My next post won’t be about crime in Tijuana, but unfortunately this one is

Today was a different sort of workday. I was asked by the KPBS television program Full Focus to be an interpreter for several interviews with HIV/AIDS patients in San Ysidro, CA. I wasn’t quite sure I was up for the task – this having no reflection on working with HIV/AIDS patients, but more about whether or not my Spanish skills were up to professional standards. I let them know I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable in medical Spanish jargon, but they weren’t worried.

We went down to a free clinic that treats both physical and psychological impact of VIH/SIDA (Virus de la Inmunodeficiencia Humana / Síndrome de InmunoDeficiencia Adquirida) on local residents who have HIV or AIDS. We interviewed a woman who discovered she was both HIV positive and pregnant in the same blood test. A man confessed he had gotten HIV from a homosexual encounter but has never told his family. A senior citizen who found out she had AIDS because of her husband’s infidelities, her husband being the only man with whom she has ever had relations. The stories were intense to say the least.

After the visit to the clinic, we headed down to la Coahuila in Tijuana, the red light district. Apparently, some men will pay extra to have unprotected sex. I suppose you have to already be headed down a pretty dark path to actually pay a prostitute extra for unprotected sex… So, we headed for the area so they could shoot some B-roll. I had only driven by once a few years back on a quick tour of the city, so we pulled over at a taqueria nearby to double check on our bearings. The guy behind the counter didn’t seem to appreciate that I was asking him where the prostitutes were. He also denied my request to park in front of his shop. He whipped his sarcastic hand in the direction of a dirt lot and told me to park there, but to make sure and tip the guy extra to watch our stuff. His flippant attitude didn’t inspire me to take them up on the offer. We parked across the street, and walked several blocks to find some action.

We found a nice spot where both sides of the street had girls dressed in varying degrees of hoochiness. But as soon as the camera came out, they all disappeared. A guy approached us and began telling us in broken English that Tijuana is a wonderful place, that there are much better things to be filming. He passionately tried to dissuade us from shooting scenes that perpetuate the worst image possible of Tijuana. A passing car honked and flipped us the bird.

Only a block away from returning to the van, someone approached and told me our window had been broken and that the police were all around our vehicle. I ran back and sure enough it was true. The passenger window was shattered, and several pieces of equipment were stolen. A drunk man standing nearby pointed to a group of people and told me they were accomplices, that they knew who did it. The police questioned those in the area, but conveniently enough, “no one saw anything”. We were even parked beneath a surveillance camera, but I can imagine petty crime doesn’t always get a lot of investigative attention. How can you break into a car, in broad daylight, with 15 people on the same sidewalk, run off with lighting equipment, and no one sees anything. I couldn’t help think that everyone watching was all part of a Coahuila mafia.

In the end, it was a disappointing day for an optimist like me. The unfortunate yet all too common conclusion: the actions of punk criminals squelch the voice of the honest masses who are tired of the corruption.

KPBS Van Broken Window



  Gravatar Chris wrote @ May 24th, 2006 at 7:14 am

Wow, what a dissapointing encounter with Mexico for your co-workers… It’s always disheartening to hear about something like this but even more so when it’s to a community based company like PBS. I guess the good thing is nobody was hurt!

  Gravatar Rosario wrote @ May 24th, 2006 at 10:18 am

First of all, there is crime everywhere, same thing could have happened even in San Diego (with the equipment left inside the van without protection and at sight to everyone who’s passing by). Second of all, you guys where in the worst zone of the city and, unfortunately, this is where it’s easier for the criminals to do their “job”. And third of all, ‘gringos’ are not particularly welcomed in this area (unless they’re there to spend lots of money), so I suspect it was a type of ‘revenge/punishment’ for you being there shooting video, contributing to the damage of Tijuana’s image. Nevertheless, I am terribly sorry that this happened to the KPBS crew. But, to be honest, I am not happy that you guys were there trying to shoot video of Mexican prostitutes. There are prostitutes in California too, why did you have to go all the way down there? And, on the other hand, why focusing on HIV/AIDS latino patients? Same type of stories can be found everywhere. Anyway, so bad you had to go through all of this in my beloved city Tijuana.

  Gravatar Nathan wrote @ May 24th, 2006 at 11:11 am

First, I have to say that blogging about work is a sensitive business. I felt I needed to share the story and situation because it brings up a lot of complicated issues. But I have to refrain from certain details because this is public, and doesn’t constitute an “official” KPBS statement. But my speaking about it does reflect back on the organization, and therefore, I have to take a political approach and refrain from overstepping my bounds by defending or criticising KPBS.

I will say, that I agree that crime/prostitution/aids has no national/ethnic bias. I was merely helping translate and wasn’t involved in the editorial process and story selection. I can reference this article for additional context:

  Gravatar ChrisN wrote @ May 25th, 2006 at 11:20 am

That seems to be a perpetual argument – does one report on unsightly things, or keep quiet and prevent damage? On a scale, full disclosure & potential damage on one end and fluff on the other, I’m almost maxed out on the information/damage side. Realistic coverage should include the nasty bits. I wonder if one’s information/damage comfort level varies much between the US and Mexico? Is that more cultural, or personality based?

“There are prostitutes in California too, why did you have to go all the way down there? And, on the other hand, why focusing on HIV/AIDS latino patients? Same type of stories can be found everywhere.” – Rosario

These same stories have also been done for many years about San Diego. As I understand it, KPBS is trying to give their audience more stories with border and Mexico coverage. Coverage is always going to have positive and negative aspects. I don’t see any spite, or lack of balance on their part.

  Gravatar Felipe wrote @ May 25th, 2006 at 4:30 pm

Nathan, with your last comment on May 24th at 11:11AM, I am convinced you should become a politician. I need a shower.

  Gravatar Nathan wrote @ May 26th, 2006 at 10:15 am

Felps, my political slime must have been pretty strong to cause you to duchar. I hope you had a nice hot one.

  Gravatar oso wrote @ May 26th, 2006 at 2:39 pm

We parked across the street, and walked several blocks to find some action.

That’s what I like to hear. By any chance, did you run into HP (who insists on spelling it ‘cawila’) down there?

In all seriousness, Rosario says:

But, to be honest, I am not happy that you guys were there trying to shoot video of Mexican prostitutes. There are prostitutes in California too, why did you have to go all the way down there? And, on the other hand, why focusing on HIV/AIDS latino patients? Same type of stories can be found everywhere.

I agree and I disagree. HIV and AIDS in Tijuana is something that’s been terribly underreported, at least in the English-language press. There are a lot of Americans who go down to Coahuila (TJ) to have sex with prostitutes. They’re probably not the ones to watch KPBS, but if they did catch the story somehow, maybe they’d think twice before having unprotected sex or going down there at all. Also, if some wealthy donors catch wind of the problem they might donate money to organizations dealing with the epidemic, like the free clinic.

  Gravatar Nathan wrote @ May 31st, 2006 at 12:18 pm

Here is a story that aired this morning on KPBS Radio – MP3 Download:

Tijuana may be emerging as a hotspot for HIV infection. New research suggests as many as one in every 125 Tijuana residents ages 15 to 49 could be infected. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story about a situation some fear could turn into an epidemic.

  Gravatar geoff wrote @ June 23rd, 2006 at 8:42 pm

Are you kidding me? Why do make the issue the shattering of your windshield, the petty crime squelching your voice? Why do you make the issue where the station films the video? Why does your issue revolve around cities, boundaries, race, and language? You completely overlook the real story in order to indulge your obsessive agenda of petty injustice and racism in your world.

There is crime and injustice everywhere. You don’t have to be Rosario to know that. There is AIDS/HIV and prostitution everywhere. Arguing about where it is filmed is ridiculous. It should be filmed everywhere. And it is. But the topic shouldn’t be crime, prostitution, and HIV in Tijuana. The topic should be a culture of oppression everywhere and the education that is needed to fight it. Why not talk about the irony and injustice of the simultaneous trafficking women and children across the border and the deportation of “illegal” residents of the US who have families here?

Quit whining about your fear of your city’s tarnished reputation. Have some heart for the characters your story overlooked and the real, life-threatening injustice that people face everyday. The kind of injustice that overlooks the women who hid when your cameras came out.

Hopefully your next post won’t be about crime in Tijuana. When we finally hear “the voice of the honest masses who are tired of the corruption,” we will hear stories about more than a cracked windshield and border politics. We’ll here the voices of those women you failed to represent and the culture of power and political corruption, along with the clueless and distracted reporters, that keeps them silent.

  Gravatar Sassy wrote @ July 24th, 2006 at 7:43 pm

You parked a car full of expensive equipment in one of the worst neighborhoods in TJ and it got broken into, and this is a surprise?

No offense dude, but that seems kinda like a barney maneuver for professional photogs. Next time, be more discreet.

HBO shot an amazing documentary about hookers in Mott Haven and HuntsPoint (Bronx) called “Hookers at the Point”. It is one of the gnarliest things I’ve seen.

  Gravatar Rob Johnson wrote @ March 9th, 2007 at 2:49 pm

You visit a 3rd world city like Tijuana and of course you are going to be taken advantage of if you have anything of value. And of course the people coming to places like San Diego from Tijuana (and other crime ridden places) are bringing their 3rd world problems with them.

Someone said this could have happened in San Diego… I agree… Look at how many Mexicans are in San Diego.

  Gravatar Lucy wrote @ March 14th, 2007 at 5:08 pm

oops!! sorry mister beener Rob Johnson i forgot you gringos owned the whole world, you don’t learn spanish or german or whatever, you don’t need it, cause you have your wonderful english and powerful dollar i apologize cause we the mexicans exist.

  Gravatar antonio wrote @ December 22nd, 2007 at 9:02 am

crime/prostitution/aids has no national/ethnic bias – whoa? are you really a reporter? do you have statistics to back this up or can you not read statistics? clearly, even in the US there are certain ethnic groups and areas that are significantly more prone to violence, disease, and also education or lack there of…ever wonder why the term 3rd World country came about? It wasn’t because they had less crime, less disease and a higher standard of living…and Rosario – you sound like a Muslim when you say that a gringo (aka infidel) should not be reporting on issues in your city…wtf kind of logic is that…I wish America would ignore shit holes like Tijuana and all over the rest of the world and first resolve issues inside the US but again the logic is non-sense…haven’t seen you post any complaints about all the money the US sends to Mexico or all the jobs given to Mexicans or the numerous other donations given to YOUR country…

and if 1 of 125 has HIV i think you can classify that as a massive epidemic already you tool…

oh lets see Lucy…come to the US and see how many spanish speaking immigrants have been here for 30 years and can only say “tank you bery mush” – it’s a joke – again, I don’t hear u complaining about that mighty dollar when it’s being given to your country in billions or when US volunteers donate time and mighty dollars on a regular basis…I know education is hard but so is being racist against the gringo and his success…

  Gravatar John wrote @ June 9th, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Dear Nathan:
I have been to Tijuana and to the Coahuila many, many, times during the past 45 years, and I have never, ever, run into any trouble, what-so-ever. In fact, I’ve had the best time of my life hanging out with the pretty, young hookers of la Coahuila, drinking, dancing and talking up a storm! Moreover, I must tell you I’ve had more than my share of gorgeous Playboy model-like hookers for 50 bucks and less! :-)
Forgive me for saying so, but after reading your account, I have to tell you that you are either an idiot, or very naive, or both. First of all, you don’t drive into a red light district (e.g., Compton), you don’t park on a public street (e.g., Watts), and you don’t poke into other people’s business, unless you can deal with the get back. Next time, leave your car in San Ysidro or in a nice part of Tijuana (e.g., in the Zona Rio), dolly your equipment in, if you need to, and don’t mess with the drug cartels, unless you’re ready to lay your life on the line.
Best wishes!

  Gravatar Jake Mean wrote @ August 30th, 2011 at 10:29 am

You should have paid the first person. 99% of the time, when you pay someone to watch your things, you won’t get robbed. Make sure you pay them good if you have belongings that are easily seen and expensive. There is expensive parking in California, the same is true about Mexico.

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