It is my last day in Mexico. I spend another day along the Mexico-US border wall in Tijuana and cycle west to the coast. My journey takes me to the beach where the border fence meets the Pacific ocean. There, a historical monument marks the initial point of the boundary between the United States and Mexico. Near the monument where the fence gets much higher, I see a woman with a young girl and a baby boy sitting on picnic chairs facing the wall.They are all neatly dressed with their faces shining. At first, it appears as if the family is talking to the wall, but then I hear an adult male voice from behind the wall. I try to see through the wall but the mesh behind the fence is so thin that I can barely see the other side unless I put my eye close to the hole in the mesh and even then it is a very narrow view.
The man speaks to his wife and, once in a while, speaks to the little child who is barely able to utter a word. Even the little fingers of the boy are not able to pass through the mesh. There is no urgency in the conversation. Sometimes, the woman takes the phone out and plays something on it and then the conversation takes a different course. It is as if they are talking to each other at home, but in reality, there is a massive wall between them. You cannot see the other person, you cannot touch, you can only hear.
This family is only one of the many million Mexican families split across Mexico–US border. A significant number of Mexicans cannot visit their families across the border due to legal issues. Some people do have a legal permit to stay in the US but if they leave they will not be able to enter again. Others have been deported to Mexico but left their children behind in the US and now cannot see them. Sometimes, years or even lifetimes pass by before the families reunite.
Until a few years ago, people from both sides were able to simply walk to the wall and talk to their family members across the fence, but this is no longer permitted on the US side as the authorities fear that money or illegal items might be exchanged during such meetings. Considering this, the family reunion near the historical monument is a special occasion, albeit it was only possible after getting a special permission from the US Border Patrol. But, how can you call this a meeting? where you cannot hug your loved ones and cannot even see them. Is the presence alone sufficient?
I talked to the family for a few minutes and then watched them in silence for some time. The wall may have its pros, but this sight is heart-breaking and makes me realise the pain that families split across the border go through every day. This is not just a wall, it is a divide between families. This is like a prison, the only difference here is that parties on both sides of the bars are locked up.
Nearby, the Tijuana beach is full of Mexicans who have come here with families and friends for a picnic. Couples dance to live music and hug and kiss. Kids dig holes in wet sand and splash water on each other. Dogs run wild from one place to another. On the other side of the wall, the beach is completely empty with no souls in sight; only a few seagulls sit on the sand looking into the ocean with their empty eyes. Border guards patrol the empty shores on quads as a reminder of their presence.
As the sun sets on the Pacific, a woman asks me that if given a choice which side of the beach would I choose to be at. “Obviously, Tijuana!”, I reply earnestly. As I say this, I realise this would be my last sunset in Mexico on this journey. I want the sun to stay a bit longer above the horizon but it slips from the sky and sinks into the ocean. I stand next to the wall for some time and see waves split by the giant metal bars. While Mexicans are still making noise on this side, there is dead silence behind the wall. Tomorrow, I have to go to other side and see what life looks like from there.