The End of Friendship?
Recent news reports have indicated that access to Friendship Park will soon be blocked when the primary and secondary border fences along the park are replaced with 30-foot walls. This is an unfortunate choice by the Biden Administration, who I had hoped would ease local border access instead of resorting to draconian, and unnecessary, measures of security.
The park is of significant interest to me as my first visit there many years ago became the inspiration for my second Rolly Waters novel, Border Field Blues. Much of the action in the book takes place in and around Border Field State Park, which includes Friendship Park within its boundaries. The climactic chapter in the book takes place in the public area in the park itself and the road leading up to it.
The park was established after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in February 1848, officially ended the Mexican-American war. The US-Mexico Boundary Commission met at this location in 1849 to dedicate the stone monument that serves as the original boundary marker, half in Mexico, half in the United States.
When I first visited the park, there was a simple chain-link fence demarcating the border. It was a Sunday and families with members in both countries gathered at the fence to picnic, socialize and exchange money or gifts through the gaps in the fence. The closing of the park represents not only a recreational loss for Californians but a humanitarian one as well.
It bears noting in these relentlessly paranoid times that in 1971, First Lady Pat Nixon visited the monument to celebrate the establishment of the surrounding area as California’s Border Field State Park. Mrs. Nixon declared “I hope there won’t be a fence too long here,” and asked her security detail to cut the barbed wire on the border so she could step into Mexico and greet the crowd gathered there. She announced that the U.S. and Mexico would soon create an “International Friendship Park,” modeled after similar parks on the US-Canada border.
In 2006, with post-9/11 fears in full bloom, the federal government used eminent domain to seize part of the park from California. Dozens of laws intended to protect public spaces were waived and an imposing set of walls was constructed across through Friendship Park. Times had certainly changed.