with exhortations to cherish and spend time with your mother if you can, and ads pepper television and social media showing happy children with their families. It’s the same drill every year.
But what if you can’t spend time with your mother because one of you has been deported?
Friendship Park, the meeting point between San Diego and Tijuana at Border Field State Park, is one place that parents and children can meet, if only for a few moments, to touch fingertips and speak to one another face to face. It is the only place along the border that holds organized meet-ups of this kind.
On May 8, the day Mother’s Day is observed in the U.S. (Mexico’s Día de las Madres is May 10), Friendship Park held its annual binational gathering to observe the day, replete with cake and food on the Tijuana side and mariachi musicians playing across both sides of the border barriers. Men and women wiped away tears as they turned away from the bars, their visits with family over for the day.
“I’m celebrating today because my children are in the United States,” said Yolanda Varona Palacios with DREAMers Moms, a nonprofit group for undocumented parents who have been deported, leaving their U.S. citizen children behind. “I’m a deported mom. I lived 17 years in San Diego, and now I’ve lived five years in Tijuana. It’s a sad day for me, because I can’t hug or celebrate with my kids.”
The border here was once marked simply by a barbed wire fence and an obelisk denoting the edges of Mexico and the United States next to the Pacific Ocean, but it’s now dominated by two huge fences: one built in 1994 during Operation Gatekeeper, and a secondary reinforcement wall built in 2009, topped with razor wire and embedded with motion sensors and cameras that look south into Mexico and west toward the ocean, where the wall ends.
In 2009, the bars of the first fence — which are about six inches apart — were covered with chicken wire. Now people can still meet at Friendship Park on Sundays, when the secondary wall’s gate is opened, but only under supervision from Border Patrol agents. They can just barely touch through the chicken wire, pressing fingertips together with what park regulars call “pinky kisses.”
It’s been an especially busy time for the park, which regularly holds cross-border events.
Mexico celebrated its Día del Niño, or Children’s Day, the week before. It’s an especially noteworthy celebration: Border Patrol opens a rusty “emergency gate” in the wall so that a few selected families, carefully checked and vetted, can meet in the doorway to hold loved ones who they haven’t seen in person for years, or sometimes, decades. They get three minutes, no more, no less.
“The relationship we’ve developed [with Border Patrol] has been very helpful,” said Enrique Morones, founder and director of Border Angels, which created the event in 2013 and now works with the Border Patrol to organize it every year. “We hope that we can continue to do this on a regular basis.”
Gabriela Esparza, 23, was one of the people selected to able to hug her mother and her sister for the first time in nine years. The Poway resident regularly visits with her family through the bars of the border wall, but beyond “pinky kisses,” has never been able to touch them.
“It was an amazing feeling,” she said, holding her 2-year-old son, Leonel. “I feel really, really happy right now. We’re hoping that they do it again next year.”
Border Patrol says events such as Children’s Day would be impossible to do more regularly because of the amount of manpower involved, but activists and families say they will continue to work toward a compromise.
Farmworkers of San Quintín, Mexico, who have been agitating for more than a year for better pay and labor conditions, are calling for a global boycott on Driscoll’s products. The laborers pick an enormous amount of the world’s strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes, often working 12- to 14-hour days with no paid days off, but make the equivalent of $7 to $10 a day. Sexual assault and violence is also common in the fields, says Gloria Gracida, a former picker turned professor and activist who appeared in San Diego last weekend to lead demonstrations at Whole Foods and Costco:
Farm laborers (or jornaleros) hope to use a widespread consumer boycott to pressure Driscoll’s (the largest berry supplier in the world, and which contracts with several berry suppliers throughout Mexico) to ensure better working conditions for pickers. (Democracy Now)
May 1 (May Day, or International Workers Day) was rife with protests in Baja California. In Tijuana, a caravan of thousands of taxi and bus drivers arrived to protest a new mass transit system there called Sistema Integral de Transporte Tijuana, or SITT. Critics say Tijuana’s new public transit system is costly and inefficient, but supporters say the city needs revamped and updated public transportation.
Meanwhile, teachers and students from the National Education Workers Union and the State Resistance Movement marched in Tijuana to demand back pay, and for education policy reform.
In Mexicali, Baja California Gov. Kiko Vega and Mayor Jorge Astiarzan Orci each failed to show up for the city’s annual May Day parade as people there demanded an end to human rights violations, forced disappearances, femicides and labor violations. (Frontera NorteSur; El Mexicano, link in Spanish)
• An outcry over Tijuana medical student Eneyda Ramos’s murder by her ex-boyfriend has highlighted the issue of femicide — specifically targeting women because of their sex — in Baja California. The crime has since been reclassified as a homicide. (San Diego Union-Tribune; SDPNoticias.com, link in Spanish)
• Border Patrol has killed more than 40 Mexican nationals since 2010 by shooting from the United States side of the border. In more than half the cases, agents told investigators that they were defending themselves. “Any person can be shot and killed by the Border Patrol, and we can’t expect justice,” said Richard Boren, founder of Red de Familias de la Patrulla Fronteriza, or Network of Victims of the Border Patrol. (Zeta Tijuana, link in Spanish)
• Meet the California Latinos who help run one of Mexico’s largest mosques: Masjid Omar in Playas, Tijuana. (Fusion)
I reported on the growing number of Muslim converts in Mexico for Fronteras Desk a few years ago, focusing on Masjid al-Islam, just down the street from Omar Mosque.
• Notorious cartel boss “El Chapo” has been moved to a new prison, this one in Ciudad Juárez, just over the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. (The Atlantic)