August 18, 2011
by Jill Replogle
SAN DIEGO — On August 18, 1971, then-first lady Pat Nixon reached her hand toward a barbed wire fence separating the U.S.-Mexico border and greeted residents on the other side.
The event happened during the inauguration of Friendship Park, which butts up against the border fence south of San Diego. But in recent years, the park has become a subject of controversy.
A triple-layer fence — built in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks —now runs through the park, making cross-border handshakes impossible.
Jamie Gates, one of the founders of the organization Friends of Friendship Park, said the fence has ruined the bi-national nature of the park.
“In the process of building the new fence, they really destroyed what has for decades and decades and decades been a place where families have gathered,” Gates said.
The group is working with U.S. border officials on a redesign that would allow for cross-border gatherings without compromising security. The plan features a 60-foot retractable gate, which could be opened and closed by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Friends of Friendship Park will celebrate the park’s 40th anniversary on Saturday. Activities will include a cross-border salsa lesson, a bi-national music jam session, and testimonies from families who have used the park as a meeting place.