A half hour from my house stands an icon I used to rarely think about. It doesn’t look like much: stopped cars on a wide freeway, a low-lying government building. And in red letters, on a white overhang, a sign: Mexico.
The San Ysidro Port of Entry is considered one of the busiest border crossings in the world. About 300,000 people commute back and forth every day through this entry point between San Diego and Tijuana. The political boundary between the US and Mexico also marks the border with the greatest economic disparity of the world.
Growing up white in San Diego, I mostly ignored the border. Ignored the city and its restaurants, and hotels. Ignored the violence, ignored the plight of people deported, ignored the brutal iron wall that stands sentry in the waves on a beautiful beach in the borderland.
Why would I go to Tijuana, when everything I thought I needed was on this side of the fence? Why would I think about the border when it so rarely touched my life?
This isn’t true of every white person. I have friends who regularly travel to Baja—to surf, to vacation, to serve, to explore. Others seek out cheap medicine or healthcare, or the raucous, infamous Tijuana nightlife.
But despite my fluent Spanish, and growing up within spitting distance of a Spanish-speaking country, I’d only visited Tijuana twice—once as a kid, and once after college. I didn’t like it much either time—the pushy vendors, the activity we chose (shopping), the sense that “real” Mexico was further away, in the historic cities at Mexico’s center.
So like a lot of people in my hometown, I just didn’t think much about Tijuana, much like you ignore like an occasionally itchy tag in the back of a shirt.
A few years ago, though, I started attending a local Spanish-language church, and the border—so close, and so far away—got more uncomfortable. Less like an annoyance, and more like a wound. Less like someone else’s problem, and more like my own.
Why, I wonder, did I feel so disconnected to my sister city? Why, as a fluent Spanish speaker, had I only visited twice? Why, when I had gone, did I feel so uncomfortable?
What was wrong with Tijuana? No. What was wrong with me?
I’m over at You Are Here Stories, talking about the border, undocumented immigrants, and what we miss when we turn our eyes away from what makes us uncomfortable. Won’t you join me over there?