San Diego Union-Tribune
December 14, 2009
by J Harry Jones
IMPERIAL BEACH — Faith groups from the United States and Mexico gathered yesterday afternoon at Border Field State Park in what was both a religious celebration and a political statement.
The 16th annual La Posada Sin Fronteras was a re-enactment of the biblical story of Mary and Joseph, who were forced to seek shelter after the birth of Christ and were eventually welcomed into a stranger’s home. Participants from both countries compared the biblical tale to the struggle migrants face trying to enter the United States.
One of the messages of the story, the idea of welcoming strangers — and immigrants — is under attack in our times, making the binational celebration even more significant, organizers said. Today, families on both sides of the border are separated by immigration policy and can no longer meet, even at the border fence, organizers said.
This was the first time the celebration was held since a second border fence was constructed earlier this year. The participants were not allowed to touch or exchange gifts with those who had gathered in Mexico for the celebration.
About 150 people, including many members of the media, gathered on the Mexico side of the fence, while on the U.S. side about half that number were present.
U.S. Border Patrol agents allowed 25 people at a time to go through the first fence to the Friendship Monument, which is situated to the north of the Tijuana bullfighting ring and a lighthouse. The remainder were forced to stay back behind the second fence, roughly 100 feet away.
“I want to remind you that while there are few people here, there are many watching and praying,” said Tijuana’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz, speaking from Mexico. “Many are praying for friendship and solidarity between our two countries.”
Veterans of earlier celebrations remembered how people would share tacos, hold hands and exchange trinkets through the fence.
“This is a sad occasion on this beautiful winter day,” said Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee from the U.S. side. “We friends are not allowed to touch each other or exchange food and candy as in the past. This is ridiculous. This is the promise of change we heard a year ago?”
Along the outer fence, dozens of luminarias were set up and lighted at dusk. Each bag, containing a lighted candle, represented a migrant killed while trying to cross the border. Many of the dead were young, and most were identified only as “unknown male.”
One of the organizers of the first Posada Without Borders in 1993 was Roberto Martinez, the migrant activist who died earlier this year. Ramirez said Martinez is “greatly missed” and was undoubtedly looking down on all yesterday afternoon.
Those on the U.S. side had to hike through mud and then on the beach for about two miles because the main road to the friendship monument was flooded. Few seemed to mind the inconvenience.
During the gathering, Christmas carols were sung in both English and Spanish. Although Americans were not allowed to give anything to the Mexicans, at one point bundles of candy came flying over the fence from the Mexico side.