By Vivian Marlene Dunbar
Sat. August 20, Playas Tijuana:
Salsa music began to fill the air as people began to gather on both sides of the Playas Tijuana International Border Fence. The day was the 40th birthday of the little piece of land known as Friendship Park. This park, which lies next to the Pacific Ocean, was inaugurated by former American First Lady Pat Nixon in the year 1971. Mrs. Nixon said, “May there never be a wall between these two great nations.”
Enrique Morones, President and Founder of the Border Angel’s group, and Daniel Waltham, President of the Friends of Friendship Park, presided over the event and introduced the various speakers, which included Congressman Bob Filner of San Diego and Tijuana city councilwoman Maria Luisa Sanchez.
Mr. Morones gestured toward a photo of Mrs. Nixon and pointed out that there was no large wall back in 1971. He added that “we believe friendship has no borders.”
Congressman Filner gave a lively speech, declaring, “we have to get rid of this (barrier) so we can touch each other, so we can sing to each other, so we can dance with each other.” Filner also quoted former President Ronald Regan’s famous comment about the Berlin Wall: Tear this wall down!”
The speeches were followed by a moment of silence in remembrance of the many thousands of people who lost their lives attempting to cross this border.
Music and fandango dancing, on both sides of the international fence, returned the event to its festive air. At the Bi-National Friendship Garden, a special guest, Henry Sanchez Pardo, planted a new tree, in the same spot where the original tree, now long gone, that Pat Nixon had planted. Sr. Pardo arrived at Friendship Park on this day after running barefoot from Argentina for three years and planting over 7 million trees on his way to Alaska.
Over 150 people arrived on the US side to participate in the celebration. Since only 25 were allowed into the park visiting area at one time, they remaining ones had to be shuttled to and from the park entrance. In small groups, they gathered on the US side of the park. Sunflowers were tied to a section of fence, where they played music and danced. About 6 Border Patrol Officers watched in the background at the entrance to the visiting area.
On the Playas Tijuana side of the park, families and children and visitors pressed close together by the fence, taking photos and dancing to the fandango music, waving and talking to the people on the opposite side.
A number of individuals, groups and organizations contributed to promote Friendship Park and make the celebration a success. These include The Border Angels, The Foundation for Change, The San Diego Peace Resource Center, The American Friends Service Committee, and the Sierra Club Borderlands Committee. Also helping promote Friendship Park are Point Loma Nazarene Professor Jamie Gates, SDSU Professor Jill Hioslin, and Jim Brown of San Diego Public Architecture.
There have been many changes in the park in the forty years since Mrs. Nixon planted the first tree in the international garden, which is now maintained by the Friends of Friendship Park. For almost 35 of those years, families could arrange to meet at the fence. Those working in living in the United States could come to the park and re-unite with their relatives in Mexico who could not cross the border. Reunions were held, grandmothers could see their new grandchildren, traditional Mexican holidays could be shared, and people could touch and hold hands through the fence. These gatherings all came to an end in 2009, when the US government built a brand new fence, creating new restrictions which prevented people from getting closer than 100 feet from each other, and eliminating the possibility of talking normally or holding hands.
Friends of Friendship Park President Daniel Waltham has organized a number of events to encourage awareness of the park situation, and attempt to co-ordinate with Homeland Security officials to find ways to restore the park to its original state of accessibility, with modern security issues taken into consideration. Jim Brown, a Harvard University trained architect has created a very beautiful new design for the new park.
This beautiful celebration, commemorating 40 years of people meeting their friends and families at this little park, reminded everyone present that beauty, peace, harmony and friendship will always transcend any physical barriers.