Last Wednesday and Thursday, September 28th and 29th, Eric and I accompanied Enrique Morones of Border Angels on some excursions in the area. He had set up the trip with a few actors that wanted to know more about the migrant experience for roles they are soon playing in a movie. All didn't go exactly as planned, but we were so lucky to be able to tag along and we saw a lot more than we could have on our own.
The first thing that we did was head east on highway 8 to do a water drop. There is a really rocky, bouldery area of hills and it was there that we stopped, hiked off the road a bit and placed some water. It was evident there have been lots of people passing through the area, as there were blankets, backpacks, empty gallon jugs, and food wrappers scattered around. I thought it was pretty close to the highway for people to be heading through that area, but Enrique says that migrants will often cross the border and head north to this point and then get picked up by someone. This area is still south of the Border Patrol checkpoint, but if a migrant makes it this far, they can work and settle in San Diego or regroup and strategize on how to get past the BP checkpoint.
After the water drop, we went to a cemetery farther east on 8. It is a normal looking cemetery, but in the rear, you can enter the paupers' grave area. There are almost 600 people buried here, and most are believed to be migrants. Most have not been identified and thus are designated John or Jane Doe, but others are recorded under their name. They are buried there because no one claimed their remains. Enrique likes to bring groups here so they are not forgotten. He had us put crossed on the new graves with just that message: No Olvidados / Not Forgotten.
It was a harsh reality to face in the cemetery. In my mind, I know that hundreds of migrants die crossing each year, and over the last decade, who knows how many of their bodies have been able to be claimed by their families. In my mind, I know, but to see brings on a new level of comprehension. Just imagine being from Honduras, and your son or sister or some family member decides to go to the United States, as many in your community already have. Then, you never hear back from them again. How do you go about finding their remains? How do you grieve when you have no idea what happened? Looking around the cemetery, and thinking of all the families of the people buried there--people with so many unanswered questions--it was heartbreaking. I can't imagine trying to cross the desert. I can't imagine dying of thirst or cold or hunger. I can't imagine not knowing where my loved one went, and even if I accepted their death, I can't imagine not knowing where their remains were laid to rest. So much unnecessary suffering.
After the sobering experience of the cemetery, we went west over to Jacumba, where Highway 8 dips pretty close to the border wall. We swung by to see the fence in the area and it was quite different than the fence we had seen in El Paso and Nogales. This section of the fence (like that we saw in Friendship Park later) was built out of old military materials used in Vietnam and Desert Storm I. We have already seen plenty of fence, so it wasn't shocking or even interesting to us, except that there was a great example of how silly the fence is: part way up a hill, the fence just stops, then 150 yards later, at the peak of the hill it starts again. Such a great use of tax dollars!
|Not the best photo, but you can see where the wall stops and it starts again at the peak!|
On Thursday, we met up with Enrique again, this time joined also by a professor. The first thing we did was head to a Home Depot on the north side of San Diego to talk to the day laborers. This is something you can find all over the country-- a desginated area for people to stand on in the hopes of getting picked up for work. In El Paso, there is a corner for men (usually picked up for construction or landscaping work) and a corner for women (usually picked up for domestic work). Home Depots are often a place where men gather, and this particulat Home Depot was no exception and there were about 30 men there when we arrived. We brought bottled water and some snacks and just hung around and chatted for a couple hours.
|Day laborers at Home Depot in San Diego|
The men were from all over Mexico and Central America. Most had been in the United States for several years and had been seeking day labor work at this Home Depot for years. They said that it was difficult to get work these days and they were lucky if they got a job once or twice per week. Of course, sometimes after getting picked up and doing a good job, they were offered work for weeks or months at a time, but that seems to be happening less and less often. I was happy to hear that, in comparision to El Paso, these men were getting much better wages--usually earning $100-120 per day (in El Paso, the best you could earn was about $50), though the men are saying that with the economy as it is, people are offering less and less and the men are so desperate to work, that they will work for less.
Currently, these guys are really struggling because Home Depot does not want them there. They are not allowed to enter Home Depot property (not even the rocky landscaping next to the sidewalk) and instead stand on the sidewalk next to the parking lot. Last week, without provacation, one of the security people came over and started to use pepper spray on the guys! Part of the visit on Thursday was trying to figure out what happened during that incident so conversations with Home Depot about that security person's employment can begin.
It was really nice to chat with the men, something I have never done in El Paso, though I pass by the pickup spot regularly. They were thankful that we stopped by and I couldn't express well enough how grateful I am for all the work they do, unseen and usually unappreciated, in our communities. What can you do today to appreciate the immigrant community around you?
Our last stop was the farthest south and west point in California, Friendship Park. I remember hearing about Friendship Park a few years ago when the new wall was being built and amidst great protest, the fence was put right through this binational park. Though I had heard of the park and the struggle, I had never even seen a picture of it, so I was very glad we got to visit.
|Border wall at CA State Park Border Field|
Friendship Park is a federal park built within a California State Park, Border Field. A few decades ago there was a big push to develop the area right along the border, but environmentalists fought back as this is a protected ecological space. It is a rare habitat where desert meets ocean and there are over 300 endangered species in the area. There is even an coalition that has formed of individuals and organizations to advocate on behalf of the park, Friends of Friendship Park.
I expected the park to be like an area where Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua meet, where there is no wall and families do gather (will write more on this space from El Paso!). However, I was sorely disappointed by Friendship Park and all the security in the space. We actually couldn't even enter the park space as it was caged in and they only allow it to be opened for 30 minute increments on Saturday and Sunday with advanced permission. Who can enjoy a park while in a cage?? So, we couldn't even go in, but we could see the obelisk that desginates the border that was placed there in the 1800s. The first obelisk is placed in the aforementioned park in El Paso and they run all along the border to the Pacific. So, I have seen the first and last, and will likely see more on our journey.
|Gated entrance to Friendship Park|
The park is just 75 yards east of the Ocean, and while we couldn't go into the park, we were able to go down onto the beach and see how the fence extends right into the Pacific Ocean. It is astounding.
|The old wall|
|The old wall and new wall in front|
|The US border wall extends right into the Pacific Ocean!|
We really appreciate being able to travel around with Enrique these two days and get our own mini immersion of the San Diego border!