After cycling for 4500 km in Mexico over the past five months, I hit a massive wall in Tijuana which brings a halt to my journey to the north. I walk and cycle for hours along the wall, and at one location, stop to take a peek over the rusted panels. The colour of the sky looks the same on the other side, the air smells the same, the same river flows on both sides, yet the wall divides the land into two. I look to my right and see a straight line extending until the horizon. From above, the wall looks like an ugly scar on a beautiful face.
The Mexico—US border is 3145 km long. It is the most crossed border in the world, with 350 million legal crossings taking place annually through 48 border crossings. The border in Tijuana alone handles about 33 million people annually making it the busiest land border crossing in the world.
About 100,000 people cross the Tijuana border every day. For many Mexicans, it is a daily routine to cross the border to go to work in San Diego and return to Tijuana in the evening. Many Americans cross into Tijuana for cheaper medical treatment or for weekend recreation.
Security is tight on the Tijuana border wall. In fact, there is not one border wall, but two walls next to each other. The middle ground, however, is not a no man’s land and is patrolled by the US border control guards. There are CCTV cameras and motion sensors along the border. Every once in a while, a vigilant US helicopter flies above. While the border wall has successfully managed to keep the number of illegal immigrants low, the number of deaths has increased as people circumvent the wall and take a dangerous route through the vast remote desert where they perish due to the dehydration, heatstroke or hypothermia.
There is a strange correlation between globalization and the border walls. Though the world is becoming more globalized every day, more and more countries are building fortified barriers. These walls are not being built to address the territorial disputes, but to keep the illegal immigrants, drug traffickers or terrorists from entering. It seems when two or more countries form an alliance, their collective interests and fears also become greater. The group gradually becomes closed and separates itself from the outside world. This separation is often achieved by constructing physical barriers even if no physical walls existed previously. An example is the passport-free Schengen zone within the European Union where the countries have now started to build fences next to their associate neighbours as a measure to prevent the influx of illegal immigrants.
I spend one more day in Tijuana observing the wall. The trees adjacent to the border provide shade on both sides without a bias, the squirrels pass through the holes in the wall, the birds fly free in the sky unaware of any physical barrier on the land, but a man needs to have a visa to go to the other side. Many people spend their entire lives in Tijuana in a hope to cross the border one day and live their American dream.
I don’t have an American dream. My only desire is to see the world beyond the wall and search, not for what divides us, but what binds us together. I want to know what the people on the other side dream about. I want to find out if there is a hope for a better world or the walls will keep getting longer and higher at an accelerating rate.
But first, I need to cross this wall!