NACO, Arizona (Reuters) - It was never like this at the Olympics.
U.S. and Mexican volleyball teams faced off over the rusted border fence in southern Arizona on Saturday and played as part of a binational goodwill festival.
The scene offered a festive contrast from the usual tensions surrounding the U.S.-Mexican border. Illegal immigration from Mexico and border security have become a potent political issue in both the United States and Mexico.
The game was the centerpiece of a party held occasionally on the border since 1979 by residents of the town of Naco, Arizona, and its namesake in the Mexican state of Sonora.
“For us, it represents the celebration of the union of two countries,” said Jose Lorenzo Villegas, the mayor of Naco, Mexico, as U.S. and Mexican youngsters tapped the ball across a net set up on the dusty international line.
“What’s unusual is that both the Mexican and U.S. teams are playing at home, with the fence as the net,” he added.
Men, women and children lofted the ball over the net throughout the afternoon as U.S. Border Patrol trucks rolled past the event in bright sunshine.
The festival is one of many celebrated by towns along the 2,200-mile (3,200-km) border, although organizers believe the volleyball game is unique.
The U.S.-Mexico border has the highest number of both legal and illegal crossings of any land border in the world.
While heavily regulated and policed, it is occasionally given over to playful uses.
Two years ago, human cannonball David Smith was blasted over the border fence from a beach in Tijuana into a safety net set up on the California side of the border.