Archive for culture crit

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

MACSD exhibition “Strange New World” to display work from Tijuana artists

Tijuana Art Exhibition

You should definitely check out their website. Once you get past the horizontal navigation, it’s a rich experience worth a lot of exploring. The exhibition opens May 21st and runs through September 3, 2006 at both the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Downtown and La Jolla.

Tijuana is a new cultural hot spot. Influential publications in the United States, Europe, and Mexico have recognized the city as a vibrant site of innovation in the arts. Journalists, scholars, and critics alike celebrate Tijuana’s diversity of artistic production from art made with traditional media, such as, painting and printmaking to installation and conceptual art; from photography to digitally derived images; from street-level video to ambitious feature films; from utopian architectural proposals to streamlined and economic housing design. As the city’s newest art weekly recently announced, “Tijuana moves –and it’s everywhere.”

This exhibition will document the recent explosion of artistic experimentation in Tijuana, and will also explore the subtle shift in focus from art about the border experience to art that takes advantage of a new type of accelerated urbanism being pioneered in developing cities around the world.

Here’s an interview from KPBS These Days about the exhibition.

The Great American Boycott – May 1, 2006

May 1st is a holiday in Mexico, and on any holiday you can expect the lines to cross into the U.S. to be substantially longer than normal. But today is a different day. Less than 1 percent of the normal traffic crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S.

El Mexicano vs The Union Tribune

At Balboa Park in San Diego, tens of thousands gathered to remember those who have died crossing the border and celebrate their unity. At the corner of Juniper and Sixth, a small group of people waving flags started calling others to march. People started to follow, and the police quickly stepped in to try and stop the crowd. The group chanted “Si se puede” and walked past the police and began to march through the city. The police worked quickly to clear a path, blocking streets as if it were a planned parade. Organizers of the rally ran to the front of the line, but were unsuccessful in dissuading the crowd’s action.

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The organizers and police decided to guide the crowd to City Hall. The group ignored several blockades and twisted their own path through the city. At the entrances to the highways, police were standing with bags of riot cuffs at the ready. Once the crowd reached the closed and vacant City Hall, they turned through the Horton Plaza entrance and looped back to rejoin the tail of the crowd, heading back to Balboa Park.


Throughout the impromptu march, the participants remained calm and peaceful. In the end, the same officer who pleaded with one of the leaders to turn around shook hands and thanked him for managing to lead them back around safely and peacefully. Those at the front of the march were young and passionate. While the group was unorganized, they worked together and followed each other’s lead. There were no egos or celebrities leading the group. It was clear that a newfound confidence, strength and power emerged tonight.

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Teddy Cruz on Border Cities: Tactics of Encroachment

Yesterday, I attended a lecture on architecture and urban planning in the San Diego and Tijuana region by Teddy Cruz, professor in the Visual Arts Department of UCSD. Teddy Cruz talked about a local prototype he’s planning to build in San Ysidro that addresses issue of community-based planning through local non-profits, human traffic, zoning, transformative public space, and the problems with city bureaucracy. The visual elements of the presentation illustrated his points really well. I wish I had his slides to put up here, but I did at least record it:

Cruz is a Guatemalan living in San Diego. Much of his ideas revolve around the functionality of “third world” urban planning – or lack of planning. Tijuana is an example of emergency development, the intense and immediate demand for city growth caused by massive influx of people. The people meet their own needs first, and then the bureaucracy fills in the gaps with utilities and city services. This process has led to some of the most creative urban planning around.


You can read more about his theory in this NYTimes article, Shantytowns as a New Suburban Ideal or read more about the lecture series here.

Chicano History on KPBS

I produced a segment today for KPBS Radio’s talk show These Days. I brought on Sal Castro, a key figure who led student walkouts in the 1960s, and two UCSD professors to talk about Chicano history and identity.

Student Walkouts Hark Back to the Chicano Movement

Sal Castro, youth motivator and volunteer teacher. He mentored the students who staged walkouts in 1968. He joins us from his home in Los Angeles. Sal Castro will be at UCSD to lead a discussion following a public screening of the HBO film Walkout on Wednesday May 10 at 7 p.m. Walkout is directed by Edward James Olmos and is based on the true story of the 1968 walkouts.

Jorge Mariscal, director of the Chicano Studies Program at UC San Diego. His latest book is Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement.

Tomás Jiménez, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UCSD. His research focuses on immigration, race, ethnicity, inequality, assimilation, and the Mexican-origin population in the U.S.

Immigration Rally in San Diego

Sunday afternoon, tens of thousands marched through downtown San Diego. The news wires report over 50,000 attended, while others estimate the count at over 80,000. I was at the march to gather sound for NPR’s Morning Edition, KQED’s California Report, and KPBS News. On site, people were saying 15,000. I have no idea how they estimate these things, and I’ve never been in a crowd that large, so I can’t really say how may people were there. Here are photos I took:

Immigration Rally in San Diego

The march was completely peaceful. The organizers handed out free bottled water. The police presence was very low. Most people wore white to symbolize peace and unity. People shouted “Si se puede,” “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” and other chants. I spoke to a journalist who writes for the media in Mexico City, an actor from the film A Day Without A Mexican, local residents, and several undocumented immigrants. I met a husband and wife who held a sign that read, “My wife is not a criminal.” The man served in Iraq and the woman was undocumented. She was brought to the U.S. at an early age and spoke perfect, unaccented English. She said she considers herself an American.

Immigration Rally in San Diego