Archive for 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.

Cancha
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

Handoff

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.

Public Art at Tijuana Border Crossing

During 2004/2005, I spent my mornings waiting in line at the border. The commute from Tijuana to San Diego gave me plenty of time to watch, listen and think. For several weeks, I watched a group of men working behind a shroud of old vinyl banners and recycled plastic sheets. I couldn’t see what it was, but they were building something. Every day, I’d catch a glimpse of color or a peculiar shape. On days when traffic moved quickly, I felt a little disappointed that I hadn’t been able to see more. Day by day, the anticipation grew.

Finally, it was revealed.

The structure stands around 40-feet-tall. The base holds an imprisoned hand; the top, a tile mosaic cityscape with two spires reaching upward. Four engraved Mayan hoops face north, south, east and west. A south-facing plaque reads:

ESCULTURA
“ENTRE VENTANA Y PUERTA”
DEL ARTISTA VISUAL
OSCAR ORTEGA

Sculpture “Between a Window and a Door” By Visual Artist Oscar Ortega

At the time, I was the technical director for KPBS Radio’s The Lounge, a daily talk show covering the arts in San Diego. The show’s producer, Angela Carone, and host, Dirk Sutro, were interested in Tijuana artists as well, so I made contact with Oscar Ortega. We started an email conversation, but unfortunately, there was turnover at work and I was reassigned to a different program. After not receiving Oscar’s reply to a set of questions — and with the changes at work — the story faded into that quiet place where memories go to gather dust.

Oscar Ortega has several public pieces in Tijuana, including a mural just a short distance from the sculpture. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an online portfolio that I can find. Searching “entre ventana y puerta” returns an image of mine on Flickr as the top result (I’m curious if this blog post will take it’s spot after it gets crawled). So after two years waiting to read someone else’s review of the piece, I figure it’s about time to share my own.

He explained the title as a description of Tijuana’s physical (and perhaps psychological) situation. It’s an incredibly transited city, but has no seaport, making its coastline only a “window.” The “door” refers to the U.S. border — a door locked for many. The piece, like the city, is rich with layered symbols: the hand of Mexican labor, cars circle the base endlessly, the round indigenous blocks carved with the men’s bathroom figure, the jumbled mosaic like the residential architecture covering Tijuana’s hillsides.

Certain patterns line up at particular angles, allowing you to discover each scene as you move around it. For me, Ortega’s sculpture stands as a monument to the culture of Tijuana: a mix of indigenous and modern symbols, a city of travelers, glimpses of family struggle, international labor and commerce, and all of it trapped in a corner at the edge of the world. And I’m curious if the people who pass “between a window and a door” daily manage to see themselves in it.

The Sound of a New Year in Tijuana

The night sky in one of Tijuana’s neighborhoods explodes with energy in the early hours of 2007. My nephews and I share in the improvised community pyrotechnics to welcome the new year. The spirit of celebration emanates all around us.

Holiday Border Traffic

Leaving the Tijuana airport as Sunday became Monday, Rosario and I stood in the cold air, waiting for the taxi. After a delayed return flight from Guanajuato, we prepared ourselves for what border traffic we might encounter. On a typical Sunday night at this hour, you can expect to cross in an hour or less. But this was the Sunday end to Thanksgiving weekend. And anytime there’s a U.S. holiday, border traffic is exponential.

The taxi drops us at Rosario’s sister’s home, where the trusty Nissan Frontier waits. We transfer luggage to the truck and head like zombies for the Otay crossing. When we arrive at 1:30 a.m., there are only two short, thin lines. “Mira, it’s not so bad,” I say to a reclined Rosario. I undo my seatbelt and make myself comfortable for what should take 30 to 40 minutes. At this hour, the customs agents typically work slower than normal, but after 45 minutes and only advancing 10 cars, I start having my doubts. Cars continue to gather in other rows, to the point that I no longer have an exit option. After asking a passing window washer, and seeing cars turn and head back, my half-conscious mind realizes the lanes are closed. No one is getting through.

I see a brief opening between cars and shove my way into the outside lane, making an overdue escape. Too tired to be outwardly angry, I take my grumpiness to San Ysidro to give it another shot. Otay is supposed to be open 24 hours, but because it’s a secondary entry point, it can be less consistent. We arrive at San Ysidro to much longer lines full of sleeping cars, lights and engines off. “Let’s just go to a hotel to sleep,” Rosario offers. But I’m not in the mood. I want to sleep in my bed tonight even if it’s just for a few hours. “Let’s just sleep in the SENTRI lane. It opens in a couple hours,” I decide.

It’s now 3 a.m. as we pull alongside one other car already waiting in the lane. I put it in park, turn off the engine, and pull out the laptop to play solitaire. I hit a second wind, now unable to sleep. After a half-hour losing repeatedly at the Vegas-style three-card game, I take out the camera.

Waiting for the SENTRI lanes to open

Lanes Closed

At 4 a.m., the lane opens and we cross the line. The final leg of the drowsy marathon came to a close another half-hour later, and sleep came soon thereafter. As a privileged member of the SENTRI program, my heart goes out to all of my compas who were already beginning their workweek as I recoup a few hours sleep under the high thread-count sheets and synthetic down comforter of my king-sized bed.

Street Ball

La tiramos afuera, tio? Wanna play catch, Uncle?” My nephew Benjamin tossed the ragged tennis ball a few inches in the air. “Sure.”

Bored

Benjamin is 12 years old and lives with his father and grandmother in Tijuana. His mother died when he was two. He knows her mostly from pictures. His father moved them to California a few years after; Benjamin went to school and learned to speak English. After several hard years working multiple kitchen jobs, they returned to Guadalajara. Some years later, they came back to Tijuana to live on the same street they lived together as a young family almost 10 years earlier. My wife Rosario had told me about her sister and the child she left behind. And I met my new nephew less than a year before becoming his uncle.

La tiramos afuera, tio?” “Sure,” I say following him outside to play catch at 9 o’clock at night. The brisk air becomes more and more bearable as I warm up, throwing fast and fly balls, sprinting to chase the green grounders that get by. Between breaks for passing cars, Benjamin’s cousin, Roberto (another nephew I neglected to mention who lives in California but had to come back and enroll in school to renew his visa), comes outside to join the game. Benjamin scoops up a broken two by four, hands it to Roberto and takes the mound. I pull a chunk of particleboard out of the neighbor’s construction scrap and place it at home plate. The rules quickly come together, hits and runs measured by speed bumps and telephone poles. In this moment, Tijuana blooms. Streetlights become stadium floodlights and the uneven pavement becomes a world-class ballpark.

The moment never lasts long enough. I didn’t hit the hero’s home run I had hoped for. But it doesn’t matter to them. Who says you need a baseball or a bat to play baseball. They can turn the contents of your pocket into ninja stars. And they have no idea how much they inspire me.

The U.S. México border fence deconstructed

Academically, that is, not physically. Peter Skerry, political science professor at Boston College, studies social policy, racial and ethnic politics, and immigration. In the current edition of Foreign Policy magazine, he writes:

[ The border ] is a jerry-rigged example of American ingenuity that reflects not merely ambivalence about immigration but also the competing objectives and compromises characteristic of America’s decentralized and fragmented political system. Moreover, immigration control alone was never the driving force behind the building of the barriers. Instead, border-control policies have had to piggyback on other overriding national concerns. The result is a fence that is neither as draconian and militarized as critics claim, nor as effective as supporters would like. How Not to Build a Fence, Peter Skerry

In the article, Skerry compares the U.S. México border to other militarized borders, such as the former Berlin Wall and Israel’s West Bank. Up against extreme examples, this border appears rather meek. He comments on each section of the fence to detail how its design attempts to be as friendly as possible – no razor wire, short wall to avoid injuries, easy-to-climb horizontal ribbing.

Sections of the border - ForeignPolicy.org

While Skerry’s comparisons are convincing at first glance, they are subtly manipulative. If the U.S and México were actually at war, the fence does appear weak. But in the context of peace, the fence still stands out as a military division. He makes reference to border conflict between Spain and Morocco, but the most recent Spanish-occupied region ceded back to Morocco was in 1969, a much more active land dispute. He goes on to minimize the desert deaths by referring to them as “hundreds” rather than thousands, attributing it to “heat and exposure, not because of a fence that maims and kills.” While technically the fence isn’t attacking people, its existence redirects crossers into dangerous areas. A well-reasoned attempt at objectivity, but it seems Skerry is stretching to put perfume and makeup on a very ugly wall.

Unfortunately, you have to create a free login membership to read the article. The illustration has rollover commentary on each of the red dots. I think it’s worth 30 seconds and the extra clicks. You be the judge.