Mother's Day at Friendship Park — on the rare occasion when the U.S. celebration of Mother's Day landed on May 10, which is the set date for Mother's Day in Mexico — was a particularly special day for Eduardo, a 39-year-old who lives in San Bernardino County.
"I haven't seen my mother in 17 years," he said. "I got to see her today." Eduardo's mom, his aunt, and a dozen cousins, nieces, and nephews visited with him from the Tijuana side at a more open section of the fence to the east of the regular visiting area.
Friendship Park is between the steel-mesh-reinforced border fence and the secondary fence built in 2009. The area east of the heavily meshed main area isn't always open to people; its opening is contingent on how many agents are available, according to U.S. Border Patrol agent Frank Alvarado, who opens Friendship Park to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.
"The bi-national garden is another example of how the [Border Patrol] is focusing on increasing community engagement and improving relationships with non-government organizations," he said in a written statement.
Letting people visit across the fence in the garden area is a relatively new development — though the gardeners who planted and maintain the gardens on Saturdays have long chatted through the fence while they work.
But yesterday, with Mother's Day celebrated by both nations, extra agents came to make sure that the more than 100 people who came to the park could have the opportunity to visit with family. Mariachi singers on the north side of the border added lyrics to the music on the south side.
In the Cactus/Wish Circle of Dan Watman's Friendship Garden, Eduardo, his wife, and son visited with their family through the fence under the watchful eyes of two Border Patrol agents. The park rules include a ban on passing things back and forth over the border. Because of the open slats, no touching was allowed.
"The garden area gives people a quieter and more private place to connect, and we've gotten feedback on how much people appreciate that," Alvarado said. "It's a place where they can really see each other without all the mesh blocking the view."
At the parking lot, about a mile-and-a-half walk through Border Field State Park from Friendship Park, Eduardo and his family rested for a long time and savored the memory of the visit. But he also felt the twinge of lost time.
"She looks older," he said sadly. "I knew the time was going by but I guess I still wasn't ready for that."