A trip to ‘the last build­ing on the beach at the wall’s end’

Times Standard (Eureka) - - OPINION - By Mau­reen McGarry Mau­reen McGarry re­sides in Ar­cata.

Ed­i­tor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part es­say. Part two will ap­pear in Thurs­day’s edi­tion.

I re­turned to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der two months af­ter my first mi­grant shel­ter visit with Hay­ley Con­nors-Keith, a young woman I have known since she was 12. Now 28 and a world trav­eler, vol­un­teer, teacher, and artist, she was the per­fect com­pan­ion for this trip to Ti­juana.

Af­ter driv­ing from Hum­boldt, we ar­rived on a Satur­day morn­ing in late Septem­ber at the Bor­der An­gels of­fice in San Diego. Our plan was to stay two days in Mex­ico vis­it­ing mi­grant shel­ters, and fa­cil­i­tat­ing an art pro­ject with chil­dren.

Just as we pulled up, we saw Hugo Cas­tro drive into the park­ing lot in my old green truck (which now lives with him in Ti­juana). He was there to lead an­other “Car­a­van of Love” across the bor­der, de­liv­er­ing needed food and per­sonal-hy­giene items to mi­grants, mostly Cen­tral Amer­i­cans, wait­ing in shel­ters for their asy­lum hear­ings in the United States. He reg­u­larly de­liv­ers sup­plies to six­teen mi­grant shel­ters. We had items do­nated by the Hum­boldt com­mu­nity in our ve­hi­cle, in­clud­ing art sup­plies for mak­ing piñatas with ap­prox­i­mately 40 chil­dren.

More vol­un­teers ar­rived with loaded ve­hi­cles, and we all crossed the bor­der, driv­ing along the bor­der wall built in the 1990s. This wall runs west from the San Ysidro Port of En­try for five and a half miles be­fore drop­ping into the ocean. Looking be­tween the rapidly pass­ing ver­ti­cal rows of metal slats, the flut­ter­ing im­age of the U.S. peeks through the wall, looking like a gi­ant flip book. That glimpse of freedom tempts those who dream of mak­ing it to the other side.

The Ti­juana Bor­der An­gels of­fice is in the very last build­ing on the beach at the wall’s end. At this con­ver­gence of sand, sea, and wall, Mex­i­can mil­i­tary po­lice pa­trol the area in front of mul­ti­ple mu­rals that have been painted on the metal slats. One of the images is of a lad­der lead­ing up­ward to­ward wings painted on the rim at the top.

Next to the Bor­der An­gels of­fice is a shel­ter which is be­ing torn down, and will soon be re­built with bet­ter ma­te­ri­als and more space. We met some of the oc­cu­pants who con­tinue to live in­side as it is be­ing de­mol­ished. These men will be part of the crew that re­builds.

The next shel­ter we vis­ited was Em­ba­jadores de Jesús, hid­den deep in­side Scor­pion Canyon. The route gave us a glimpse into the ex­treme poverty in this densely pop­u­lated bor­der city of 2 mil­lion. We found the church af­ter a long and com­pli­cated drive among the steep cliffs and gorges of a rugged, non-tourist part of Ti­juana. As we wound our way through nar­row roads lined with end­less di­lap­i­dated houses and shacks, we saw hill­sides and shanties held up by stacked, half-buried tires. The dwellings and road con­di­tions wors­ened the fur­ther in we drove.

When the as­phalt ended, a bumpy dirt-and-rock road wound its way to­ward a large cin­derblock build­ing. Ap­prox­i­mately 300 mi­grants await their fate there. On the day of our visit, we were told there were 130 chil­dren among the res­i­dents.

The shel­ter res­i­dents were ex­cited as they gath­ered out­side the church. While vol­un­teers dis­trib­uted their sup­plies, Hay­ley and I ex­plored the build­ing and the grounds. In­side were large rooms, mostly filled with tents, serv­ing as tem­po­rary apart­ments for each fam­ily. We found the very small kitchen with stacks of do­nated food piled in boxes on the floor, wait­ing to be pre­pared and served. In a cov­ered area out­side the kitchen, there was a large ce­ment wash basin with wash­boards mounted on either side.

Out­side, a fence that trav­elled up the hill­side, served as a clothes­line, strewn with re­cently washed shirts, pants, and ten­nis shoes, all dry­ing in the sun. Old tires were scat­tered like rocks, or some­times used for sup­port to hold a post in place.

Just out­side the kitchen/ wash­ing area, chick­ens and pigs wan­dered and ate garbage out of a smol­der­ing burn pile with an Earth flag, flut­ter­ing in the smoky breeze above it.

By this time, it was late af­ter­noon and Hay­ley and I had planned to camp 35 miles south of Ti­juana and wanted to check out the camp­ground be­fore dark. We headed south and made it to Alisi­tos where we set up camp on a cliff above the ocean. Af­ter eat­ing din­ner in a lo­cal restau­rant, we fell asleep to the sound of the waves.

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