By Cristy Lytal
This January, 24 students added their numbers to the busiest land border crossing in the Western Hemisphere, the port of entry connecting San Diego and Tijuana, as part of a new Urban Crawls series at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
An initiative of the Associated Students of Planning and Development (ASPD), the Urban Crawl series immerses students in surrounding neighborhoods and communities with the goals of exploring the built environment, design, transportation, sustainability, development and other topics of interest. Recent excursions have brought students to Little Tokyo and Chinatown, and future crawls will venture to the Los Angeles River and Koreatown.
“At least for me,” said Castro, “the best ways to learn about planning or the urban environment is to immerse yourself in these communities that we research all the time.”
Mitzi Salgado, a student in the Master of International Public Policy and Management (IPPAM) program who is focusing on migration policy and border politics, and Kristian had been wanting to conduct a trip around policy and urban planning in Tijuana for some time. They were very excited to curate the first, student led international urban crawl out of a conversation about the need for an international program like this one. The Tijuana Urban Crawl was born out of Kristian and Mitzi’s vision for immersing themselves in both the community and in better understanding policy.
“The Tijuana Urban Crawl aimed to teach the students that their role in their professions was more than just being accountable, that it was about being responsible,” said Salgado. She added that the Tijuana event was the first Urban Crawl that was an international immersion program, bringing urban planning and public policy students together to explore policy implementations.
To make the two-day Tijuana Urban Crawl a reality, Castro, Salgado and MPL student Lynnete Guzman teamed up with ASPD, the Partnership for an Equitable Los Angeles (PELA) and the Price Latino Student Association (PLSA), and secured sponsorship from the Graduate Student Government, the Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis Department, USC Price Student Affairs and METRANS Transportation Center.
The Urban Crawlers traveled by bus from the USC University Park Campus to Friendship Park on the American side of the border.
There, they met Enrique Morones, who founded a nonprofit called Border Angels that does everything from providing free legal assistance to guiding volunteer trips to the desert to placing jugs of water along migrant crossing routes.
After the presentation, Salgado, who grew up in both San Diego and Tijuana, recalled that “we walked towards the (border) wall and saw not one existing wall, but three existing walls, high security cameras, border patrol, dense policing in various capacities, illustrating how much a wall really meant.”
Next, they heard a presentation from Miguel Aguirre, founder of Border Fusion, a private company involved in developing people-centered infrastructure at ports of entry.
“He shared what the struggles and challenges are, as well as the opportunities, and then he walked us over the bridge where all the cars go through to Tijuana,” said Castro.
In Tijuana, the students enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant and a walking tour led by Salgado, including visits to sites of architectural and cultural interest, such as the statues of the Aztec Emperor Cuauhtémoc and of Abraham Lincoln, and a green office building called the Via Corporativo.
The next morning, another representative from Border Angels brought the students to a shelter to meet Honduran migrants who have been caravanning north as asylum seekers.
“One of the biggest takeaways is just recognizing the immense privilege we have of being able to move between countries, being able to move across borders,” said Castro. “At the end of our trip, we were speaking to a person who is escaping violence from his home country, and he doesn’t have a place to call home. And us, on the other side, we were free to go back home after the trip. That was a privilege check for everyone on this trip.”
Salgado added, “The political implications of having access to the United States and having the ability to affect policy is not just a privilege but a responsibility to fully understand our policies.The bottom line is that we are all interconnected. As far away as we all seem from one another, the decisions that we make in our work—especially as public policy majors and planning students—will impact people we will never see.”