"It is like having chocolate right in front of you and not being allowed to eat it."
Ramón came to the United States from Michoácan, Mexico 20 years ago. He left his family behind to work, to give his wife and kids back home a roof over their heads, a good education, shoes and clothes to wear. The first three years it was easy for him to cross the border back and forth to visit. Stricter controls made it too dangerous and too expensive. He stopped the crossings and did not see his family for 17 years.
Until he came to friendship park at the US-Mexican border. I saw him there standing at the fence, looking through the tight mesh, speaking softly with his wife, then his daughters who brought husbands he never met and children he never saw. "The tears speak for themselves," daughter Priscilla said.
She had travelled with the family for three hours by plane to see her Dad. "We are full of joy to see him, and feel renewed hope that things will change", added mother Ana. "But we do not understand why they keep families separated." She moved to Tijuana a short while ago, hoping to be able to cross the border legally. Her visa application was denied. Ramón applied for residency eleven years ago to get papers that would allow him to work legally and travel. He is still waiting for an answer.
Every week end border patrol opens a small segment of the militarized zone next to the border south of San Diego for a few hours. People on both sides can see and talk with each other. Nobody asks about papers or deportation orders. They also used to be able to hug and share food through the fence.
In 2009 the border at the Pacific was fortified and put on stricter surveillance. No more touching. No more space to pass a few dollar notes to Mexico or tamales to the United States. Now people from both sides of the fence can either look at each other through corroded steal beams while border patrol makes sure nobody at the US-side gets closer than 5 feet to the border. Or they can come close to each other at a steel mesh fence which is so tight that only their pinky fingers can touch.
At this steel mesh Ramón and Ina whispered, smiled at each other and talked about home, the kids and the weather while birds glided across the fence above them.
Then they went back to the steal beams, where the kids pushed their faces through the barrier and played a song from home, a love song Ramón used to serenade Ina with during his courtship. Everybody sang along, tears of joy and sadness in their eyes until it was time to close the gate.
"It was worth it coming to the U.S.", Ramón said, walking away from the fence. "Look at them! They are doing good, going to college, having families. I am happy. A little bit sad. A little bit happy."