Can Binational Cooperation Efforts Trump Divisive Political Rhetoric?

NBC 7's Gene Cubbison offers this analysis on the political dialogue surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border.

For all the political heat being generated over immigration and border issues, there's a world of cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico that's going unrecognized -- maybe unappreciated.

With that in mind, local officials with constituencies along the border are concerned that what divides the two countries may cast a pall over what unites them: economic relationships, culture and social ties

They’re dedicated to keeping their eyes on those prizes and don’t want to see more of a binational disconnect.

"There's a lot of political theater and drama going on from the presidential campaign,” said Serge Dedina, mayor of Imperial Beach, south of San Diego. “And that really has nothing to do with the way we work here on the border."

Dedina spoke Tuesday with NBC 7 in an interview near the Imperial Beach pier – a picture-postcard landmark in the southwestern-most city in the continental U.S.

Imperial Beach is home to a diverse population of 26,000 just minutes away from where the international border starts at the Pacific Ocean on its way east

Folks in “IB” have friends and relatives across the border, and many go back and forth for business, entertainment and tourism travel.

They tend to see Mexico as a welcome partner in trade and commerce.

And their civic leaders see whatever border issues arise between the two countries as problems to be solved cooperatively -- as opposed to combatively.

“A lot of it doesn't involve Washington or Mexico City,” Dedina explained. “It involves the local connections and using those connections and friendships to work together to fix things. The border is actually getting a lot better. It's a lot safer. It's a lot cleaner."

But it's still a flashpoint for emotional issues that tend to cast Mexico in the role of political piñata.

"All I know how to do is work proactively, in friendship with Mexico,” Dedina emphasized. “That's what we're doing, and we don't pay any attention to the political theater that's going on in the media."

All too many political candidates make a point of touring the border for photo-ops with retinues of campaign staffers, framing themselves in tough-guy stances, using the steely border architecture as a backdrop.

San Diego-area residents fail to be impressed.

"We live with it every day,” said Terri Finstand, a Del Cerro resident who rode the 26 miles from Mission Bay to the border Tuesday in a small peloton of long-distance cyclists -- stopping for a noontime breather on a bluff overlooking the western terminus of the border fence.

“The fence they put up here,” she said, dismissively, “(people) tunnel from everywhere in Tijuana into San Diego with drugs. I mean honestly, that's not the answer."

Added fellow cyclist Roger Lewis, a resident of North Park: "Why would you think that a fence is going to do anything more than give people some illusionary feeling that they've got some kind of security?"

Whatever the merits of that approach -- and there's no shortage of politicians and citizens who endorse it – officials in Northern Baja California hope more energy in the U.S. will be concentrated on areas of agreement and mutual benefit, rather than friction.

"We commute across the border -- thousands of people every day,” said Juan Tintos, an aide to Rosario Beach Mayor Silvano Abarca. “Many of the problems don't recognize border lines."

Tinto has spent nearly four decades promoting binational civic and tourism causes from Tijuana to Ensenda, and inland to the Gulf of California.

“Whether it's El Niño coming up, or whether it's fires or disease, we can work together and learn from each other,” he said. " And as we grow to learn more from one another, share our experiences, we can both benefit and generate a win-win situation."

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