Joshua Bearman, for the LA Weekly, reports on a recent excursion he took to the US/Mexico border, to the Borderfield State Park, to be precise, "California’s most desolate and unknown beach" he writes. "A filthy beach, where the Tijuana River deposits human waste, heavy metals, toxic poisons and other industrial effluvia from Mexico into the ocean. CONTAMINATED WATER; DEEP HOLES; RIPTIDES; NO LIFEGUARD; NO SWIMMING!” the signs announce. It is, as he says, a geopolitically divided beach - "purposefully hidden, a DMZ in miniature" - where the separation fence comes down off the inland hillside like a flimsy rusted spine prosthetic, runing all the way down into the the nape of the beach's neck, to finger a pathetic show of security extending out into the ocean.
I was recently there myself, a very pleasant beach indeed (on the Mexican side, that is). However, a very odd feeling was produced peering back through the eroded holes and cracks and failed patchwork to the American side of this ambigous coastal landscape, fated now by mostly wandering Mexican police on horseback, stockade-like corrugated steel barricade, some border patrol jeeps perched on hilltops, and a few pink American tourists wandering the small containment of the parkless park in awe of the thriving Mexican side through the tiny gaps in all that separates them from the great latin invasion. The very presence of the wall made these gawkers look at it from some sort of safe distance, as if it were contagious or electric, or even unpatriotic to go near it. I remember this obeis sunburnt family in tight shorts and tank tops looking at me, enemy-like, through the fence, disgusted, 'he doesnt look Mexican, what's he doing on that side of the fence?' "Hey, you're on the wrong side of the fence!" Traitor.
To tell you the truth, the "other side" was ten times more appealing. Here, in Mexico, families played in the sun, swimmers wetted their brown bodies in the ocean (for better or worse), vendors sold me fried cheese, music played from a nearby veranda overlooking the beach serving up ice cold beers. In short, it was pretty damn fresh, ironically enough. Life guards trained in groups, joggers made their way down to the pylon wall before mindlessly turning back around to retrace their tracks. Latino tourists came, walked up to the rubber coated fence supports, touched them, pondered the openings between the pylons wide enough to walk through, and then shuffled off, wondering like everyone else - what if I walked through, what would happen? Occasionaly some kids appeared, checking it out briefly, to perhaps stare once more at this ridiculous line drawn in the sand, made even more absurd by such a beautiful context, and then went about their business kissing their girlfriends, taking in the breeze escaping the hectic Tijuna streets. It was the security fence as tourist attraction.
I'd go back there any day just to chill out, as odd and unsettling as it is to sit beside this massive controversial barrier, mocking the border from the beach all the way back inland along the highway and beyond... it's really quite strange to see the starting point - the head of the snake - that one day could stretch 2,000 miles all the way to Texas. This pathetic security sculpture that seals off the great empire's homeland from the entire latin world below it.
Anyway, back to Bearman's story. So, he ventured down there to do what all healthy beach goers go there to do: have fun, kick sand between your toes, and what else, strike up a friendly game of beach volley ball. Only this time, he and his collaborator Brent Hoff were going to use the security fence as the net. Nice! The first-ever game of international border volleyball. Read about it here.
Sounds fun, like maybe this could mark the beginning of a new sport, a new Olympic event of sorts, Border Ball, where the tense physical boundaries of geopolitics and international athletics temporarily collide to soothe the friction space of contested territories with some absurd show of sportmanship.
Sort of reminds me of these speculative sculptural objects I once read about for a Palestinain art exhibit, where tennis rackets and jai alai cestas had been modified to accomodate the grenades and rocks and other projectiles that are frequently hurled back and forth over the border lines of war-torn West Bank and the Gaza strip. Sorry, I couldn't dig up any images of those.
But, with the rising popularity of security fences and separation walls rising up all over the world, maybe a good old fashioned game of Border Ball could deter certain moments or situations from escalating to volleys of rockets, grenades, IED's, etc.. Instead, we could start a worldwide competition, the Great Border Ball Championship, where teams from borderlands all over would get to fly around the world into some of the most hectic neighborhoods to bring a peaceful day of competition to the region by lobbing balls over fences (think of the home court advantage); Mexico upsets Israel, the Canadians manage to topple the Kashmiris, the Palestinians beat the Indians, an African migrant team woops Spain. The Americans go out in the first round, while a surprising show from Bangladesh defeats the Koreans in a grueling tie breaker.
Call it a temporary cease fire, or some bizarre sports therapy, an off season mock olympic challenge, either way it could be the great geopolitical past time of the future. When the World Cup is over, and tensions are mounting over the wall, let the world watch Border Ball.
[All images were taken by me (Bryan Finoki) in June of this year (2006), except the aerials of the Borderfield Park and coastline, and, of course the first-ever game of international border volleyball, whose images are compliments of Joshua Bearman.]