Friends of Friendship Park Present Design Celebrating International Goodwill
February 18, 2011
Group offers an alternative to Border Patrol Plan
By Vivian Marlene Dunbar
Marina Vista Community Center in Imperial Beach hosted the unveiling of two very different plans for the renovation of Friendship Park. On the front lawn of the community center, Friendship Park Friends met with the press to unveil their plan for the park. Inside the center, US Border Patrol agents and officials presented a large colorful display of their plans.
Friendship Park is a little space of land that sits on the boundary of the United States and Mexico. It is next to the Pacific Ocean, by the US Border Field State Park and the little town of Playas Tijuana. In 1848 a monument was erected at this location commemorating the first meeting of the US-Mexican Boundary Commission. In 1971 the First Lady, Pat Nixon, officially dedicated the park as a symbol of bi-national friendship. Since that time, thousands of people have met at this border fence.
Families working in the United States were able to walk up to the fence and meet with relatives and loved ones who remained in Mexico. They could hold hands, touch, and talk to each other. Families, who would not otherwise have a chance to see each other in person, could come to Friendship Park and celebrate birthdays, posadas and traditional Mexican events.
In October, of 2009, the United States Border Patrol created a new ground plan for the park, erecting a very large fence, severely limiting public access to the park. People could no longer meet, hold hands, and talk. Visits were limited to 30 minutes. The new fence and surrounding enclosures were oppressive and forbidding, suggesting a visit to someone in jail, rather than a family reunion in a peaceful park-like setting.
Now the US Border Patrol is presenting a new plan for the area. Greg Gephart, CBP Program Manager for Tactical Infrastructure, told La Prensa that the new fence would have small openings, big enough to see through, but not big enough to reach through and touch or hold hands. The section of fence descending to the Pacific Ocean would also be replaced.
Friends of Friendship Park do not feel that this new design is appropriate for the park. Most of the restrictions imposed in 2009 would still remain in place.
Border Agent Steven Pitts said that public safety; preventing illegal entry and securing the border were the primary concerns. Pitts added that there were other security issues, such as people jumping the fence and throwing rocks.
San Diego architect Jim Brown, owner of Public Architecture and Planning, has coordinated with Friends of Friendship Park and designed an alternative to the new Border and Customs plan. According to information presented at the meeting, the new plan “would create a welcoming and safe park space, where visitors could come right up to the primary fence, sit comfortably and walk around, and talk with family and friends on the other side, minus a tense, maximum security atmosphere. Visitors could meet at the Bi-National Garden, the Monument, or by the beach. The Friends of Friendship park proposal states that “all reasonable security issues will be considered.”
Architect Jim Brown told La Prensa: “Especially in these times of increased militarization of the border and the overly reported violence of the region-we need a place that serves as a reminder that citizens of each country are still friends, and the best security we could possibly have is to continue that friendship.”
Enrique Morones, President and Founder of the Border Angels group, stated that: “Love has no borders. Build bridges of communication instead of fences of separation.”
On Thursday, Feb 10, the First Lady of Mexico, Sra. Margarita Zavala, came to the Playas Tijuana location of the Garden of Peace and made a speech, standing perhaps, near the same spot US First Lady Pat Nixon stood in 1971. Gesturing to the Pacific Ocean next to the wall, Sra. Zavala said: “El mar, junto al muro, se burla de las barreras del hombre y nos recuerda que no hay fronteras”; “The sea, next to the wall, pokes fun at the man made barriers and reminds us that there are no borders.”
Media from as far away as France and Italy have come to see Friendship Park. Now, the attention of the world turns once again to this very special place, a little piece of land that has for many years caught the falling tears of loved ones re-uniting. Hopefully the world can watch as this park is recreated into a place of dignity and beauty, where people of Mexico and the United States can meet and promote friendship and good will.
The Friends of Friendship Park is a coalition of leaders and organizations promoting orderly and dignified public access to Friendship Park, San Diego’s historic park on the US-Mexico border www.friendshippark.org
Vivian Marlene Dunbar is a journalist living in Playas Tijuana.,B.C. Mexico email@example.com