The first view of Tijuana, city in the extreme northwest of Mexico, is of desert with asphalt. The airport is small but scary. There are soldiers with rifles inspecting any passers-by that seem suspicious. A foreign passport is a small guarantee of relatively fair treatment on the part of the forces of law and order of the Mexican state. I have arrived to Tijuana, and an adventure is beginning in one of the most stigmatized (sometimes correctly) places in the world. The doubt of how it will be, what will be felt, or what will happen in the day to day remains behind.
The first contact with the city is the sight of many luxury cars with California license plates, but with no one inside that seems white, or black, or that would stereotypically be connected with being from the United States. The “Tijuanese” is small, dark-complexioned or Native American, some have a typical moustache, others (on the other hand) dress fashionably and make sure to look as masculine or feminine as possible. So begins this adventure, from one city that mixes misery and (non-) tradition with the desire to be and look the “California dream”.
The first impression of the city always goes hand in hand with the enormous US influence (without seeing any “gringo”), the license plates, the shops, the almost total absence of the traditional in the commercial sector, but above all, the enormous fence that divides both cities and both nations (which I still cannot assimilate emotionally, but which I have come to understand as the division of two worlds). It is about understanding that Tijuana and San Diego are one metropolitan area, and that both depend on the other (obviously Tijuana more on San Diego than the other way around). It isn’t until the crossing of this border that seems impassable that one notices how close one is to the most powerful nation in the world, and to a first-world metropolis (San Diego).
In my first days, someone told me that the prettiest thing about Tijuana was San Diego, and I agree. This is sad, but analyzing the reality of both cities doesn’t stop being natural and obvious. Tijuana is rising as a city for American citizens to be able to do everything that they couldn’t in their respective cities. What gives it a… touch, from being a huge brothel, and not purely in the sexual, but rather also in everything concerning the economical. Here dollars can buy everything, and even the locals see it that way, but they seem to have no greater shame or shyness in admitting it.
The city, after 1993, turned into an industrial city, industry currently being the principal source of entries for the same. The search on the part of American companies for cheap labor brought them here. At my first impression, that self-imposed place of second city bothers me to accept, but the logic that is used is as simple as it is practical. Here the “hand-outs” of the Americans allow you to live better than in the majority of cities in Mexico, and even better than in many cities in Latin America.
The title of this blog, if for some it may be offensive or mocking, is the reality that can be seen day to day, above all when you cross “la linea” (the line). The Mexican influence is evident in all of San Diego, San Ysidro, Fullerton, Barrio Logan, and all the surrounding areas continue to be culturally Mexican, many of them inhabited by former illegal immigrants that managed to cross illegally before the 90’s, a period when the fence hardly existed and whoever wanted to could cross. This generates an even deeper relationship between both cities. It is common to cross the border as a mere formality, to buy something in the supermarket, visit a friend, work (legally or illegally), party, or, as in my case, escape the chaos of Tijuana for a few hours.
Something very peculiar about this city is the amount of immigration that it has, which is massive, from other parts of Mexico (standing out by a lot, Sinaloa). In Mexico, Tijuana is synonymous with employment, with a stable source of work, and in the past, it was the port of entry for illegal immigration to the United States. In order to understand the gravity of this point, it tends to be said that there are almost no “Tijuaneses” anymore, since all of them immigrated to the United States.
This cross-border relationship generates a lot of strangeness for those who (like myself) visit this city for the first time; it is difficult to get used to a reality where nationality and identity deform with such ease. In the language, in the way people dress, even in the way people act. Superficiality is a constant in Tijuana, something that can be seen in California too, but that is, for saying it less, sad, in a city like Tijuana, where the best-known, most successful personality continues to have the stigma of being from… Tijuana.