Poets cause trouble at U.S.-Mexican border fence

“You know we’re going to see you.”

Dan Watman, with unplugged microphone and Border Patrol watching closely from behind.
  • Dan Watman, with unplugged microphone and Border Patrol watching closely from behind.

An international incident interrupted the "Poesía transfronteriza" poetry reading attended by over 60 people on August 25 at the border fence in Friendship Park.

Poet Nasheili Gonzalez (second from left), who was kicked out, listened with other attendees to poets reading on the other side of the fence.

Poet Nasheili Gonzalez (second from left), who was kicked out, listened with other attendees to poets reading on the other side of the fence.

People on both sides of the border watched a series of writers reciting their work in Spanish and English through the large metal fence while an armed border patrol agent kept close watch. The U.S. part of the event, called Border Poets, was held in a no-man's land between the old fence on the Mexico side of the border and the new fence running parallel about 60 feet away built in 2009 on the U.S. side. Near the end of the reading, the poet Nasheili Gonzalez on the U.S. side of the fence was escorted out of the zone by Border Patrol Agent Kris Stricklin after she stepped into a forbidden area to pick up a small homemade kite that had been dropped through the fence posts from the Mexico side.

Kites slipping through border fence

Kites slipping through border fence

Before ordering Gonzalez out of the area, Agent Stricklin said to her, "Why would you do that? You know we're going to see you. There's the cameras," gesturing towards the security cameras. Agent Strickland watched most of the reading from a white Border Patrol SUV parked about 40 feet away. He declined to comment on the incident, referring to questions contacts on his business card at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Dan Watman and the unplugged microphone

Dan Watman and the unplugged microphone

Organizer Daniel Watman of Border Encuentro, a group that holds events at the border fence or at the beach borderline, said this is the biggest incident at one of their events so far. Watman said the agent "interrupts at any point that there is someone passing something through the fence.”

Watman said that before the secondary wall was built, people used to hold hands and pass pizza through the old wall, which is made of large vertical metal beams with gaps of about six inches in between them. But now the Border Patrol policy is strict. Watman said they even got in trouble once when water was accidentally being squirted through the fence while creating a garden at the site. In addition to working on that garden every Sunday from 11 am to 1 pm, he said the next big event will be on Saturday, September 21, California Coastal Cleanup Day, and involves general garden improvement.

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Unfortunately, in past years, piñatas and kites had been slipped thru the fence which contained cocaine, crack, and heroin.

No, and the primary reason they look at it so carefully. I was there when one was intercepted, about 20 years ago.

I was there to exchange ideas and poetry lines with my fellow poets in both sides of the border. I was on the side considered the "land of the free", yet I was under surveillance and punished for crossing a metal wire to pick up a kite shaped as a bird made by Tijuana artists, a symbol of nature's free essence... If what they said is true and they could see everything then they knew just how harmless this exchange was. Their is absolutely nothing that can justify how I was treated.

I rather agree that they take it too seriously.

Nasheili, When picking up a delicate handmade kite is a crime, we have surely lost our way! I was so upset by the way you were treated that my husband and I left right behind you. It really is ironic that we waste resources on all of this nonsense to keep people apart when we supposedly don't have money for food stamps for the poor. I am not proud of the way my country behaves. On the Mexican side the poets could move freely up to the fence and no one was using security cameras to watch their every move. They wouldn't even let us use the portable sound system so we could actually hear one another's profound words. Perhaps our words are far more threatening to the status quo than we realize. Yes - "land of the free" - is seeming to be more of a misnomer every day.

Originally called Smugglers Gate, there was no fence at Friendship Park for many years, and crossing there was legal. Because of human and drug smuggling there came a fence, but no fence on the sand beach. More recently, the fence was extended into the ocean. People traditionally filled kites with cocaine and heroin, throwing or flying them over the border to drop the dope on the US side. And your group showed up there with kites? That is like wearing a Nazi uniform to a meeting in a synagogue.

I remember when tens of thousands of uniformed US sailors, each one with a loaded pistol, lined the bars and avenues of Tijuana. I remember when my taxicab was permitted to park on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier to pick them up. I remember when we could cross the border without any ID or inspection, waiting in no line. I remember a lot of things that some nowdays cannot even believe.

Your idea of poetic and artistic exchange is excellent, but the location was huge problems for police for very many years (30 or more). Anywhere that is several blocks away from the Border would do better, and since the US is afraid that Mexicans will steal US jobs if they let them into the country, it should be held in Mexico. You no longer need any passport to cross, nor any passport nor tourist visa to visit Mexico. Both nations have laws to the contrary, and the Court Systems of both nations threw all those laws out. In Mexico, the law requiring tourists to have visas and passports has been thrown out 11 times.

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