We are back! We arrived Friday afternoon from our once in a lifetime discovery in Mexico. My next post will be on the general reflections of the entire trip, but first, I wanted to recap Tijuana.
I left off last time at the airport on our way to Tijuana. The first day there, we met with Gabriela and Hugo from Border Angels right at the border wall at Playas De Tijuana. My mother discussed her story with them, and they provided real accounts of stories at the border that continue to happen 60 years later. When leaving her abusive husband, my grandmother had to leave my mother and her siblings in an orphanage in Tijuana for 6 months while preparing their immigration papers in Los Angeles. She visited them every 2 weeks, and it was one of the most difficult times of my mother’s childhood. As an 8 year old, she had to grow up fast, taking care of her 5 year old sister and 3 year old brother.
There are several migrant shelters in Tijuana for men and women escaping from mostly Central America and Haiti. With most of them unable to return to their home countries and unable to enter the United States, they end up in the tent shelters for months.
I asked if we could visit and speak with migrants at a nearby women’s shelter, which they never allow media inside. But knowing that my mother had a very similar story to these migrants and could be a source of hope, Hugo took us with him to film inside. We drove to a very rural, isolated area where there was a large church, with clothes hanging outside on a fence. Two friendly stray dogs came up to us, and we saw two Haitian children enter the church. I knew that they were isolated on purpose to escape violence or anything looking for them, but it was extremely difficult sight to see upon entering. There was one massive room with tents set up, and about 150 children running around. Three came up to me to play with my camera, and I asked where they were from. One was from Nicaragua, the other Guatemala, and the other from Haiti. If only this wasn’t the way they were getting to meet people from other cultures.
I hadn’t realized just how similar my mother’s story was to what is happening at the border until that moment. I immediately imagined my mom in this shelter, alone, and I couldn’t begin to fathom the effects of such a difficult experience on her character. These children are treated as criminals, second-class humans with no idea why, yet they continue to play and smile. I’m not sure how they process their situation, but I know that no one deserves to have their lives be put on hold for so long.
We filmed at different parts of the wall and pedestrian entry points the entire next day. At many parts, there are two rows of walls. The crew told me that just 20 years ago, groups of 150-200 people would rush the border to enter. There were street signs with “CAUTION: MIGRANT CROSSING” to not hit the people running in. Now it is extremely militarized, with DHS patrol cars right on the other side, and the doors that would allow families to physically touch on either side are permanently closed.
My mother was amazed at how much Tijuana has developed over the decades; it is now a commercial center for both the U.S. and Mexico. She remembered it being a ridden-down town full of bars and poverty, which now has a thriving economy despite the issues with the cartels.
Tijuana was such a fascinating place to be, with layers of migration stories and development that we only scratched the surface. It is an extremely complex issue that I am honestly torn about and need to continue learning and researching and would love to discuss further with anyone who has an opinion either way: protecting American citizens vs allowing asylees and productive members of society to enter freely. The wall has changed the dynamic of being able to go back and forth and divided entire families, and yet I do believe there should be a fair, effective, timely application system for visas.
After two days, we went back to Mexico City to catch our flight home. We learned so much just in those two days, and it really put my mother’s story into perspective for both me and my entire family.
I will update by the end of this week with more general reflections as I continue to journal about our experience and begin the editing process. As always, thank you for following our journey and believing in Traces of Home to spark change for communities globally.
Director, Traces of Home