TIJUANA, Mexico, May 10 — You can walk to the U.S. border, Francelia Menchaca’s immigration lawyer advised her, but don’t put your fingers through its fence. It may hinder her immigration paperwork, the lawyer said.
But when, after a year apart, Menchaca’s mother arrived in her flowered straw hat here Saturday and put her small, wrinkled hands up to the cast-iron gate, Menchaca reached out and touched them.
“Were you anxious to touch my hand?” Menchaca asked in Spanish. Tears stood on her lashes.
“Yes,” said her mother, Francisca Rodríguez, a resident of Tijuana, as her three grandchildren, including a 10-month-old girl she had never seen, strained to be near her.
The Menchacas, who drove from Phoenix, are among those who gather here annually on Mexico’s Mother’s Day along this kinder portion of an otherwise unforgiving border that separates the United States and Mexico.
For nearly 2,000 miles, the boundary rolls from the tip of Texas westward through the foot of California. But in Tijuana, just before the line juts out and sinks into the Pacific Ocean, it eases into a rusty, weather-beaten fence.
Flanked by the U.S. Border Field Park on one side and Playa de Tijuana on the other, the 10-foot-high fence offers a modest opening here and there, just wide enough to slip a hand or a homemade taco through.
Safe gathering spots such as these are few along this increasingly violent boundary, and Saturday may mark the last time families can use them. Amid escalating drug wars — which have recently erupted in bloody nighttime and daytime street shootouts, sending people into hiding in their homes — officials are fortifying the border.
But no one seemed to give that a thought as Benjamin Rodríguez Gonzáles, 49, cued the day with the cling-cling of his ice-cream cart. Shortly after, three rancheros from Hollister, Calif., sidled up from the U.S. side, slipping dollar bills through the openings in exchange for coconut Popsicles. A Mexican Popsicle, someone quipped, is not allowed to cross the border. Those on both sides of the fence laughed.
Many sat in cars, waiting for a glimpse of an anticipated arrival. Monica Alvarado, 42, of Tijuana brought beach chairs — one for her, a smaller one for her year-old son, Ricardo — and set them near a plate-size hole in the fence. Her son Luis Jaime Cermaeño, 23, came from San Ysidro, Calif., to meet them.
Salsa music floated from a beachside restaurant as the three lunched together on birria, or goat, tacos. Cermaeño, a construction worker who sends money to his family, said he missed the tierra, the dirt, found only in Tijuana tacos. So his mom prepared him plate after plate and slid them through the fence.
“He’s a big guy!” she said in Spanish, spreading her arms and shaking them.
Within the next few weeks, the U.S. government will build more fences in this beachside area. The idea anguishes visitors such as Rodríguez.
“We’re hoping that by next year, they have their immigration papers,” she said, clutching a family photo album, as her grandchildren gathered daisies for her and pushed them through the fence.
Until then, she can only wait.