People yearn to connect across borders amid pandemic holiday

A young boy, part of several asylum seeking families participating in a Las Posadas event at the U.S.-Mexico border wall, peers into the U.S. from Agua Prieta, Mexico Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, seen from Douglas, Ariz. People on each side of the border celebrate Las Posadas as they have done for decades, a centuries-old tradition practiced in Mexico re-enacts Mary and Joseph's search for refuge in Bethlehem through songs, with several of the families attending stuck south of the border, their lives in limbo with U.S. proceedings suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Newlyweds Drew MacPherson, a U.S. citizen from Bellingham, Wash., left, and Faith Dancey, a Canadian from White Rock, B.C., stroll through an otherwise deserted portion of the Peace Arch Historical State Park in the U.S. where it abuts Canada, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The couple married earlier there after Dancey walked across the border nearby where Canadians have routinely been crossing the ditch to meet with sweethearts, friends and family in the U.S. She planned to return to Canada by day's end, while he would stay in the United States. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

To slow the spread of COVID-19, the United States, Canada and Mexico agreed in March to close their shared borders to nonessential travel.

Nine months later, it’s Christmas. Families across the world are disconnected, but perhaps none more than those trapped on opposite sides of an international border. Some legally can’t cross, and others can’t afford to endure quarantines if they do.

Yet, the holiday spirit survives. Along both borders, AP photographers found families connecting in smaller, more intimate ways, overcoming unusual obstacles for shared celebrations.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, most years bring festive Las Posadas celebrations; the centuries-old tradition practiced in Mexico reenacts through song Mary and Joseph’s search for refuge in Bethlehem.

Not this year. In addition to virus-related restrictions, people face another barrier: President Donald Trump’s border wall that stretches hundreds of miles and is still under construction.

A little girl in Arizona recently stuck her arm through giant steel slats of the border wall, wrangling a baby doll as she looked to the sky. A little boy reached through the wall for a hug, looking tired and serious.

Contrast that with the scenes 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometres) away on the U.S.-Canada border.

A short strip of yellow police tape is the only thing dividing Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec.

On a recent day, the mood outside the majestic, Victorian-style library where people from both countries come to congregate was festive and lighthearted.

A family unfolded chairs in the snow, bundled in winter coats on both sides of the border. They cheerfully exchanged Christmas cards across the police tape, chatting amiably as if there were no barrier.

A Canadian border policeman came by but only to make someone move their car.

The motivations for meeting this way vary: Dr. Tamsin Durand, a physician at a Vermont hospital, visited with her Canadian parents across the yellow tape, unwilling to enter Canada because it would trigger a two-week quarantine. So she, her husband and 3-year-old son, come to visit.

Travel 2,800 miles (4,506 kilometres) west, to Peace Arch Historical State Park in Blaine, Washington, where Canadians walked from a street parallel to the border across a rain-soaked ditch separating the two countries, many carrying tents, sleeping bags, food and other belongings for a visit with Americans.

To enter the U.S., they navigated a short but slippery downhill. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers checked identification documents of Canadians as they returned. A sign that read “Leaving United States Border” reminded them of the international divide.

Couples romanced in the park; children played. Faith Dancey of White Rock, British Columbia, was all smiles with her bridal gown blowing in the wind as she walked across neatly groomed grass with her new husband. Drew MacPherson of Bellingham, Washington, gave her a joyful piggyback ride before her return to Canada. He stayed in the United States.

It’s not so simple at the Mexico border. In Calexico, California, a planned cross-border celebration happened only in the U.S. because a construction site blocked access to participants in Mexicali, Mexico, a sprawling industrial city of 1 million people.

About a dozen mask-wearing people waited in Calexico to celebrate with Mexicans on Dec. 12, the day of Mexico’s patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Americans gathered on the other side, too far to see or speak to their loved ones, and rallied for open borders.

They left behind flowers and candles. They touched the wall before departing.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusHolidays

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowichan Valley WildSafeBC coordinator Amanda Crowston teaches a Grade 5/6 class at Ecole Cobble Hill last fall. (Submitted)
The bears are back in town and so is WildSafeBC

The bears are back in town so keep an eye out, reminds… Continue reading

The Regional District of Nanaimo has its sights set on busing to the Cowichan Valley in time for March 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Bus link between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley expected by next March

Unallocated transit hours already in Regional District of Nanaimo budget

North Cowichan has heated exchange over timelines of its official community plan review. (File photo)
North Cowichan’s OCP review divides council

Tight timelines leads to heated debate

Matt Ellison was a star with the Kerry Park Islanders before embarking on a pro career that included stops in the NHL and KHL. (Submitted)
Ex-NHLers to highlight Kerry Park-Peninsula alumni games

Matt Ellison and Kyle Greentree commit to suit up in August

Aaron Stone, chairman of the Island Coastal Economic Trust, said he’s encouraged with the province providing finding for local agencies to hire staff to help get back on economic track during the pandemic. (File photo)
$70K for Economic Development Cowichan for new analyst

Temporary position to help recover from pandemic

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Most Read