Seeing border firsthand offers new perspective: COMM 338 students visit Friendship Park

By Leeza Earl

Photo Courtesy of Christy Howland

Photo Courtesy of Christy Howland

The U.S.-Mexico border is often portrayed as dangerous; a place full of murderers, drug smugglers and Mexican natives trying to escape to America. However, there are many things the news does not highlight about the border, such as Friendship Park. On Saturday Oct. 19, communication studies Professor Antonieta Mercado took her Media and Conflict students to Friendship Park located at the U.S.-Mexican Border. While there, students were able to see how this wall serves as a communication device.

“I wanted my students to just experience the border physically” Mercado said. “To introduce my students to the inter-objectivity and subjectivity of the U.S.-Mexican border, so they can reach beyond the opinions and external facts.”

Many families, friends, lovers and companions on either side of the border come to this park and see faces they will never be able to touch due to current immigration laws. Friendship Park was established in 1971 to serve the Mexican and American community as a meeting point for the two parties. In the early stages of Friendship Park many people were able to come, sit and talk without a large wall in between them.

Yet, after the uses of the park being used as ways to smuggle drugs, babies and many more things into America, the U.S. Government had to alter how the border would be monitored regarding the park. Beginning in 2011, the U.S. Border Patrol needed to control the amount of criminal activities occurring on the border and at Friendship Park.

The U.S. government created a 20- foot tall steel wall on the international border; this was a new way to cut off most communication between the two sides. Now with this wall in place, this changes the communication between the parties from sitting, talking and touching, to a standing and talking only with no physical interactions.

A family traveled from San Francisco to see their family at Friendship Park on Saturday and for one of the family members she had not seen her uncle in 17 years and aunt in 14 years. With them was a newly born baby girl that the Mexican family had no idea existed.

Junior Amber Courtney was able to experience the wall and the communication barrier it holds with an American and Mexican family.

“It was very heart breaking to see a family talk to each other through a steel wall,” Courtney said. “They hadn’t seen each other in almost 20 years; I could never imagine being away from my family that long and then not being able to hug them, this brought tears to my eyes.”

The stories that they were able to hear through the wall moved and touched many students and allowed them to think deeper into this issue. Junior Megan Harrington expressed her experience of the trip as a learning experience.

“I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Friendship Park this past weekend,” Harrington said. “Before visiting Friendship Park I had neither expectations nor knowledge of this park besides the information provided on the park’s website. Physically entering the park and walking through the first gate to get to the section where family members were able to convene and communicate through a 20 foot wall was depressing and sorrowful.”

Many activist groups have held many events and protest against Friendship Park and the message it is conveying. Member of the Bi-National Front of Indigenous Organization, Vanessa Cecena, spoke with students of the meaning of the park and her experience with immigration. Living in San Ysidro, having her backyard as the border, she has seen immigrants jumping her fence to enter into America. She also has family members who came to America undocumented. She sees Friendship Park as a gorgeous place to come to see but not where friends can be made.

“This is an ironic place, not a place of happiness or friendliness.” Cecena said. “This is not a welcoming place, in addition to it only being open on the Saturday and Sunday for restricted hours. This is a place where we see separation visually and an unnecessary use of high security.”

This wall is now part of hundreds of miles along the U.S.-Mexico border and is nearly 2,000 miles long. The wall enforces the communication of separation in addition to being a means of communication to both sides. With the number of deaths increasing on the U.S.-Mexico border the news of these issues are still one sided and allow the stereotypes to continue. Friendship Park is something most countries do not allow.
It still is a resource that is available while immigration reform and different activist continue to fight for what is right or wrong regarding immigration and the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Photo Courtesy of Christy Howland

Photo Courtesy of Christy Howland