Somewhere behind the hills just to my left, church bells in Tijuana echo the same four-note melody as my childhood house’s doorbell.
We are standing on a land divided, feet planted firm on the ground that holds the stories of a million families; stories told in the heat and the sandy desert before us, in the thin metal eight-foot fence that separates a highway in Mexico from the empty wasteland of California’s border. The same curious iridescent beetles that buzzed around us two days before in Mexico are here in California, flitting to and fro between what, at times, has felt like two separate worlds.
This is where stories are buried, and standing on this divided ground, we intend to dig them up.
It is this moment, of church bells and doorbells, that this division hits me in all its physical yet ambiguous reality. Here are two countries separated by, more or less, the idea of a border; some line that decides where one country stops and the other starts. It is upheld in this particular area by a rickety wall of landing mat to our left, salvaged from World War II, and a taller metal fence topped with razor wire on our right. The first is rusted and covered in graffiti and is mostly there to deter vehicles. It’s right-hand brother stands tall and stark in pride on the richer side of land.
This is the moment where I find that all I can think is an oversimplified, dumbfounded thought: If only they could see.
Whether this “they” is the two Border Patrol Agents standing before us giving a tour of the other side of what we’ve just seen two days prior or it is the very nation in which we stand now, or it is the whole world, I can’t decide. The words of 23-year-old Noemi, a girl we met the night before, echo in my head along with this desperation for others to see what I am seeing; “You have voices people will listen to. Use them.” In this moment of division and confusion, these words are what ring back to me, the ghost of the church bells that hang in the heavy August air.
This is my new mission: to use the voice I’ve been given for the sake of those who face injustice; to deconstruct these man-made borders and this culture of division with my words. It calls to me with such undeniable volume that I am almost convinced the bells are the voice of Tijuana, of the immigrants who have maybe crossed the earth on which I now stand, of Noemi and of everyone with a story like hers.
“No more silence,” these bells are singing. It is time to sing with them.