Archive for tijuana

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

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.

CRW_6168_JFR CRW_6185_JFR

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.

CRW_6203_JFR CRW_6204_JFR

Border Pop Art

Border Study

This image is a collage of photographs I’ve taken in the border region of Tijuana and San Diego. I put this together as a kind of rough digital sketch of urban texture. I’m interested in visualizing the tension between U.S. and Mexican cultural landscapes, the complicated relationships between people, products, and the land.

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.

Scenes from Tijuana

It is not my intention to perpetuate myths of a city well-known for its demons. Most people learn about Tijuana from news reports on TV about crime, violence, and corruption. No one can deny that these things exist here, just as they do every other place on earth. But life in Tijuana is much more than that. It’s an amazing place, teeming with life. It is a hybrid of dollars and pesos, English and Spanish, McDonalds and tacos.

In the past six months, I’ve been photographing pieces of this complicated cultural landscape. A work in progress, I hope the images in this series focus the viewer’s gaze on both the creativity of the city’s residents and the role of mass media culture brought to México by the U.S.

Tijuana / San Diego to co-host Olympics in 2016?

It seems a bit unlikely with the current state of international politics, but it is 10 years down the road. Which is more realistic, shared binational olympics in San Diego and Tijuana in 2016, or my hypothetical campaign to “Tear Down The Border In 2096?”