A half hour from my house stands an icon I used to rarely think about.
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. The political boundary between the U.S. and Mexico also marks the border with the greatest economic disparity of the world.
Growing up white in San Diego, you can mostly ignore the border. Ignore the city and its cultural offerings. Ignore the people, the restaurants, the hotels. Ignore the violence that sparked there in the past decade, ignore the plight of people deported, ignore the brutal iron fence that stands sentry in the waves on a beautiful beach in the borderland.
Why would you go to Tijuana when everything you think you need is on this side of the fence? Why would you think about the border when it so rarely touches your 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 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 so pleased to have this essay up on Red Letter Christians this week. Won’t you join me there?
(Originally published at You Are Here Stories).