I have talked about Friendship Park and boundary monument #258 on the American side. However, the real way to see this monument is to go to Las Playas in Tijuana, Mexico. Due to construction by the federal government in 2011, the boundary monument now resides exclusively on the Mexican side.
Across the street, the bull ring is no longer used, but was once the second largest in all of Mexico. Built in 1969, pictures during those days show no boundary wall between the two countries. Nowadays, a new beach front walkway and a street glutted with restaurants make Las Playas a paradise location.
For activists, this is also a very emotional place. New installations regularly engage the fence on the Mexican side, telling the story of what people think about this space. The fence goes right into the sea and since 2008 Americans have not been allowed to approach. That has been a loss to families who once came here to touch, hug and kiss after not seeing one another for many months, or even years.
Because the wall belongs to the U.S., there are no permits you need on the Mexican side in order to put graffiti on the fence. As a consequence, the fence is free for everyone to splash paint on. Interestingly, the fence here is used for political statements by activists and you’ll find both revolving installations as well as some more “permanent” art. The word in block letters, EMPATHY, for example has remained for quiet some time. Created by Maria Teresa Fernandez’s daughter, the word is not in Spanish, but in English because of it’s significance. The word also contains “path,” which connotes a double meaning of “the heart”, but also “path,” for those crossing over. There is also paint to designate Dan Watman’s Binational Garden. At the top, stencils show women and children holding balloons and floating over the fence.
This area is important to locals of the area as a place of protest. An intern Universalist Unitarian Minister once said, “I think if the U.S. government came along and said oh no, it [the graffiti on the Mexican side of the fence] needs to be painted over, there would be genuine revolution…When you see this, you see the beauty that people are bringing to it, despite the adversity.”
According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, the U.S. is responsible for the maintenance of markers from Monument 80 to Monument 204A. That means the Mexicans are responsible for the upkeep of boundary monument #258.
You’ll notice that the Mexicans have kept their part of the marble wording impeccable; the American side of the monument, however, has faded. Deliberate? Only the IBWC knows for sure or, at least, the Mexican company contracted to clean the monuments.
There is more to Las Playas than just the monument and the fence. An entire row of restaurants and shops line the road from here. A newly constructed boardwalk also runs along the beach. It’s lively on weekends and there’s even an amphitheater that hosts musicians and celebrities. While the American side remains relatively desolate, this is THE happening place to be during the summer in Tijuana. For Americans, it’s also easy to get to. You just go across the border and follow the signs to Las Playas. Come during the weekday and the crowds are smaller, parking is easy and you can admire all that this binational area has to offer.