Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Friendship Park: A Place of Communion or a Zone of Enforcement?

By John Fanestil

We arrived Sunday as planned at 2:30 pm at the entrance to Border Field State Park . We hiked out the horse trail as we did last week and headed south on the beach. It was a stunningly beautiful day – the hike is about a mile and a half.

No two days are alike at Friendship Park , and two things stood out. First, there were a lot of people at the park – far more than usual for a winter weekend. Clearly, the word was out about this past Tuesday’s meeting – the one at which Customs and Border Patrol announced that the designs for Friendship Park had been finalized and that these designs would allow no public access of any kind to either Monument Mesa or to the border wall on the beach.

Second, the tide was extraordinarily low, and from a distance we could see that hundreds of people had gathered on the beach at Playas de Tijuana. Of these at least a hundred were standing down by the water’s edge, beyond the reach of the border wall (see photo).

As we approached, a Border Patrol officer checked in with us. It was clear that he had been briefed about our presence and was courteous and professional. He asked that we gather at the fence on the beach, but not congregate with the crowds down at the water’s edge as that would make it difficult for them to monitor border crossings. We sent some of our group ahead to talk with the folks on the beach, not wanting our celebration of communion to be confused for an event that invited crossings.

We also told the agent that we intended to serve communion on Monument Mesa, and this clearly surprised him. The mesa was closed, he told us, because it was a construction zone and was unsafe. We told him we were aware of this and that we intended to go to the top of the mesa anyway, as our people had been gathering there for years, in fact for generations. He told us that he would have to check in with his supervisor about this and we agreed that this would be good for him to do. We kept walking.

After waiting a while for the supervisor to weigh in, we decided to begin our celebrations on the beach. Many hundreds of people gathered on the Tijuana side of the fence. I shared with the crowd my belief that what is happening at Friendship Park is of historic proportions. Just as in 1849 the members of the first US-Mexico boundary commission gathered at this site to create the border out of nothing, we are once again at this location trying to decide exactly what the border will be.

At present the US Government is trying to impose a vision of the border that is characterized by fear and hostility and mistrust. They envision a “zone of enforcement” that will run the entire length of the border, and to which no one will be allowed access, from either the south or the north. This is why they have chosen to declare that all public access at Friendship Park will soon be eliminated – because they are trying to set a precedent that they hope someday to enforce along the entire length of the border.

We, by contrast, had gathered to celebrate a different vision of the future. We had gathered to celebrate the border we have come to know and love – a place of profound human encounter, a place of friendship, a place of communion.

After consecrating the elements and serving the crowd on both sides of the wall, a small number of us prepared to climb the slope of Monument Mesa. We had been warned that we would be cited for trespassing by officers from CA Fish & Wildlife, but we had prepared for there to be some consequence and we were committed to make it to the monument. We climbed up on to the mesa, stepped over the plastic meshing that now surrounds the plaza, and began to prepare to share communion. Another Border Patrol agent approached us, told us the Mesa was closed, again citing reasons of safety in a construction zone as the reason for its closure. We told him we understood that, but that we were going to stay and serve communion. He returned to his vehicle, and we shared communion with a small group of people who greeted us on the Mexican side of the monument.

When we returned to the beach below, one of our friends told us he heard a Border Patrol agent call in on his radio, “There are about eight of them (who went up on to Monument Mesa) and I’m not going to detain anybody with all these cameras around.”

We look forward to celebrating communion at Friendship Park next Sunday, January 18. We will meet at the entrance to the park at 2:30 p.m.

John Fanestil is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Change.

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