Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Communion through the border wall at Friendship Park

By Jason Evans

Every Sunday afternoon, I head down I-5 towards the San Ysidro border crossing. I get off the freeway and head towards Border Field State Park. Within the park, at the most southwest point of San Diego county is Friendship Park, a monument to the friendly relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. When I come up to the monument I am met by familiar faces on both sides of the fence. Mexican men, deported from the U.S., women selling their handmade goods, and families separated from each other by the border, using this unique space as a place to meet, squeezing their fingers through the fence to touch each other; wipe away tears from each others faces. And there are clergy and activists too. We are gathered to celebrate communion. We are gathered to celebrate our unity through the work of Jesus Christ that surpasses fences and walls built by the State.

The Department of Homeland Security has elected to build a new border fence that will run through this special place. 35 laws and regulations have been waived in order to do this. Millions of dollars will go into this project. Several months ago, I went to the meeting with the Army Corps. of Engineers to see how San Diego contractors could get a piece of this work. I may disagree with most of the contractors present on this fence, but they aren’t dumb. Everyone quickly realized that the meeting was a simply a “dog and pony show.” There wasn’t any real work for San Diego contractors. No significant amount of that large amount of money was going back into our economy.

So, as I walk towards that fence every week, looking to the east and seeing the new fence encroaching on this peacable place, I am aware of the undemocratic manner in which it has been erected. I am aware of how unhelpful this is to our local economy. I am aware of the irreprable ecological damage it reeks on God’s creation in this place. I am aware that it will give coyote’s reason to raise prices for human smuggling, making a violent, inhumane industry even more so. I am aware that this means even more people will die in the eastern rural segment of our county, trying to cross in areas manned by fewer Border Patrol agents. I am saddened by this but I feel that our symbolic work every Sunday helps us imagine another world, a world that we continue to work towards establishing even in the face of this large challenge.

During winter months, the park is closed to vehicles. The roads often flood. Instead, my colleagues and I park outside the park gate and hike through the sticky mud, down to the beach and then south towards the monument. Altogether about a mile and a half walk in sand and mud. Not a big ordeal when considering the celebratory moment we are about to participate in. The Friendship Park monument segment in Mexico is part of urban Tijuana. People easily walk up to the Mexican side to meet us, eating cob corn on a stick as they meet with their loved one’s that have not been deported.

A plastic mesh fence was put around the monument the week before Christmas this year. The park was still open to pedestrians and no one has prohibited us from serving communion. So, this week we continued with our usual plan. We turned off the muddy horse path and on to the beach beginning our southward walk. About halfway from the horse path to the monument we were met by two Border Patrol jeeps. We were told that we would be given a citation by State Parks if we went any further. We asked why this wasn’t on their website. The agent did not have a helpful response. This was also curious as the Department of Homeland Security has declared this federal property. Why would the Parks give us a citation and not Border Patrol? We told the young agent that we had people waiting for us at the fence. We needed to get there. He told us he would have to “intervene” if we did that. He would not clarify what this meant. We asked to speak to a supervisor.

About this time, a Border Patrol helicopter flew over us a couple times. A curious show of force. A photo journalist from the LA Times was with us this Sunday. He decided to risk driving up to the monument and was stopped by the State Parks and cited. About the time that it was realized that he was a photo journalist, we were told we could approach the fence near the ocean to do communion, and the “man from the LA Times” would be driven out to meet us if we agreed to stay away from the monument. It seemed clear that they were willing to compromise with us as long as it didn’t mean a scene would be made for the photo journalist to report.

Communion was beautiful this week. It was cold enough to keep the orders of rotting fish, trash and kelp at our feet at bay. At the water, the fence has wider openings. The chalice was able to fit through the fence so that people did not have to squeeze their small bit of tortilla through the opening. I was able to fully grasp my friend Martin’s hand as we prayed. An honor to do with a man who–along with his family–has been through so much. The initial behavior of the Border Patrol ignited a fervor in my fellow clergy, Rev. John Fanestil who brought tears to eyes during his introduction to communion, smoothly moving between Spanish and English.

After saying goodbye to our friends, cleaning up and getting ready to start our walk back, we noticed a couple that had met us at the fence from the San Diego side walking back north. Around 10 people had started the walk back before them, several yards north of them. Two Border Patrol jeeps stormed down the beach cutting off these 2 specific pedestrians. The couple and their young son were brown-skinned Hispanic Americans. No one else had been stopped who had begun walking home. None of the rest of us were brown-skinned as they were… But the Border Patrol will say they do not conduct racial profiling.

It has become even more important for the tight-lipped posture of the agencies in charge of this project and area to be more transparent. At a minimum, it seems realistic to ask for plans for the park to be made public. To date, their has been nearly zero consistency between information released by State Parks and Border Patrol. It’s disconcerting and unlike the democratic society this country claims to be to not involve the public and it’s elected officials in the process of something that so drastically impacts part of the place we call home. We are a long way from Washington D.C. We should be allowed to have a voice in this project.

Even more deeply important to me, is that as a follower of the Great Liberator, Jesus Christ, I do not feel I can stand idly by while powers do not listen to their people, act inhumanely to people based on the color of their skin or place of origin, recklessly destroy God’s creation and line the pockets of corporations who have no intent on benefiting the people who live in the region effected by their work–further gouging the divide between the have’s and have-not’s in a variety of ways. Last night, I asked my faith community to pray for discernment, courage and wisdom as I work with my colleagues in determining how we will continue to respond to this situation. I ask those of you that pray to do the same. I also invite those physically able to join me next Sunday for communion at the border. It is uncertain how much longer we will be able to do this. You may even want to spend the day in Tijuana and meet us on Mexican side. We meet at the fence on Sundays at 3:00 p.m. It would be really great to see a large turn out. It would make a great statement to the people and powers of Tijuana and San Diego. Feel free to contact us for information.

Jason Evans is a co-founder of the Ecclesia Collective and a member of the Hawthorn House.

His essay was originally posted at the Ecclesia Collective's website: http://ecclesiacollective.org/borderland/continued-border-activity

To see the results from the LA Times photojournalist who accompanied him, go to:


johnknoefler said...

I am very glad security has improved with the added fence. I am also glad that the area is no longer used as a meeting place for deportees. I enjoy walking and running in the park and am very very glad that the Border Patrol is there. I get stopped by Border Patrol at least once on every visit and sometimes more. At least they are checking and doing thier job. Friendship park is over as so many Mexicans have abused "friendshp" between our two nations. I feel that the person who made this website is a shame to the one he calls Jesus. Most especially since he has been less than honest.

Anonymous said...

the person who wrote the comment about this fence being a good idea because mexicans have abused about the word friendship is just racist if it wasnt for mexicans who knows what the u.s. would be like, becuase mexicans are very extremely helpful and they only come to have better lifes not to kill or not to commit crimes! so get a life and worry about other serious issues...

Anonymous said...

the person who wrote the comment about this fence being a good idea because mexicans have abused about the word friendship is just racist if it wasnt for mexicans who knows what the u.s. would be like, becuase mexicans are very extremely helpful and they only come to have better lifes not to kill or not to commit crimes! so get a life and worry about other serious issues...