LIVING NEXT TO THE WALL / David Bacon

In Tijuana the wall and the border are omnipresent facts — taken for granted, yet a physical and social presence in each resident’s life.  At the playa, going to the beach seems at first the same as anywhere.  Looking south along the sand families stand and sit in the sun and wade in the waves.  But turn around.  Look north.  A 20-foot high barrier of iron posts marches into the Pacific, a wall whose other end terminates in another ocean entirely, 1,954 miles away. 
 
Curious visitors go up to look between the bars, at the concrete barriers beyond, and then a similar stretch of sand that continues north to San Diego.  A little park — Friendship Park — welcomes families on the Mexican side, but the impenetrable wall (at least for humans) belies any visible sign of friendship with the U.S.   On the park’s little platform and exercise bars, Jorge, a boxer, acts out his fantasy of the ring.  He moves through his exercise routine, from one stance to another — all seeming to defy the border itself.
 
In downtown Tijuana, a huge concrete channel was built to house the Tijuana River.  The river rises in Sierra de Juarez in the south, and eventually crosses the border five miles before it reaches the beach.  Only a trickle of water, however, runs down the middle of this vast expanse of cement.  Instead, its walls house people.  Many have come up from the south, especially Oaxaca.  Some thought they might get jobs in a maquiladora factory, while others thought they might have some luck jumping the fence.
 
Juan Guerra lives under one of the bridges that cross the river channel.  In their camp of stranded migrants he heats tortillas and a stew of vegetables, gathered from food thrown out by nearby restaurants catering to tourists.  Juan speaks Zapotec, an indigenous language of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.  Some in the camp speak Mixtec, another indigenous tongue, while others from Mexican states further north just speak Spanish. 
 
Next to the channel rise apartment houses for the luckier of Tijuana’s working class residents.  These are the families who can pay enough rent to escape the dirt streets of the hillside barrios ringing the city.  In the trash bins behind the buildings, Luisa collects discarded plastic bottles.  She’s doing the same thing homeless people do in San Diego, just a few miles north.  The border often seems a chasm separating wealth and poverty.  But the lives of people who have no home are basically the same, regardless of which side they live on.
 

 
Looking south down the Tijuana beach.
 

 
The wall.
 


 
Jorge runs through his routine.
 

 
A camp in the Tijuana River channel.
 

 
Juan Guerra cooks dinner in his camp under the bridge.
 


 
Luisa finds plastic bottle in a bin behind an apartment house.
 

 
One man eats dinner while another climbs the channel wall to the camp.
 

 
As it grows dark, Luisa hauls her bag of plastic bottles down the avenue.

 

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