A Far-Flung Friendship
A public opponent of the Mexican-American War, congressman Abraham Lincoln found a kindred spirit in Mexico’s democratic reformist and fellow lawyer Benito Juárez (find him on the 20-peso bill). The two lived relatively parallel political lives; they were both inaugurated as presidents in March 1861, and their administrations maintained good relations throughout the American Civil War. When France, which favored the Confederacy, invaded Mexico in December 1861 and attempted to install their own Mexican ruler, Lincoln’s State Department voiced their support for Juárez, and Union forces would later covertly assist him at the Texas-Mexico border.
Border Friends Forever
Fast forward nearly 120 years, when US President Ronald Reagan and Mexican President José López Portillo were seeking to further affirm relations between our two countries. They settled on a gesture that would honor the friendship between Lincoln and Juárez—a statue exchange. The US commissioned Mexican sculptor Humberto Peraza Ojeda, renowned for his work depicting bullfighters, to carve Honest Abe breaking chains, destined for Tijuana. In return, Mexico sent a statue of Juárez to America’s equally amiable border city, San Diego.
Hailed a Hero
Officially unveiled on June 21, 1981, Monumento Abraham Lincoln towers over a roundabout along Tijuana’s Paseo de los Héroes (Avenue of Heroes), the main drag of the Tijuana River Zone, placed between Aztec emperor Cuauhtémoc and Mexican general Ignacio Zaragoza. Portillo was expected to attend the unveiling ceremony but cancelled his trip at the last minute. Rumor has it that Lincoln was placed in this spot strategically, as it’s one of the last monuments border-crossers might see before entering the US.
As with all political figures—statues or otherwise—Monumento Abraham Lincoln has seen some pushback. Lincoln is the only foreign "hero" along Paseo de los Héroes, and some locals feel these coveted spots should be reserved only for Mexicans. But the larger objections are to Juárez’s discreet placement in downtown San Diego’s Pantoja Park. His statue there is roughly three times smaller than Lincoln’s at just over 10 feet—a slightly larger discrepancy than the real-life Lincoln’s six-feet-four and Juárez’s four-feet-six.