It might be news to some of you that I’m currently working at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach, California. It’s a wonderful place to work and has been the impetus for much of my personal growth and self discovery over the last two years. One interesting thing about Imperial Beach is its incredibly close proximity to the United States-Mexico border, which is literally about three miles south of camp.
As of late, the season is winding down here and we’ve had more days off than usual. These extra days off have mostly lent themselves to gratuitous sunbathing, reading, and of course, writing. Last Tuesday, however, a few coworkers and I decided to use our staff bicycles for a miniature trek to the border to see what it was all about. Surprisingly, most people at camp never actually venture the three miles to see the imaginary line that divides a bustling, All-American city from a drug-infested-dump like Tijuana.
So we took an eight-mile-by-road journey to Border Field State Park, which took us around the U.S. Naval Outlying Field, through various farms and ranches, and to some beautiful views of the mountains dividing the two countries. The border fence was clearly visible along the upper ridge, as well as Tijuana’s continuation of the United States Interstate-5. I saw tons of Mexican cars and people as we got closer to our destination.
Border Field State Park is an inglorious, unkempt field more or less that was quite obviously set up as a way for the government to suck every penny out of would-be sightseers. Luckily, though, on Tuesday the park is closed to road traffic and there was no one guarding the entrance, so we rode right through without question. Another ten minute or so bike ride, most of which was on a path closed to the general public (whoops) took us directly to the fifteen-foot high metal fence.
About 50 yards beyond the fence lay an entire neighborhood of Mexican houses, some of which appeared quite extravagant. From one we heard some children yelling, “Hey!”, to which I responded, “Hola!” I was quite surprised when they yelled back, “What?!” I guess they prefer English. We continued along the service road that the border patrol uses to drive along the fence, towards the coast where the American fence stopped abruptly about 100 yards before the water, and the dingy, decrepit, wooden Mexican fence continued into the water, missing large pieces of wood every ten feet or so and looking quite surprisingly easy to simply walk through.
We continued down to the water, waving and saying “Hola!” at any Mexicans we saw across the fence, taking fun pictures of us posing and enjoying the fact that we were on this side of the fence. We even saw a Mexican couple walking their dog chase it through the fence, onto the American side where they quickly picked him up and moved back to their side of the fence. Eventually, a border patrol Jeep approached us and informed us that we had illegally used the service road along the fence (again, woops) and had to take the pedestrian path back to civilization. Instead, we decided to venture back along the beach, which turned out to be much, much quicker than the journey in.
About two miles south of camp we came along the Tijuana river, and luckily, it was low tide, because we actually had to pick up our bikes and ford the river! It was quite exciting, we felt like aesthetic voyagers, on the vanguard of continental exploration. We continued along the beach back towards the Imperial Beach pier, where we enjoyed a cerveza and one of those classic San Diego sunsets, with beautiful pinks, oranges, and dark reds cascading the sky. It was truly an incredible way to spend the afternoon.
All this venturing, of course, excited my more philosophical side as well. Why do we have this imaginary line dividing humans and separating their quality of life? Most people in Tijuana are quite poor, live meagerly, and have to deal with sewage running through the streets. We Americans sit comfortably numb to their trials on our side of the fence, because we were lucky enough to born on this side of the line. Part of me just can’t help but feel it doesn’t have to be this way, why can’t we share our quality of life with our neighbors to the south, and all enjoy the comforts of modern society? It truly baffles me as to how we can so easily let others live in poverty and destitution while we enjoy beers and fried fish and watching the sun set. Maybe one day I’ll figure out why. For now, I’ll keep on feeling grateful for being on this side of the fence.