I’m writing about boundary monuments again and this time I’m focusing on #253 and #254.
They are both made of iron, the material used for the largest number of boundary markers. They both stand in front of military landing mat. Off to one side of both markers is a door, which is bolted and locked on the American side only. I recently found out that when this military landing mat was erected in 1994, the doors didn’t exist. However, the International Boundary and Water Commission told the Customs and Border Patrol that they needed to install the doors, just in case the IBWC needed to have access to the boundary monuments.
Boundary Marker #253
#253 stands along a two lane highway. It is unassuming and you might need to drive along this road several times before spotting it. If you do find it, then you’ll need to put your hazard lights on before stopping to take a picture because no side shoulder exists for you to park.
Boundary Marker #254
#254, on the other hands, stands along a dirt road that leads into a steep canyon. The canyon is across the street from a residential neighborhood (colonia).
When we stop at #254, a man jumps up the military landing mat and sits at the top for a long time. Two men across the street kept calling to him, but he laughs and looks out at the U.S. It’s likely that he’s had a little too much sauce today. As he sits atop the landing mat, we see how easy it is to tumble up the wall in broad daylight.
Photographing The Border
I visited here with my photographer friend, Maria Teresa Fernandez, who has been documenting the boundary wall since 1999. Originally from Mexico, she lives in the South Bay and her interest in the wall began when she took a photography class.
She studied art history in Mexico and also in Rome for two years. She then taught art history in Mexico for a time. About 1999, she began a project of photographing the poorer colonias in Tijuana because she was fascinated by how creative these neighborhoods were.
Her father, an architect, and he always told her: “You will find beauty in everything if you look for it.”
Maria Teresa said of the colonias she photographed, “They used all sorts of materials, blending them together without any fear. People were creative with nothing, they built with nothing: with the trash of garage doors or the trash from the maquilas. They were looking for a place to live for their families and they built houses in terrain that they were not afraid of.”
Maria Theresa said, “Everytime I came to these neighborhoods, look what I found — a surveillance camera. There was always something that was stopping the colonia from growing. Something not allowing them to go farther.”
One project became very engaged with the other one. Maria Teresa started to follow the fence. She noticed the military landing mat on the Mexican side was like a canvas with political announcements, graffiti, artists and objects that migrants would leave behind.
The Wall and The Poor
Maria Teresa then showed me how intertwined the Mexican poor are with the wall. A family–father, mother and three children–lived in a home made of recycled materials. One wall of the family’s home happened to be the military landing mat of the U.S.-Mexican border.
The owner explained that migrants often squat or hide in their home, waiting for an opportunity to jump over the fence. It’s probably because the house is the last one at the end of the street.
We looked over the boundary wall from here and saw the second wall about three hundred feet away. Many squares had been re-plastered by border patrol because migrants come with tools and cut holes into the second wall so they can cross. The Border Patrol then patches up the holes.
The owner recalled that before the second fence was erected in 2008, the people in this neighborhood used to cross over to the U.S. to buy watermelons from a vendor.
The owner has lived there since the age of eight. As Alex explained on his Turista Libre tour, if you live on a piece of land for more than five years, that land belongs to you by Mexican law. However, this family was recently approached and told that their home may be destroyed.
Indeed, if HR 399 passes, one of the bill’s stipulations is to construct “Thirty-one miles of landing mat fencing with bollard style fencing in the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector.” Most likely, this means that the houses along the border (and there are many) will be destroyed. The people, already living in this poor colonia, will be forced to move, likely becoming homeless.