Follow Paul and Nick Pineda as they embark on a grueling hike to humanize the communities living along the border, and to counteract fearmongering aimed at migrants.

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In the last year, we’ve heard heart-wrenching stories of migrant families separated in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border; of a federal government in Washington, D.C., that seems unable to keep track of these families or reunite all of them.

We’ve listened as President Trump has stoked animosity toward migrants — both those who seek to cross legally and illegally — by describing them as criminal-minded invaders.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were subjected to a government shutdown over the bitter fight to fund Trump’s border wall, plunging many of them into financial crisis. Then Trump declared a national emergency in an effort to secure money for wall construction.

Most of us might be content to sit back and roll our eyes over the slow-moving debacle that is our national immigration discourse.

But Paul Pineda isn’t satisfied with watching from the sidelines at his home in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood.

He and his son Nick plan to show their support for a more conscientious border debate by walking along it themselves — and taking us with them via social media.

The first leg of the trip — a roughly 400-mile trek from the Pacific Coast to Nogales, Arizona — is set to start this week.  

Their ultimate goal is to hike along the U.S. side of our southern border for its entire 1,954-mile length, from the Pacific Ocean south of San Diego all the way to the Gulf Coast in Texas.

I caught up with Paul last week to ask why he wanted to take the extraordinary step of hiking the rugged and often remote borderlands.

“It was just bothering me, the vitriol and the negative pictures … of both people and communities,” he told me. “And the fear — the fact that we are basing a decision of such great significance on fear. A wall to resolve this problem is very shortsighted and silly … Walls aren’t meant for situations like this.”

This is the wall, just south of San Diego on the U.S.-Mexico border, where Paul Pineda and his son Nick will start their trek. Paul Pineda estimates it will take them about three weeks to complete the first leg to Nogales, Arizona. (Courtesy of Paul Pineda)
This is the wall, just south of San Diego on the U.S.-Mexico border, where Paul Pineda and his son Nick will start their trek. Paul Pineda estimates it will take them about three weeks to complete the first leg to Nogales, Arizona. (Courtesy of Paul Pineda)

Pineda, a 58-year-old investment manager and CEO of a capital-management firm, is Mexican American, the grandson of native-born Mexicans who migrated across the border in the early part of the 20th century and settled in the Southwest. They had humble beginnings, but their children, including Pineda’s parents, went on to college. Pineda grew up in El Paso, Texas, and went to Notre Dame. His son Nick, 25, attended Seattle University and is trying to break into the film industry in Atlanta. His daughter Paloma, 28, went to Yale.

Pineda’s family story is the embodiment of the immigrant dream. The border is not an abstraction to him; it’s a key feature in the map of his life.

Nick Pineda, left, and his father, Paul Pineda, will document their journey along the U.S.-Mexico border on social media. (Courtesy of Paul Pineda)
Nick Pineda, left, and his father, Paul Pineda, will document their journey along the U.S.-Mexico border on social media. (Courtesy of Paul Pineda)

Pineda describes himself as a “connector” and he’ll use this trek to connect us to a different narrative about the U.S.-Mexico border. He and Nick plan to film and interview members of local communities, in both English and Spanish, as they move east. Their hope is to build understanding in the no man’s land of our contentious immigration fight, which has only driven up the number of illegal border crossings in recent months.

But they also want to humanize a dividing line against which so many inhumane deeds have played out, and to highlight the potential damage to plants and wildlife that Trump’s ever-evolving wall plan would cause.

One thing he hopes to focus on is the need for sustainable economic development in poorer communities south of our border, something that might naturally stem the flow of migrants into the United States.

At the very least, Pineda hopes that his father-son trek will show those who follow along on Instagram and Facebook the rich cultural and ecological diversity of the borderlands, while highlighting other positive aspects of the border, such as the fact that thousands of people cross back and forth at legal points of entry every day for work, commerce and to visit their families.

He confesses that it took a while for his wife, Jody, to get on board with the trek idea. Walking along the border isn’t exactly safe, given the desert and mountain terrain, remoteness, heat and other concerns. He and his son plan to complete the first leg of the hike in 18 to 20 days. Six of those nights will be spent in hotels, but they’ll sleep in tents for the other nights. The dates of the remaining legs of their trek are to be determined.

Pineda, an Eagle Scout, says he hiked a lot as a young man growing up in the Southwest, so he’s feeling ready for the grueling journey. He and Nick will have a satellite phone, a GPS device and a texting device, and they’ve planned for contingencies in case they run into trouble. An in-law will help them resupply near Yuma, Arizona, and his parents will greet them in Nogales.

“The biggest thing we can do is to try to show that there is not a need to be so fearful,” Pineda said.

“We want to demystify the border, filling in the blanks so that the conversations around it aren’t always driven by fear,” he explained in an email after our conversation. “It’s about shared humanity and compassion.”


Border trek

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