Going South

In May I went to Tijuana Mexico to speak at the conference linked to their Pride festival this year entitled La jornada cultural contra la homophobia (Confronting homophobia with arts and culture). I spoke about Where Crip and Queer Collide and will post the text of the speech in a separate entry.

The opportunity came about through my friend Dan, who works to create connections across the border with events that happen on either side simultaneously. He’s created a garden encompassing both U.S. and Mexican soil. (To read more about it, go here.)

One of the amazing ways he has fostered friendships is through sign language. People can no longer go up to the fence and speak to each other through the gaps in the wire, so now he has sign language interpreters on both sides to transmit messages between friends and especially family. It’s only one of the ways the tools of disability can be used to accomplish other goals.

In planning for this event, I thought I would be bringing my guide dog, so I tried doing research on my rights. I don’t have any. None. Let me make this clear: guide dog users don’t seem to have any right to bring their mobility aid into a public place. Moreover, the Mexican consulate did not know this and were confused by the concept of a service animal. I hoed it might be a case of no laws needed because nobody cared, but I was unfortunately not able to test that theory.

While in Tijuana, I encountered no other disabled people, which doesn’t surprise me. What did give me pause was the fact that my friend, who spends about half of his time there, has met exactly one disabled person.
Later in the day, someone explained it to me. Disabled people don’t go out in public, typically living at home with their families or in institutions. Even if someone lived out in the community, it would seemingly be almost impossible. The sidewalks are not remotely level and the busses were about 30 years behind ours in terms of design, so accessibility was not a feasible consideration. With a “cheaper” taxi system, there is some means to work around limited physical access, but I suspect my economic resources, however limited they seem to me, are far greater than what the average disabled Mexican has available.

Much of this came from one person who waxed eloquent about how good disabled people have it in the U.S. and in comparison, he’s right. Unfortunately, his vision of our social welfare system is biased by the nonexistent system he knows. Trying to explain that made me feel like an arrogant person who has it all and judges others from a place of privilege.

At the conference, I discovered other indications of the social position disabled people occupy. Nobody was rude or even insensitive. That would have taken a connection being made between me being disabled and what that meant on their end. In other words, people in the U.S. seemingly have a sense that they should behave in certain ways and much of the problem lies in not knowing precisely how. I had the sense that the people I encountered saw me more as so foreign that they had no frame of reference. None. I thought that was interesting.

For over ten years, I’ve lived very close to this city, yet this is the first time I ventured south of the fence. I am adding to the list of “stuff to do when I have time,” learning more about my disabled brothers and sisters who live so close and yet have such a different experience. Little does he realize, but my garden-planting friend is going to get roped into my efforts.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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