The site is known as Parque Amistad on the Mexican side and Friendship Park, its English translation, on the American side. In Playas de Tijuana, where the Pacific beachfront abuts the imposing United States border wall stretching out into the breaking waves, a 19th-century stone obelisk monument marks Mexico’s northwestern reach. It also reminds visitors that this limit on Mexican territory was the result of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the war with the United States, in which it lost half of its land to the “Manifest Destiny” ambitions of its northern neighbor. Despite the thorns of history, the Mexican side of the border wall is covered with bright murals proclaiming friendship and hope for togetherness across borders.
For many if not most visitors on the American side, friendship is the last thing the sight of Friendship Park brings to mind. Parallel 20-foot-high metal fences enclose the space. Visitors pass through the first wall’s large sliding steel bar gate under the watchful eye of border patrol. The second wall is more opaque than the first; a drab, thick metal mesh makes it difficult to see who is on the other side. Some recall happier times after First Lady Patricia Nixon inaugurated the park in 1971, when friends and family members separated by the border could extend their hands through the fence to shake hands or to offer a touching caress to a grandchild or parent. The thicker mesh prevents this. In a small act of humanity overcoming divisiveness, many visitors jest bittersweetly about the “traditional border handshake”―greeting one another by touching the tips of their pinkies through the mesh.
But on the day of the tenth annual Fandango Fronterizo―border fandango―people are there to make music, dance, meet friends, and celebrate, as well as to express their feelings about U.S. immigration policy. Two movements from both sides of the border wall―one musical and cultural, the other social and political―bring them together. The former is Mexico’s fandango tradition rooted in centuries of life in the southern coastal plain of Veracruz. Its music, dance, poetry, and social ritual centering on music called son jarocho has enjoyed a major resurgence over the past several decades, reaching far beyond its home territory.
In the United States, many fandangueros have applied their music making to building community and to social and political protests against what many see as inhumane, oppressive, or racist U.S. policies on immigration. Fandango Fronterizo organizer Adrian Florido explains that the event is not intended to be political per se, but rather to create a cultural platform to bring people together.
Some proclaim their presence as an act of political resistance, overcoming the ugliness of the wall that divides people through acts of joyful music making and fellowship. Others express their intentions as healing―“celebrating a place that causes lots of pain for the immigrant community, and transforming it into a fiesta.”
For yet another attendee, it was an opportunity for self-discovery, saying, “Music is a wonderful gateway, a door into culture, into sharing spaces, a way to reconnect to my roots and to meet other folks.” While Friendship Park restricts the revelers to three hours in the middle of the day, in Parque Amistad, the sounds of guitars, voices, and dancing feet go late into the night, echoing in the hearts and minds of the fandangueros long after.