Unsung heroes: Tijuana’s “squeegee” cleaners


Anyone who has ever crossed the border from Tijuana to San Diego has seen them: The “squeegee” cleaners dart between moving cars, deftly scrubbing your car’s exterior with their grubby rags and jogging in synch with the tires. They often look like they could use a good cleaning themselves, but I’m sure that a work place full of dust and exhaust is probably not conducive to a white lab coat.

At first, when I first started commuting to and from Tijuana regularly, I found them slightly annoying. They didn’t seem to take “no” for an answer, but then someone taught me the magic signal to decline their services: Briskly wag your index finger at them.

One day I ran into a major traffic tangle near the Tijuana border and the  cleaners sprang to action in a new and interesting way. They became traffic Super Heroes, waving cars in and out of the troublesome spot and restoring peace to a frenetic situation. I’ve seen this several times now in the absence of any other official authority and it has made me look at the cleaners in a whole different light now – as sentinels of order.

Photo of squeegee cleaner at the Tijuana border. I use the term liberally, since most don’t use the rubber blade tool.

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3 responses to “Unsung heroes: Tijuana’s “squeegee” cleaners

  1. My grandmother used to own a curious shop in the old Mercado de Artesanias. Its remnants can be viewed as you walk down the stairs from bridge that crosses over the canal towards Revolution Ave. We weren’t the richest puesto as they are shops are called in Spanish and I remember that to make some extra cash I would also grab a rag and clean windows. It was fun 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing that story! I’ve found that many Tijuana residents are incredibly entrepreneurial. Or flexibile. Some say it’s due to the pioneering spirit that pervades those who migrate here from other parts of Mexico.

  3. Ouch! You chose the comment which had the most mistakes, oh well. Eitherways, this entrepreneurial spirit at times can be a malaise. I also remember that during the dictatorship of the 70 year reign of the PRI in power, a leftist government some allege, we were more capitalist than the US. This was often said in jest more than anything because during a period of time the electric company, state owned mind you, made the residents purchase the poles were the cables hung. Go figure.

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