A piece of fence on the Mexico-United States border between the beaches of Tijuana and the International Friendship Park in Imperial Beach was erected in the 1990s to keep people apart. Today, the Binational Friendship Garden draws people together.
The 80-meter-long park and its gardens of native plants and patches dedicated to growing produce is a project that began 10 years ago on the initiative of teacher and Tijuana resident Daniel Watman.
The work was undertaken through Border Encuentro, an organization Watman founded to build friendships and find common interests between people of both countries by holding events such as poetry readings and salsa dancing lessons.
They began by cultivating native plants in a garden on both sides of the border but in 2015 the project began growing produce, creating three circular plots intersected by the border fence, leaving three half circles in each country.
The vegetables grown are available to anyone who wants them, although there is a weekly lettuce harvest for free salads every Sunday. Many of those who go are families with relatives who cannot cross the border, and visiting the park is the only option they have to see and talk to each other.
“The idea is to give shape to a space where people can forge friendships through the wall and to promote [the growth of] native plants in binational circles, where each half lies on either side of the border,” Watman told the newspaper Reforma.
Last weekend, volunteers met at the park and created the fourth circular garden in an effort that is also intended to raise environmental awareness among visitors.
“The message is that the environment doesn’t have any borders,” Watman told the Fresno Bee earlier this year. “What’s native here obviously is native over there, and more than anything, that connection and friendship can contribute more than anything else to security of the region.”