borders life photo tijuana

SENTRI: Privileged Border Crossing

Privileged Crossing
Before approaching the border agent in the SENTRI lane, the RFID card and windshield-mounted sensor show the agent a photo of who to expect. For many, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding the golden ticket we call the SENTRI pass. To get it, you have to submit your weight in paperwork — birth certificate, passport, social security card, drivers license, residence and employment history, vehicle docs (VIN, plates, registration, insurance), proof of residence, employment, pay stubs, bank statements, etc. They run a background check and laser-scan your fingerprints. It’s straight out of Gattaca.

[ view more images of border crossing | slideshow ]

how to language

How to Type Spanish Accents Using an English Layout Keyboard

This is old news to anyone who types at all in Spanish, but I wanted to post a reference for typing accented characters. There are a few ways to make them; it depends on your computer. These are only the most common characters. You might need one from another Spanish dialect.

Windows: Press and hold the ALT key. While holding ALT, type in the numbers associated with each letter. After you’ve typed in the numbers, release the ALT key and the character appears:

á = ALT + 160

é = ALT + 130

í = ALT + 161

ñ = ALT + 164

ó = ALT +162

ú = ALT + 163

ü = ALT + 129

¡ = ALT + 173

¿ = ALT + 168

Mac: Press and hold the OPTION key, and while holding OPTION, press “e.” Release both keys and type the letter you want accented. Note that for the tilde, umlaut/diaeresis and upside down exclamation/question marks it’s slightly different:

á = OPTION + e — a

é = OPTION + e — e

í = OPTION + e — i

ó = OPTION + e — o

ú = OPTION + e — u

ñ = OPTION + n — n

ü = OPTION+ u — u

¡ = OPTION + 1

¿ = OPTION + SHIFT + ?

culture crit life photo

Clothes Line vs Dryer

My clothes have been dried on a clothes line very few times in my life. For the first few months living in Tijuana (2004-2005), we didn’t have a drier. We pinned our wet clothes on orange and yellow plastic ropes, strung across the patio. Here, you can see our neighbors clothes line, including socks hung on the chain-linked fence:

Los Vecinos

My American patience level got the best of me and I bought a dryer. I’ve used dryers before. I grew up with a dryer. You press a button and clothes come out dry a few minutes later. Dry and wrinkled, that is. No matter what settings I use, I end up with wrinkled clothes. To this day, I haven’t mastered the magic combination of heat, load size and timing. Note the ironing board tucked next to the stacked washer/dryer (2007):

Goodbye Laundromat

On the surface, it may look like an upgrade, but I’m back to the drawing board with all new settings. It’s like microwaving popcorn without a popcorn button. Inconceivable. I’ve flirted with the idea of taking everything to the cleaners, but that seems like one step too far across the yuppie line. Maybe I’ll string up a clothes line across the new patio

Just imagine. You’re beaten silly in soapy water only to be tortured for another half-hour in a tumbling inferno. Or, you’re gently draped in the open air, kissed by the sun, the breeze whispering sweet nothings in your ear.

Line Dry

[ view more clothes line photos | slideshow ]

life politics tijuana

Saturdays in TJ: Politics, Haircuts & Soda

I slip on my untied shoes and open the door. It’s a cloudless Saturday morning in Tijuana. The clean blue sky beams the muffled sounds of a nearby loudspeaker. The community soccer court a few houses down the road is full of white tents and red-shirted organizers. It’s election time.

Colonia Solidaridad

I walk down the cement steps to the kitchen. “Quieres almorzar? Do you want breakfast?” my mother-in-law asks. “Si, gracias” I reply. Two eggs over-easy, cebollitas (sauteed onions), beans, corn tortillas and chile. “Estuvo muy rico como siempre, It was very good as always” I tell her. She takes my plate with a small but satisfied smile.

Leaning over the bathroom sink, I lift my t-shirt collar and dry my face. It’s been a week since I shaved. I pull a clean pair of socks from my bag to replace the ones I slept in. Shoes laced and camera bag on my shoulder, I head outside.

The streets are lined with cars. The mayor is on his way. The previous mayor, Jorge Hank Rhon, made a visit the year before to inaugurate the soccer court his government helped build.

View of the court in the early stages of construction, directly opposite the image above

This morning, residents from the working-class neighborhood receive free haircuts, medical screenings, and groceries. A man plunges a syringe into the thigh of a small dog. He cries out from the sting of the free vaccine and hobbles away. A young girl scoops him up, cradling her wounded little friend. The amplified voices of the organizers raffle off food, plants and toys.

"Trabajando en Tu Comunidad"

Haircut 1

Haircut 3

Blood Pressure

Despensa Básica

A girl approaches, maybe 20 years old, speaking to me through sunglasses. She asks who I’m with. “Vengo de la colonia para ver qué onda, I’m coming from the neighborhood, to see what’s up” I say, trying to downplay the fact that I’m clearly not from the neighborhood. She asks me who I work for, and I tell her. A public media organization in San Diego, visiting family nearby, thought I’d see what all the fuss is about. She tells me she’s a communication major. I give her one of the cards from my bag. “Estamos en contacto, We’ll be in touch,” she says walking away.

Communication Major

From the improvised stage, they inform the crowd that the mayor’s visit is cancelled. They explain that he had an urgent appointment with the governor and offers his sincerest apologies. But not without further adieu. They announce the distribution of the despensas, essential groceries, and diapers. The crowd exits the soccer court and forms a line at the back of a worn palette truck. Those at the back of the line urge those at the front not to mob the truck, “Respeta la fila! Respect the line!”

Man Overlooks Crowd


Political Gesture

An hour later, the court is empty. The cars are gone. But the names of PRI party candidates Jorge Hank Rhon (running for governer of Baja California) and Jorge Aztiazarán (running for mayor of Tijuana) remain. Their signature red remains. The soccer court was strategically painted red. Hank had a large section of the border fence between San Ysidro and the beach painted red. The PRI is known for going into poor neighborhoods and giving free services. The people benefit from it. And so do the candidates.

Later that afternoon, my three nephews, my brother-in-law Fermin and I walk to the same red court for a game. They avoided the scene earlier, not wanting haircuts. “Lo cortan bien chueco, They cut it all crooked.”Fermin and I take opposite sides, and the boys split up. “Jugamos a soda, Loser buys soda.” After the game, they buy a two-liter of grapefruit Fresca and ask for 5 plastic bags. They fill the bags and pass them around. A quick twist to close the top and a tear out of the corner, it’s a refreshing victory.

borders politics

Is Mexico Part of Central America?

After checking my stats using Google Analytics a few weeks ago, I noticed that Google included Mexico as part of Central America. I thought it odd, because I was taught Mexico was part of North America (as a Google Images search seems to confirm). After all, the NAFTA does include Mexico.

So, I wrote Google Analytics support team with the question. They responded, citing the use of United Nations data:

From: “Analytics Support” <>
Date: June 11, 2007 4:19:59 PM PDT
Subject: Re: [#159418445] Continental Error

Hello Nathan,

Thanks for your inquiry about the maps feature in Google Analytics. We
use Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49) adopted by the
United Nations Statistics Division to determine borders and continental
classifications. To see how the United Nations classifies geographic
regions, visit We
understand that borders change over time and we make every effort to
reflect the changes periodically within the product. Political borders
within the Google Analytics maps are meant to help our users understand
where their visitors are coming from and should be considered guidelines.
They in no way represent a political opinion or position . . .

The U.N.’s posted methodology also claims these regional definitions are apolitical:

The assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations.

Wikipedia Map

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, some geologists and physical geographers include parts of Mexico in Central America. Wikipedia’s Central America entry quantifies this area at about 12% of Mexico’s landmass. The same entry says the European Union excludes Mexico and Belize from Central America.

The issue brings home the basic premise that borders and labels can be completely arbitrary. That is, if we removed the labels and borders, we would have land and people living on that land. The borders we have in our world today are 100% political. They establish boundaries where each country considers itself sovereign. When borders move, it’s often a matter of life and death for the locals.

Is it wrong for the U.N. to label Mexico as part of Central America? I don’t know and it doesn’t affect my daily life one way or the other. It does, however, affect the way people and cultures respond to each other. In the U.S., if Mexico is part of “our” North American continent, we might have reason to consider ourselves neighbors. When the U.S. Americans refers to Mexico as “Latin America” it’s an added step of distance, a clarification that those people are something “other” than us. Whether we like it or not, the U.S.A. is the minority in the Americas, and the largest minority group within the country is made up of Latinos. The U.S. is part of Latin America.

I can understand a geological explaination that deals with physical land formations. But in any other circumstance, you usually round down. Twelve percent would still exclude Mexico from Central America. It seems like an easy excuse to distance a “third world” country like Mexico from “first world” countries like the U.S. The disclaimer that their maps don’t express a political opinion seems more like a cop-out, not unlike television news programs’ use of the question mark.

customer service language photo

Hooked on Phonics

“Are you ready to order?” My eyes come down off the menu above her. “Yeah.”

Two fish tacos, no combo, no drink. To go, please. “What’s your name?” she asks with her finger hovering above the keypad. “Nathan.” She leans forward and raises an eyebrow. “Nathan,” I say a little louder. She hesitates and enters the name to finish my order.

Néiton = Nathan