Ghosts on the Border (An Everyday Story by Keaton Andreas)

After joining The Global Immersion Project's Immigrants' Journey this past June, Keaton Andreas shared this Everyday Story at Open Door this past Sunday. Listen to the audio or read below.

This is a short tale of ghosts that haunt us, though we are normally not aware.

In the going of our daily lives the sound of their voices and the reality of their humanity often fades from our view.  I was a witness to this fact earlier this June when I, along with several companions from my church, the Open Door Community went on a trip to the San Diego/Tijuana border with The Global Immersion Project.  While the entire weekend was full of impacting moments both joyous and heart wrenching, there was a particular moment that stood out as it allowed me to capture a glimpse of the terrible power that human have to inflict harm on one another and how I’m not as innocent as I’d like to think I am within that process.

It was the first full day of our journey.  In the morning we had gathered together with our backpacks in hand into our white twelve passenger vans that were reminiscent of church camps long since attended.  We were all caught up in conversation when we pulled up to the San Diego side of the border and got out.  Here we were, about to cross into Mexico on foot.  Though I was overwhelmed by the amount of people (and I definitely noticed that the line to get in to the US was much…much longer), I would say this part of the journey wasn’t dissimilar from standing in line at the airport.  As we made our way across the border we were introduced to some activists on the Tijuana side who worked on issues related to immigration and deportation.  They began telling us of a shanty town referred to as the bordo that was filled with hundreds of displaced people.  The picture they painted for us was of a struggling people, but a community that was vibrant and filled with smiles.  It was located in the basin of the Tijuana River which at this point has been reduced to a gigantic concrete canal with a tiny stream of water traveling through its center.

I say “was” in reference to the bordo because about three months prior to our trip the people living in the shanty town were removed by the Mexican authorities in an effort to “clean up” the city’s image. Hundreds of people, just…..gone, and our Tijuana guides were informing us that nobody knew where they were or what happened to them. 

Tijuana Riverbed (Photo by Steve Arnett)

Tijuana Riverbed (Photo by Steve Arnett)

These were people, scattered into the wind, leaving no trace. 

On that day, I stood on the bridge overlooking this river basin that once held a small city of people.  June gloom was in full effect and although it was fairly warm it was gray, almost ethereal.  I just stared into the canal, thinking maybe if I looked long enough the city would reappear.  What if that was my family in that situation or a close friend?  What bothered me the most is that the demand for the city to “look better” is not created by Tijuana, but the money contained and used by US tourists that flood over the border to have some weekend fun.  Our consumerism, my consumerism…it’s complicit in creating conditions that exploit the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.  I could go on and on.  However, I’d like to say a few words on how this has connected to my life back in Oakland.

There are so many pieces of the trip with The Global Immersion Project that have shaped my thinking and in many reasons reminded me of the passion I have for making this world a better place in any way that I can.  However, it also made me recognize that the type of exploitation that we drew close to, that we were trying to understand happens right in front of us every day.  The ghosts in our neighborhood walk in plain sight, until they are forcibly removed by the “authorities” because we are tired of seeing them.  In my new neighborhood in Oakland I noticed that on the day the recycling goes out that “pickers” as I’ve come to calling them walk up and down the streets sifting through the bins.  My wife and I decided to make a separate bag of our bottles and cans so we can personally hand recyclables to people.  This is perhaps a small gesture, but it’s an attempt to see need that would so normally pass me by…or that I would try not to see.

This small step is not the only one that I want to take as my trip not only stirred up strong emotions on how we treat undocumented immigrants in the United States, but also how any city goes about removing “the unwanted” from any given area.  Since I’ve just recently moved to the Temescal District this has brought into my mind the desire to learn more about the gentrification occurring in my neighborhood and how this is affecting all of the residents at large. 

Who is winning? 
Who is losing? 
Are there people being displaced by all the money, influence, and new construction that is occurring in East Oakland and Emeryville?

These are critical questions that need answering and call for me to learn about the stories of the people who are affected by what is happening in the world around me.  After the trip in June I was left with the challenge of not passively saying, “That’s just the way the world is.” Instead, I was led to ask, “Where are there steamrollers flattening people in my neighborhood and how can I help stand in the way of those processes?”  In addition, how does Jesus view “the unwanted” in my neighborhood and how can I form genuine relationships with them?  These are tough questions to answer, and I feel I will be working through them for a while.  I invite you to work through them with me.