I have lived in San Diego, a California border city, for twenty two years. My geographic proximity to the border might suggest that I had visited the border on multiple occasions, but that is not the case. I migrated to California when I was ten months old, so I don’t have memories of the journey. Throughout my childhood and into my early teens I was subject to the sort of geographic confinement that many people face because of fear, so I never went anywhere that wasn’t predetermined as safe for undocumented people. I was accustomed to hearing about the risk that came with visiting the border. My community warned me about avoiding the border and it’s impending threat to my existence. Everything I understood about the border during my childhood came from movies and the stories I heard about people’s crossing.
As a teen I found myself feeling sort of silly asking people to describe what the border was like, so I decided to launch a personal investigation. It was then that I image searched the US/Mexico border to get my first ever glimpse of the border through online images. It was underwhelming to say the least, just an ugly brownish fense for the most part. When people asked if I had ever seen the border my response was that I had seen online images of it but that I had never see it in person. As an undocumented teen I avoided explaining that I could not go back and forth between the US and Mexico.
In recent years that ugly brownish fense has come to symbolizes the separation of my immediate family and an open wound in my life. Because of that border my sister’s departure to Tijuana four years ago has consequently led to my inability to visit her. In my late teens I was left searching for ways to cope with family separation and figuring out a way to make sense of a senseless border. In the past few years I have been reluctant to visit the border because of the sort of emotions that a border inevitably brings up.
Leading up to my first visit I was simultaneously curious and anxious. Despite the legal protection my DACAmented status now provides me, mentally I am still undocumented and have relapse notions of legal restrictions I once had. On April, 2013 I visited the San Ysidro port of entry for the first time, it was still just an ugly fence. My first visit was surreal, but it was also an unexpected opportunity to confront the border and question why I had let a border and the people who enforce it intimidate me. In the days that followed I thought about how I had internalized fear and about what it had done to my sense of freedom. More importantly I reflected on the notion that as an “undocumented” womyn, living in a border city, I was long overdue for a rejection of that subconscious fear.
This weekend when I visit the border for the second time in my life I’m not sure what other feelings will emerge, but I do know that confronting the physical presence of a border has been a catalyst to my healing. When I physically occupy the space around the border I am in the midst of an open wound, it is there that I begin to heal. I look forward to that healing, knowing that I will be in community.
We anticipated the Sunday border action with great enthusiasm because immigrant youth had never openly challenged border militarization in such unity. A day before the action we met in Escondido with other CIYJA affiliates to plan the final details. We picked roles, Diana and Nestor joined the media team, while Brenda and Karen took care of the legal hotline, and Alondra and I decided to join the chant team. After a long day of legal training and eventually falling asleep past midnight the energy was high leading into the day of the border action.
The next morning we woke up at 6 am and ate pan dulce at a park in Carlsbad. As we lined up to have the legal hotline phone number written on us with a permanent marker we all reminded each other who the sit-in participants were going to be. We rode on three white vans and headed down with specific instruction to look for the waving of a yellow bandana as signal to move in and take over the space in front of the San Ysidro port of entry. On the car ride over we made calls to help the media outreach efforts and contacted San Diego Dream Team members to inform them that the action was no longer happening at Friendship Park.
Upon arrival we all crammed into the Jack in the Box across from the port of entry to use the restroom and then inconspicuously began walking closer and closer to the border. I had previously agreed to be one of many chant leaders so I prepared to echo chants as we quickly handed each other posters to hold. Our action began with us walking in a circle in front officers as we chanted. The officers showed indifference despite our vast presence and loud chanting. After some time we moved closer to the port of entry and the sit-in participants sat hand in hand in front of the large doors through which people enter into the US. We had planned a sit-in with peaceful protest, all that changed mid-way into the action.
Without notice or request to move, officers began to push the crowd back including the sit-in participants. The sit-in participants were brutally tossed around on the pavement floor without consideration of their bodily harm. After witnessing the brutality we comforted those who were physically harmed con abrazos de encouragement. The crowd became unsettled as we witnessed police brutality in complete disbelief.
That morning we could have never anticipated that we would be met with such unnecessary force, but we were. I had come back to the border looking to confront my own unsettled emotions about this border and in those moments following the action I wasn’t sure I had really settled anything. As we ate tacos after debriefing at Chicano Park it was an unspoken sentiment that the police brutality had given us a new perspective. It had heighten our awareness, deepen our compassion, and strengthen our commitment to end borders, and border enforcement. As for me, well, I look forward to many more border visits, understanding that with each visit I continue to move forward in my healing and empowerment process.