In 2008, the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego replaced a flimsy fence with a tall, thick one at Friendship Park, a spot where families separated by the border have long come to talk through the fence. They built a gate into it to allow for maintenance on both sides. But it had never been opened, so it rusted shut.
Jim Brown, an architect, negotiated to get Border Patrol to open the gate for the first time ever this Sunday, just for a few minutes. They agreed.
“I came out with some WD-40," he said. "It was kind of comical — a little tiny can from a convenience store, spraying it on the hinges. No, it would not budge. So Border Patrol came out with some torches and what not, and popped it open.”
It just so happened that Sunday, Luis Angulo had come to meet his 5-year-old daughter for the first time — through the fence. She was born in Mexico. He lives in San Diego.
“My sister, she’s a lawyer in Mexico and she told me 'hey, you can try to see your daughter from here,'" he said, as the little girl stuck her fingers through the fence's tight mesh.
Bronwyn Ingram, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s fiancée, was standing nearby. She was there to help swing the gate open, and she said stories like Angulo's show that the ties that bind border cities are stronger than the fence that separates them.
“When you come here and you spend time, and you see the families talking together, putting their fingers through the fence to touch each other, it’s really moving," she said.
As crowds gathered on both sides of the fence, Ingram and Filner moved toward the gate. Brown removed a large steel beam lock and swung the gate open. The faces of people on the other side, usually obscured by the fence’s tight mesh, suddenly became clear. Cheers erupted on both sides.
Mayor Filner called Luis Angulo toward the opening. He hesitated, but then his daughter walked through, looking up at him. He picked her up and gave her a giant hug.
A few minutes later, two Border Patrol agents secured the gate again. Brown said the Border Patrol had installed a greasing mechanism to keep the gate from rusting shut again. He said he hopes that means opening the gate in a gesture of binational friendship will become a more common occurrence.