Color Bars

Walking the Walk

Almost every week I hear the line “We should be building bridges, not walls” or a similar iteration of that sentiment. The bridge metaphor is used by many to express how to collaborate with, understand or just talk about the border region. In public relations, we use it when referring to understanding business culture and how to communicate effectively on both sides of the border. We take a step back and put ourselves in our client’s and their audience’s shoes to create the most authentic messages to build an effective relationship. And ultimately, tell the most compelling story. In these instances, if you’re focused too exclusively on the walls that separate us and not on learning how to truly understand diverse audiences, you’re nearly guaranteed to have a dud of a campaign.

I look up to a group of people I find not only inspirational but who have established themselves as some of the leading voices when it comes to actually walking the walk. They drive conversations about the border past panels, seminars and think pieces to action. My bridge builders are a motivated, smart group of women who have been my eyes and ears on the pulse of the binational region for quite some time. I had the opportunity to sit down with some of them in the last couple of weeks to talk about what the relationship and complexity of the binational region means to them and to their audiences. To get a sense of their unique perspectives, I asked them the same three questions.

  1. What have been the biggest improvements in binational relations recently?
  2. What has been left out of the conversation and requires attention?
  3. What will be our next “big win” if we continue down this path?

And this is what they had to say:

Sandra Dibble

Passionate about the border, reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune:

What have been the biggest improvements in binational relations recently?
Momentum and dynamic. I remember when San Diego Dialogue and Charles Nathanson were driving the conversation about what it meant to be in a binational region They coordinated with stakeholders from both sides of the region and gave the issue a voice. Now organizations such as the Smart Border Coalition are becoming the umbrella of a vanished interest in the mega-region concept.

Back in 2008, people stopped going to Mexico, and they stopped the line of communication. Now I see the pendulum swinging the other way. People are trying to do things as a region again and more normal exchanges are taking place.

There is a core of people that always existed but became the conversation became diminished during that time, now a new generation is making headway (from Turista Libre, Smart Border Coalition, the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, the South Councy EDC, the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce and others). I think there’s smaller efforts, that go on beneath the radar, such as Miguel Marshall learning from with South Park businesses. There’s Adriana Eguia and her work with CaliBaja, for sure, and of course, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

What has been left out of the conversation and requires attention?
There are still San Diegans who think Tijuana is not important. That Tijuana is not part of their vision, myopic as it may be. To them, there’s no reason to visit, no reason to understand the city or it’s culture. There is a richness to Tijuana San Diegans should know about. There is not one specific thing that has created that change. It has been incremental. You may not notice it, but if someone came back after 10 years they would be wowed.

Changing the image of the area is a bigger task than just conducting marketing and promoting abroad. It’s changing our reality by experiencing culture side by side. We need more people in the conversation, more bilingualism. We should start encouraging an exchange of ideas and culture on both sides of the border while our kids are young, getting those kids side by side and making sure future generations are engaged and enriched through that experience.

What will be our next “big win” if we continue down this path?
There is a game changer, and that’s the border wait times. Getting those down in a reliable fashion so people will be more willing to cross for dinner, a movie, a concert, a class, an evening at a gallery, a meeting with a colleague or a friend. Getting more people to cross more frequently is the way to start changing attitudes and getting people to think regionally.

Esthepania Baez

Latin leader, anchor for Telemundo San Diego:

What have been the biggest improvements in binational relations recently?
The border infrastructure improvements in all its phases. It will be a project that benefits both sides of the border for commerce and commuters. Another improvement I’ve seen is the level of communication between both cities’ mayors. The signing of the memorandums of understanding to facilitate communication and coordination between similar departments of both cities is encouraging, although they will require much attention from this new administration to be effective. Another aspect has been community leadership with events such as Tijuana Innovadora, Latino Leaders magazine, and the Latino Impact awards recognizing people from both sides of the border that are influential and truly understand the pulse of the binational region.

What has been left out of the conversation and requires attention?
Immigration for asylum seekers is something that needs to become a priority between our countries. With current global events, our two cities are directly impacted by trends of political asylum, immigration from all over the world flooding our borders, and people who are leaving their native countries and states looking for safety and a better life.

What will be our next “big win” if we continue down this path?
Consolidating the region into one voice to promote, lead and guide our community, and a better understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities in the success of our region. We can’t continue to thrive as a region without working side by side.

Denice García

Mom-to-be, friend to all, director of binational affairs for the office of Mayor Kevin Faulconer:

What have been the biggest improvements in binational relations recently?
Our Virginia Avenue Transit Center as the first part of the $741 million reconfiguration of the San Ysidro Port of entry. It was a multi-department project within the city. I am very proud of the extensive collaboration that was achieved to deliver a facility that serves a valuable function for the whole region. Another layer of success was taking the steps to get the project moving forward on the federal level on both sides of the border, all in a timely manner.

What has been left out of the conversation and requires attention?
I believe the impact of the health industry in both countries has been a topic we have not addressed yet. Our community needs to learn how to navigate healthcare binationaly. There is little information on jurisdiction, coverage or accountability. And further how we as stakeholders can collaborate on both sides of the border.

What will be our next “big win” if we continue down this path?
I can think of a couple of potential wins. For example, Otay II, focusing on infrastructure, and a smarter, safer more efficient border that adds value to our region. We need to view our border as a unifier not a divider that facilitates business and travel. We are confident this is a priority for the region and that it’s part of our countries’ high level dialogue that is taking place at the presidential level. We also need to focus on public-private partnerships for tolling.

A theme that everybody points to is infrastructure, the importance of an efficient border, reducing wait times, and the collaboration between governments at all levels. Another one is the basic sense that “we are talking to each other.” People understand that some decisions should be made collaboratively for the benefit of the region, and we should bounce ideas off of each other to see if they are feasible. I agree that talking is important. The work we do everyday at Nuffer, Smith, Tucker involves starting the correct conversations to build relationships, and being able to tell a moving story to create action. We look forward to pushing ourselves to take the next step toward action and being one of the voices encouraging the region to do the same.

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