Growing Up On The San Ysidro/Tijuana Border

My childhood is full memories involving la línea (the line) the Tijuana border crossing. Here are just a few.

From our front porch you could look across the vacant field we used to play in, past Freeway 5, and across the tumbleweed flatland to the border fence separating the United States from Mexico. At night the whole hillside city of Tijuana was lit up with tiny specs of light. I remember dad saying it looked like a shiny wedding ring.

As a family we experienced crossing the border every Sunday to go to La Iglesia (church). Crossing into Tijuana was a breeze but coming home was a different story, especially on busy holiday weekends. Long lines of cars approached by Mexican vendors selling everything from Chiclets, to paintings on velvet, to jugs of water at a premium for drivers who’s radiators had overheated. When you finally reached your turn at the little booth a border patrol officer would stick his head in the window, look each passenger in the eyes and ask “ are you an American citizen?” They also asked what business you had in Mexico, how long you had been there, and if you had any fruits or vegetables (which were confiscated immediately to protect California’s agriculture from invading pests and disease).


The most traumatic childhood event involving the border crossing was the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. My dad had gone to Mexico alone and was on his way home when they shut down all international borders. He was stuck in line in Tijuana for hours and as children we were frightened he may never be able to come home again.

My funniest memory of the border fence was down at Friendship Park, the stretch of beach now featured prominently on the nightly news, where the border fence goes out into the Pacific ocean. But before the story let me give you a little background. Richard Nixon was president and his wife Pat had come down in a gesture of goodwill to dedicate the park and ceremonially cut the first link in the fence that was removed making it easy to walk along the shoreline from Mexico into the United States at low tide. They also cut another hole in the fence and erected a monument marking the most Southwest point in the United States. Now this part of isolated shoreline, east of Imperial Beach was a favorite meet up spot on the weekends for radio controlled model airplane hobbyist. My brother Dan would take his airplane down and fly with other enthusiasts and take Doug and Duane and me with him. One Saturday morning we were down there watching the model airplanes fly when we were distracted by a big group of young Latino men taking their turns squeezing between the chain link fence and the monument, freely entering into the United States. As we were watching the young man taking their turns coming through we noticed the next in line was familiar face. It was Duane! Apparently he had gone down and out in the ocean a few feet to enter into Mexico, then came back up and got in line with the Mexicans taking their turns squeezing through the fence into the United States. Duane found more ways to amuse himself than anyone else I have ever known, but this had to be the most hilarious thing my other brothers and I have ever witnessed!

My oldest brother, Dick, still lives in Tijuana as far as the rest of the family knows. He is a Vietnam veteran and I hope all is well with him during this time of turmoil in Tijuana.

About Lorraine Marcella

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2 Responses to Growing Up On The San Ysidro/Tijuana Border

  1. Doug Haag says:

    Lorraine! What a wonderful surprise to read your blog about events and places so deeply engraved in our minds and hearts. Linda sent me to your FaceBook page to catch the latest photo of Dick at Thanksgiving. Hope all is well with you and your family. Wishing your the best. Doug Haag

  2. ken Swinson says:

    I love reading your stories about life on the border. with the news about the refugees, I can’t help but feel grateful to have the good luck to have been born on this side of the border–with privilege to travel most of the world (for tourism, work, opportunity) without much hassle. it’s easy to take for granted the freedom of movement that many people in the world are not given.

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