According to the San Diego Union Tribune, just yards away from Tijuana resident Guillermina Fernández’s plant-filled front yard, workers broke ground last week on prototypes for the most costly, ambitious and controversial project of President Donald Trump’s administration.
“You can hear them building something,” Fernández said Friday, looking out toward the rusting metal fence that separates Tijuana from a remote section of the U.S.border on Otay Mesa, where construction workers have been making progress on prototypes for a future border wall.
Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” stirred outcry far beyond this northeastern Tijuana neighborhood. The proposal has generated lawsuits and created international friction at the highest levels of government: Trump wants Mexico to foot the bill, and Mexican officials have steadfastly say they will never do so.
But residents of this quiet, modest collection of small houses and unpaved roads called Rancho Escondido say a new wall will make little difference in their lives.
“Just as they are used to having a wall, we are also used to having a wall,” said Fernández, who moved to Tijuana 20 years ago from the state of Veracruz, and helps support her family by selling potted plants from her garden.
By the end of this month, eight new prototypes are expected to rise on the U.S. construction site on undeveloped land east of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. They will be as tall as 30 feet and 30 feet long. Four will be made of concrete, and the others of alternate materials.
Across Tijuana, the launching of these prototypes have stirred little interest. The largest city on the U.S. border, Tijuana has lived with fencing for decades, and depending on the location, there are one, two or even three fences separating it from San Diego.
“We see a wall every day,” said Ariosto Manrique, a market research expert. “It’s not an issue for us, it’s part of the landscape.”
Interviewed Friday morning at the Tijuana children’s science museum, El Trompo, Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum, was unperturbed. “If the United States wants to build a wall that’s 1,000 feet, or 2,000 feet, it’s their right, it’s their country,” Gastélum said. “If they said they were going to build one in Tijuana, well, that’s another question.”
Except for the presence of the corrugated metal fence, Rancho Escondido has the feel of many Tijuana colonias, filled with self-built houses fashioned from scraps of used wood and concrete blocks. The main businesses in the vicinity seems to be large and dusty recycling yards. A few blocks down on Friday were the brightly colored tarps of an itinerant market, and beyond that the large block-like maquiladora factories that employ many of the city’s residents.
Guillermina Fernández’s house, protected by a pit bull and a chihuahua, sits at the corner of two unpaved roads. Rising beside it is a gigantic electric tower, where neighbors have hung brightly painted tires on the lower rungs so children can have a place to swing.
Like her neighbors in Rancho Escondido, Fernández said it’s been a quiet place to live, though the presence of two burned vehicles in recent weeks has been cause for concern.
In that sense, living by the border is a good thing, said her neighbor, María Magdalena Palacios, a former resident of Los Angeles: “We benefit by the presence of police and soldiers,” she said.
On Friday afternoon, two members of Mexico’s Federal Police stood vigil by the fence, barring a reporter from access to a small dirt mound that offered a clear view of the construction activity on the U.S. side. But a half-hour later, they were gone.
Moisés Peraza, whose house sits some 200 yards from the border fence, has had little time to contemplate what might be happening on the other side. He’s been busy at home, sewing school uniforms to support his family.
“Until you told me, I didn’t even know about it,” he said.
By Sandra Dibble for the San Diego Union Tribune