The large concrete canal that cuts through Tijuana’s core is usually embedded in weeds and foul smells. Last weekend, I noticed that it had undergone a major makeover. The freshly-scrubbed looked, I have since learned from KPBS-San Diego, is in preparation for the visit of famous Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez. Fernandez will be singing here tonight, July 31. The concert is free, though paid spaces were also being sold as part of a city fundraiser. For more information, go here.
Explosion Nortena video posting from YouTube
This year’s drug-related violence along the border has brought another round of public attacks against “narco corridos,” those peppy accordion tunes about the exploits of drug traffickers.
In an article today, The Los Angeles Times detects declining interest in “narco corridos,” perhaps as people view the songs as trivializing the bad behavior of thugs with drugs. In the case of some of these groups, as the story notes, art and life is also getting entangled in messy ways.
I once interviewed Alberto Cervantes Nieto, the lead singer of Explosion Nortena, for a story on these groups. Nieto wrote songs about the region’s Arellano Felix drug cartel members. He used code names and references to events that the average person wouldn’t understand, and he told me he got his inspiration from newspaper articles about the cartel. A year later, he was detained by Mexican federal officers when he was found at a Tijuana seafood restaurant with suspected Arellano Felix members.
I often wonder how and why people end up in the company of the cartel and I think the answers are as complex as human nature. The crazy thing is that I actually got hooked on Explosion Nortena’s songs – they kept on buzzing in my head for months after I wrote about the group.
This is the infamous Tijuana mug shot. When authorities capture suspects here, the detainees are often paraded in front of news photographers. This typically involves a whole level of theatrics with the suspects being forced to stand before their stash of stolen goods or to wield the (presumably unloaded) weapons used to commit the crimes. Sometimes a weak smile emerges in the photos, but most of the time the suspects stare stone-like at the cameras in their awkward poses.
Screenshot from Frontera newspaper.
Mexico City is known for its green Volkswagen beetle taxis that make the city streets look like they are sprinkled with green m&ms.
In Tijuana, the city created an unusual system of multi-colored taxis that behaved like buses running around set routes. That’s how it was when I started working in Tijuana in 2000 until things started to change around 2003. The city’s traditional taxis were backed by powerful unions that the city was afraid to irritate because they had the capacity to shut down the city’s transportation system. So that’s just how things were until the metered New York-style “Taxi Libre” system finally caught on.
The “Taxi Libres” started out orange and white under Mexico’s National Action Party(PAN) government.
But then the controversial mayoral candidate, Jorge Hank Rhon, won the city’s election in 2004. Hank, a gambling tycoon, took to painting the city in red, the color of his Institutional Revolutionary Party . Red showed up on walls, fences, and parts of City Hall. And soon the “Taxi Libres” were sporting red stripes instead of orange.
Now that Hank is gone, and the PAN back in power, the red is being scrubbed off the city’s corners (replaced with PAN blue). Meanwhile, the cabs are being painted orange again in what appears to be an inconsequential but symbolic move to erase Hank’s influence from the city streets.
Growing numbers of cross-border travelers have been filling up their tanks in Tijuana before heading back north. With gasoline costing roughly $2.50 a gallon here, thanks to state subsidized prices, the demand has led to occasional shortages of gasoline in Tijuana. I hadn’t been affected by this - until Sunday. With my tank running dry, It took me five tries to find a PEMEX station in Tijuana that had gasoline. I guess I wouldn’t have been suprised if I had read this article in The San Diego Union-Tribune/SignOnSanDiego that warns about the worsening situation.
photo: No gasoline at this and other Tijuana gas stations this weekend.
San Diego media report that this Sunday U.S. authorities are going to open up the cargo lanes along the Otay Mesa port of entry to northbound regular traffic from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It’s a one-day test that could be expanded to relieve border congestion along this part of the Tijuana border, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune and KPBS-San Diego.
As Tijuana officials kicked off a bus tour to attract more tourists to the area, the New York Times reported that the city has become a draw for a different kind of visitor, the so-called death tourist. People seeking an end to terminal illnesses are finding an over-the-counter solution at Tijuana veterinary clinics that sell pentobarbitil, according to the story.
The Los Angeles Times ran a story about a Kentucky woman who married a Mexican illegal immigrant who ended up being deported facing deportation. In order to stay together, the couple is living in Tijuana while she works north of the border and he takes care of the kids. The story is complemented with an audio slideshow.
I’ve also added a news feed to this blog (see right column) so we’ll see how well that picks up these kinds of Tijuana-specific stories.
photo: Regular weekend traffic at the Otay Mesa northbound border crossing lanes.
Live music is a constant backdrop in Tijuana eateries. These impromptu mini-concerts by guitarists and other street musicians are often inconsequential to the task at hand of scarfing down tacos and socializing. So when I heard someone strumming mid-taco at a Tacos Junior restaurant last weekend all I could think of was whether or not I had some change in my pocket for the inevitable.
And then she started to sing. That was the first surprise – that the musician was female. Within seconds, she had taken command of that room with an incredibly strong and soulful voice. I don’t know what she was playing but it was a moody song that felt like it came from the gut. When she finished, the place erupted in applause for the young musician. I asked her what her name was and she said it was Alejandra Loaiza. She looked familiar and afterwards I realized that she sometimes sells candy in Tijuana’s streets. The concert left such an impression on me that I looked her up on the Internet and found that someone has posted a YouTube video of her (posted above). I also read an article in Zeta that mentions her as an aspiring actress.
I would like to think that many years from now when Alejandra is famous I will be able to say I first heard her sing in a Tijuana taco place.
Tijuana can be a difficult city to navigate through, which is probably why most tourists stick to the entertainment and shopping area of Avenida Revolucion.
But not far from the frenetic downtown, Parque Teniente Guerrero provides an oasis of calm: Old men read newspapers, portrait photographers ply their waning trade, and chess fanatics duel it out on the concrete surfaces of about a dozen specially-marked tables.
Parque Teniente Guerrero is a five or six block walk west from the intersection of Third Street (also known as Felipe Carrillo Puerto – see map below) and Avenida Revolucion, and it is one of the stops of a new Tijuana tour that aims to show tourists the city’s other offerings. Read a story, with information on the tour schedules, by The San Diego Union-Tribune here.
On weekends, local families bring their kids to play at the park and and listen to live music at a central gazebo. Visitors relax in wrought-iron benches and shoe shiners – “boleros” – put the sheen back into shoes that visiting Mexican-Americans typically bring in bagloads. The park is neatly manicured and full of large, shady trees. One of my frustrations with sprawling Tijuana is that it has no real center but this tiny park manages to evoke a traditional gathering place.
(The park’s chess players enjoy an audience and they would probably be amused to play against a gringo or two.)
A map of Teniente Guerrero in relation to Avenida Revolucion:
screen shot of Google maps page.
Stories de la Frontera’s latest documentary, The Devil’s Breath: Border Crossers Caught in San Diego’s Wildfires, revisits the plight of migrants from Mexico who were killed or burned during last year’s October fires in San Diego County. Aside from capturing the horror of being trapped along the border, the program also airs 911 calls between the immigrants and emergency personnel that demonstrate language barriers.
Several studies have come out recently that touch on the issue of emergency response for immigrant or limited English speakers. “Disaster Preparedness in Immigrant Urban Communities” comes from a joint effort by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. You can read their report here. Another study that focuses specifically on the 2007 San Diego fires was done by the National Latino Research Center at California State University, San Marcos. You can read it here.
Stories de la Frontera’s production will air on UCSD(University of California, San Diego)-TV for about a week, starting July 21 at 8:30 p.m. on Cox, Time Warner and AT&T Channels. But you can also see it online here at Stories de la Frontera’s website where the television schedules are posted.
Disclosure: The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute is an independent, non-profit group that’s affiliated with the University of Southern California. As part of my job, I helped put together a press release on their report.
Screenshot from Stories de la Frontera webpage.
Are Tijuana’s donkeys (the ones that are painted to look like zebras) really endangered?
That’s the question raised by an Associated Press story this week. These kinds of articles show up every so often when there is an uptick in drug-related violence, tourism goes down, and certain media groups start looking for a snazzy new angle. In fact, here’s another story just like it by Reuters from 2006.
I would venture to speculate this time around that there’s another reason for the downsized donkey business: The donkeys are competing against the Tijuana Cow Parade art exhibit that’s also on the tourist strip of Avenida Revolucion. The sculpture cows, after all, don’t charge for photos.
If the drug trade is scaring away business on Avenida Revolucion, don’t expect to get a break in the high seas either. Another story emerged this week about a submarine that was found off the coast of Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, with loads of cocaine. These kinds of subs are typically found off the coast of Colombia, according to news reports, but it looks like now they are migrating north like the whales.
Finally, remember Across the border’s July 1 post about the Tijuana bug at the border? U.S. media were abuzz this week about the Asian citrus phyllids’ potential theat to the California citrus industry while this blog celebrates its first “scoop.”
photo credit: RVforSaleGuide.com