Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A unique binational gathering place turns 40

Learning recently that a unique gathering place on the U.S.-Mexico border was turning 40 inspired me to dig up this slide show from last year, with the audio and photos taken during my last visit there.

Friendship Park is a small circle surrounding a worn marble border monument from 1851 that sits on the international boundary south of San Diego. It's part of the larger Border Field State Park, a place I've always found fascinating in that for years, it has been the only public park on the border where people can gather - though more recently, only with U.S. government permission - to visit with people in Mexico through the fence.

Until 2009, this was a popular day trip destination for Mexican American families from Los Angeles, Riverside and beyond. The park drew families who would pull up beach chairs and umbrellas and spend the day catching up with relatives on the Tijuana side of the fence. Some who traveled there were the spouses of deportees. Many were mixed-status families in which some members could travel, but some could not.

There were also cultural exchanges at the park, including the one above, a "fandango fronterizo" in May of last year that drew musicians and aficionados of traditional Veracruz son jarocho to both sides of the fence, playing and singing call-and-response style. It was organized by a San Diego group called Border Encuentro that for several years has organized binational concerts, salsa dancing, language classes and other events there.

The scene at the park changed radically two years ago, after Homeland Security erected a second fence several yards to the north, barring public access to the border. But groups are still able to obtain special permission to visit the monument area, now accessible through a gate operated by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Last weekend, dozens gathered there to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Friendship Park's dedication on August 18, 1971 by then-first lady Pat Nixon. Many were activists and lawmakers who hope to see the park restored to its pre-2009 state. And judging from the photos in the accompanying story, there was also music.