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Report from this year's Borderhack3.0 in Tijuana

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  • SIUHIN@aol.com
    Friends, Below is a great article about Borderhack! that just came out in a new Independent San Diego weekly called San Diego City Beat. There are some
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 4, 2002
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      Friends,
              Below is a great article about Borderhack! that just came out in
      a new Independent San Diego weekly called San Diego City Beat. There are
      some pictures available on the web relating to the story at
      www.sdcitybeat.com. La lucha continua,
                                      Dan, La Resistencia San Diego

      Separation Anxiety: Divided families offer poignant backdrop for third
      annual ‘Borderhack’
      by Kelly Davis

      With his velvet half-size top hat and nubby purple sweater vest a few
      sizes too big, he could be a poet or a ringmaster in some sort of
      working-class circus. A group of 15 or so young bohemians, political
      activists and curious passers-by are gathered around him, listening as he
      lectures, seminar-style, about culture versus commerce, reclaiming public
      space, resisting corporate dominance. He speaks gently, his talk peppered
      with highbrow references: memes, semiotic violence, Dadaism.

      “We’re immersed in an environment where commerce controls what happens
      and what we do,” he says. The group nods in agreement.

      He’s mid-way through a discussion of the 1960s French Situationist
      movement, drawing upon their “the more you consume, the less you live,”
      ideology, when a short, stocky 40-ish Latina woman in a pink flowered
      dress sidles past him. At her side is a pudgy girl not much older than
      12, a pink bandana tied around her hair. A minute later the two are
      followed by what the observer assumes is the other half of the family—a
      Latino man wearing dress pants and a white collared shirt (father) and a
      young boy in a striped t-shirt and jeans (son).

      “… there’s an energy coming at us from consumer culture and corporate
      media; it’s attacking our ability to think clearly,” says the poet to his
      audience.

      The woman, man, boy and girl wind their way up a dusty path and approach
      the 15-foot high chain-link fence that sits a few yards beyond the poet
      and his group. Their side is dust, overgrown weeds and rocks; the other
      side of the fence, a well-manicured lawn, freshly cut, recently watered,
      part of San Diego’s Border Field State Park (christened “Friendship Park”
      in 1971 by then-first lady Pat Nixon).

      On the park side another family has gathered—a young woman with a baby
      stroller, a man and two small children. The two groups talk, animated,
      bodies pressed up against the fence, fingers wrapped around the openings
      in the linked wires. The older woman in pink passes sugared fruit candy
      to the children on the other side.

      “… the way the art world is building, fusing a culture to resist,” the
      poet continues.

      Everything he’s saying is interesting, enlightening, intellectually
      appealing, but it can’t compete with what’s going on a few yards to his
      right—a strikingly real moment that, for those of us who traverse freely
      across borders, socks you right in the throat.

      The woman in pink, her husband, son and daughter are from Mexico City;
      the family on the other side of the fence lives in the U.S. The young
      woman on the U.S. side is the daughter of the woman in pink and the man
      in the dress pants, and she’s the older sister of the pink-bandana girl
      and the striped-shirt boy. Her children are the grandchildren, the niece
      and nephew of the family on the other side. And this is the first time
      they’ve had a reunion of this sort; the first time the daughter has seen
      her family in six years.

      The mother explains to the reporter that they’ve come from Mexico City
      for a weeklong visit to Tijuana. Before leaving home they had made plans
      to meet with their daughter at this location, at this day and time. “This
      is the only way we can see each other,” the mother explains. They are too
      much of a flight risk to get visas—poor Mexican citizens, especially
      those with relatives who have preceded them to the U.S., have no reason
      to stay in their homeland, say immigration officials. As for those who
      have migrated to the U.S., many of them lack the documentation (or harbor
      too much of a fear of INS corruption) that would allow them to return to
      Mexico to visit family.

      The mother reaches her fingers through the fence, signaling for her
      daughter to bring the baby closer, and for the first time, she gives her
      granddaughter a kiss. Despite the fence, the toddler giggles, delighted,
      and pushes her baby-fat cheek even closer to her grandmother’s lips. The
      two families will remain at that spot for the next three hours, catching
      up on all they’ve missed. The men on both sides will wander off to get
      food or a drink of water for their families; the children will sit down
      and shade their eyes from the sun, but the mother and daughter stay
      standing, talking the entire time until they part ways at 3 p.m.

      “This is the new Berlin wall, separating families,” says the daughter
      about the fence that’s wedged itself between her and her mother.

      -

      It’s become a one-sided border, immigrant-rights activists argue, open to
      the transport of goods and commerce but closed to people—especially to
      those who derive no benefit from the free exchange.

      San Diego County’s economy is roughly 20 times that of Tijuana’s, a fact
      that wouldn’t matter much—one’s a municipality of a slow-developing
      nation, the other contains the sixth-largest city in the U.S.—except for
      the proximity of the two.

      Its own government’s long history of incompetence and corruption is no
      doubt to blame for the conditions in Mexico, but so too is U.S. policy.
      NAFTA has dealt a blow not only to the entire Mexican economy but also to
      Tijuana’s once-thriving maquiladora industry (also known as the Mexican
      Border Industrialization Program). Simply put, maquiladoras are
      international offshore manufacturing plants for which necessary parts,
      machinery and raw materials are allowed to be imported and the final
      products exported duty-free and tax-free for the maquiladoras’ corporate
      owners. Despite low wages and poor working conditions, the plants have
      become default employment options for an unskilled Mexican workforce.

      However, as of Jan. 1, 2001, under NAFTA rules, only maquiladora plants
      owned by companies from NAFTA-member countries (the U.S., Canada and
      Mexico) get the tax kickbacks. Additionally, plants, regardless of
      origin, that might rely on imported foreign-made parts and equipment must
      pay tariffs on those imports. What it all results in is a mess of
      compliance rules overburdening an already volatile system and because of
      this in the past year alone, 50,000 maquiladora workers in Tijuana have
      been laid off.

      Mexico’s leaders should have seen this coming, some say, and invested in
      better infrastructure and kept up with technology that would allow them
      to compete in the world markets. It’s somewhat of a moot point, however,
      and sharing a border with a first-world country has only underscored
      Mexico’s poverty, especially when it comes to Tijuana.

      Third-world Tijuana is pushing up against its first world neighbor, quite
      literally. More than 2 million people—double 1990 estimates—inhabit
      Tijuana, most of them filling up the steep canyons and valleys that
      provide a natural barrier between countries. But what this critical mass
      is really pushing up against is an unyielding fortress.

      The chain-link fence that once separated the two countries was replaced
      in the early ’90s with a stronger, steel matting fence that stretched
      into the Pacific Ocean—out to a point where the strong current makes
      swimming around the fence dangerous. 1994 introduced Operation Gatekeeper
      to the San Diego-Tijuana border, which doubled the number of Border
      Patrol agents and in doing so resulted in a skyrocketing number of
      complaints of racial profiling and police abuse. Since its inception,
      immigrants-rights people attribute more than 2,000 migrant deaths—70 in
      June of this year alone—to Operation Gatekeeper, which activists say
      forces migrants into border-region mountains and deserts where they are
      exposed to extreme weather conditions.

      In addition to imposed military force, plans for a second border fence to
      supplement the rust-mottled original fence are in the works despite
      protest from environmentalists who say that the additional fence will
      imperil the ecologically sensitive areas it’ll bisect. The new fence is
      expected to cost around $1 million per mile, essentially creating a
      no-man’s land between fences. In theory, the reasons for the additional
      fencing seem pretty clear: to reduce high-level drug smuggling and
      international crime. The reality is that drug smugglers are far too
      sophisticated to be kept back by a steel fence.

      “The powers that be want us to see the border as a danger or a threat
      over which we have a firm upper hand,” says Ben Weinstein, who works with
      La Resistencia, a Houston-based immigrants-rights organization that also
      has a San Diego office. “NAFTA and Operation Gatekeeper began at the same
      time, trapping people in a place where they are forced to work for wages
      one-eighth what they are [in San Diego].”

      But, adds Weinstein, U.S. elected officials never tell their constituents
      about Mexico’s social realities. “Instead it’s all about protecting our
      children from drugs and terrorism.”

      -

      For the third year in a row, Luis Rosales has organized Tijuana’s
      Borderhack, the only Latin American version of similar peaceful border
      protests that have taken place throughout Europe since 1998. He, along
      with the help of friends and supporters, have set up camp at what’s
      perhaps the best location for this sort of thing—“friendship circle,” a
      round slab of concrete sitting half on U.S. territory, the other half in
      Tijuana. Cutting through the circle’s midsection is the chain-link fence
      that runs the length of Friendship Park, the only “see-through” portion
      of the border fence, save for a handful of cut-aways in the rusted steel
      matting that comprises the rest of the barrier.

      It’s at this spot where Mrs. Nixon stood 31 years ago to dedicate the
      area and adjoining park. “I hope,” Nixon said, glancing at the fence
      separating the space, “there won’t be a fence here too long.”

      Rosales and fellow organizers Fran Ilich and Daniel Moreno were born in
      Tijuana. “The border has been a big part of our lives since we were
      kids,” Rosales explains in slow, precise English, “but we didn’t fully
      understand the problems that arise from it.”

      As teenagers, he and Ilich developed a growing sense of awareness of what
      was going on in their city, the “duality of life” between their country
      and its neighbor. They began self-publishing print media that focused on
      the theme of border crossings, literally and ideologically, and in trying
      to find other ways to get their message across, they stumbled upon
      Borderhack, the first incarnation of which was held in summer of 1998 in
      Rothenburg, Germany to protest Central European migration policy.

      The term “Borderhack” is a play on words, Rosales said. On one hand
      there’s the divisive notion of “hack”—the slogan “delete the border” is a
      manifest of the event’s utmost goal. The second meaning taps into
      cyber-culture lingo. (Rosales, who spends most of his time as a medical
      intern at the Tijuana state hospital, admits he “hacked” into a local
      phone system the night before so participants could communicate online
      with supporters worldwide.)

      “The metaphor of ‘hacking,’” Rosales explains, “is learning all you can
      about a system and learning to fix it in one way or another. It’s trying
      to see the border from different ways, different aspects.”

      Tijuana’s Borderhack is a three-day event that draws people from around
      the world—there’s a large contingent that caravanned from Northern
      California, bringing with them several donated computers that they plan
      to leave for use by a Tijuana-based nonprofit. A smattering of other
      languages and accents reveal world travelers who are passing through,
      getting a sense of what this other part of America is like. A gentleman
      from Nicaragua and a young man from Austria converse freely in Spanish,
      the former clearly delighted by the opportunity to educate his new
      friend.

      If they can put up with the sweeping spotlights and occasional fly-overs
      by military aircraft, participants are welcome to camp out on the Playas
      de Tijuana beachfront, just down a slight rocky incline from where
      Rosales and his crew have set up computers, information tables and tarps.
      The tents are pushed up against the iron rods and rusted steel that jut
      out of the sand. “Alto Guardian,” a warning aimed at people thinking
      about trespassing, is spray-painted on the fence along with painted
      outlines of people climbing the measured curves of the wall. Someone
      points out that the wall on the other side has been kept rust- and
      graffiti-free and that the white folks who walk along the sand have no
      idea that the other side is so ugly.

      Prior to the event, Rosales sent out a general invitation for interested
      parties to make presentations at Borderhack—the poet, actually a San
      Francisco artist named Pod, was one person who took up Rosales’ offer,
      putting together a presentation on “culture jamming”—resisting corporate
      media through innovative exchange of ideas between independent groups and
      organizations.

      Rosales’ goal was to find creative ways to address border-related issues.
      The festival kicked off with a group of University of California, San
      Diego students who put together a series of digital art projects.
      Rosales’ favorite, he said, was a video game that puts the player in the
      place of a Mexican immigrant attempting to cross the border, find a job
      in the U.S. and send money back to family in Mexico.

      “[Borderhack] is not about telling people what to do or how to think,”
      says Rosales. “We’re going to give you all the information in different
      forms of media, and you can decide for yourself.”

      This year some technical glitches have prevented the festival from being
      as multi-media as Rosales would have liked—the first year he won
      sponsorship from an Internet company who pitched a “freedom through the
      internet” campaign; Rosales convinced the company that the event’s theme
      of breaking down borders was a perfect match. It was a one-time only
      thing, however. “Companies turn away from anything to do with the word
      ‘hack’ or anything that’s against the U.S.,” he explained.

      -

      A three-panel cardboard display is about as high-tech as they get, but
      Rosales knows that La Resistencia will put on a good show. “It’s always
      interesting to see a group of Americans challenging their own citizens,”
      he says of the organization that’s represented at Borderhack by a
      contingent of San Diego activists.

      “I won’t be a snitch for the INS” reads a button on Aida Reyes’ brimmed
      hat. Reyes and Dan Kaufman, both of La Resistencia, do tag-team
      interpreting for a crowd that’s grown to 40 or 50 people, Spanish and
      English speakers equally represented.

      Reyes leads off in English, speaking in measured cadence, fueled by
      charisma that comes from channeling frustration into voice. “Our
      immigrant brothers and sisters, everyday more and more are finding it a
      necessity to cross the border, exposing themselves to the danger of the
      border patrol officer,” she announces. “You have the extreme cold of the
      winter in the mountains, dehydration in the summer. Before the wall went
      up, migrants had the opportunity to cross and find the most difficult
      work,” she says, referring to the 1942-64 Bracero program through which
      Mexican immigrants were brought over to the U.S. to supplement the World
      War II and post-World War II agricultural labor force. “They were
      exploited in those jobs,” she says, “but at least they were able to find
      opportunities.

      “It’s not like they wanted to get up and leave their families,” she adds.


      “We’re going to expose the abuses that take place at the border, the
      migrants being forced into Arizona given the augmentation of the San
      Diego border patrol,” explains Reyes.

      Using the hacked-into phone line and phone tap hooked into a P.A. system,
      which is nothing more than a Fender amp, Rosales puts in a call to Rick
      Ufford-Chase from Samaritan Patrols a nonprofit human rights organization
      based in Tucson, Arizona, that provides medical care, food and water to
      migrants making their way through the Arizona desert.

      Ufford-Chase explains that they found two more bodies that morning, just
      west of Tucson where it’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach 115
      degrees. It’s something he chooses not to discuss further, talking
      instead about a recent dilemma that’s drawn media attention to his group.


      While on patrol with a newspaper reporter in mid-July, they came upon a
      couple that had crossed the border with a coyote—an immigrant
      smuggler—but had become separated from him. Too ill for onsite medical
      care, Ufford-Chase and his group took the couple to a Tucson church where
      they could recuperate and seek medical care with no fear of deportation.
      The reporter, however, wanting to generate a hook for her story, called
      up the border patrol and informed them of what was going on. “She wanted
      to find out what would happen when the two sides came face to face,” said
      Ufford-Chase.

      The couple was faced with two options—leave the medical facility
      immediately and continue through the desert or turn themselves in to the
      border patrol. Ufford-Chase said he urged them to choose the latter.

      Under the law, Ufford-Chase said, Samaritan Patrol isn’t doing anything
      illegal. The medical assistance they provide is considered humanitarian
      aid and is therefore perfectly legal and, he said, Samaritan Patrol is
      open about everything they do, a must in a state where there are groups
      who that regularly round up migrants and turn them over to the border
      patrol. Or take matters into their own hands and kill the people they
      find.

      “Was it a mistake to let a journalist come along?” asks a Borderhack
      participant.

      “She wrote an article that was very supportive [of our work],”
      Ufford-Chase explained. The couple may not have reached their goal, but
      perhaps positive press in an area skeptical of migrants was a necessary
      trade-off.

      -

      “Don’t listen only to what the activists say,” Rosales cautions the
      reporter. “Listen to the people—it’s important to hear the testimony of
      people living here.

      This, he says pointing to Friendship Circle and to the fence that
      stretches out into the ocean, “is the corner of the world, where it
      starts and where it ends.”

      Visuals, perhaps, are more powerful than words could ever be. A couple of
      hours after the family from Mexico City had departed, an elderly
      gentleman stands in the same spot, waiting. He’s tall, gangly, his arms
      and hands covered in a layer of dry skin.

      Shortly, a woman in her 30s makes her way across the park lawn and
      approaches the man at the fence. He says his name is Pedro Martinez and
      his daughter’s is Anna. He’s traveled 48 hours on a bus from Vera Cruz, a
      poverty-stricken town in southeastern Mexico, to see Anna for the first
      time in 14 years. She’s brought him tacos that she slips through the
      gate, attracting attention from a nearby border patrol agent who summons
      three additional patrol vans to the area.

      The father-daughter reunion is far less lively than the one that took
      place earlier in the day—perhaps Pedro Martinez is tired from his trip;
      perhaps too much time and space are between him and his daughter.

      Daniel Moreno watches from a few yards away. He explains that the two
      family reunions on one day were no coincidence but something that happens
      far too often.

      “You come here to see your family through a fence,” he says.



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