Monthly Archives: March 2009

A very big hot dog in Tijuana



Tijuana has more than its share of charming oddities, but this one was definitely a head-turner. While driving near the Otay Mesa port of entry, I saw this giant hot dog literally roll to a stop on a side street.

I have seen giant condoms, a giant Jesus, and giant beer bottles in Mexico – but not a hot dog. So I  immediately went back to look at it more closely.  As you can see, the truck has been decorated to emulate the physique of a hot dog topped with chile peppers, avocados and tomatoes. Mustard and catsup artfully drip from its sides.  I chatted briefly with the owner, a guy who gave me his name as Jose, who said that he moved to Tijuana from Arizona a few months ago. He has big dreams of creating a whole fleet of these super-sized hot dog trucks, but right now he’s just starting out with this one that offers hot dogs prepared with options for his cross-border clientelle: New York style, Chicago style and Sonora (Mexico) style. It was too early for me to eat a hot dog that day but I plan on returning to check it out some other time.

This reminded me of a post I recently read by the blogger at Masa Assasin, who wrote about the way that Mexican hot dogs have taken U.S. hot dogs to spicier and colorful new heights, i.e. the bacon-wrapped hot dog that appears to form the basis of the Sonoran style hot dog. You can read  more about that at this Masa Assassin link.

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Mexican ‘rockero’ Javier Batiz performs in Tijuana March 29

Javier Batiz is one of Tijuana’s musical legends, and he is frequently referred to as someone who taught Carlos Santana how to play guitar. In Batiz’s web page, and in other sources, he is identified as a major figure in the development of Mexican rock. I heard him play once at the Tijuana brewery and he regularly re-appears around the city. This Sunday, March 29, he will perform at the CECUT at 4 p.m. as part of the 5th Annual Tijuana History Fair. The fair, which starts at 9 a.m. and lasts until 5 p.m., is free and it will feature conferences, videos, art expositions, historical documents and old cars. For more information on the fair  (in Spanish), go here. 

The CECUT  – Tijuana’s cultural center –  is just a few minutes from the San Ysidro border. For directions to the CECUT, go here.

*Don’t forget the time difference is still in effect. 4 p.m. in Tijuana is 5 p.m. in the United States*

YouTube video originally posted by rockandroll1968.

Mexico’s drug trafficking violence gets U.S. attention

Almost overnight, Mexico has jumped  to the top of the U.S. diplomatic agenda – at least momentarily overshadowing Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Mexico this week, paving the way for a scheduled visit next month by President Obama. 

It appears that part of the attention comes from a heightened awareness of the cross-border threat of drug-related violence.  The rhetoric got especially charged in recent months as Spring Breakers were warned to avoid Mexico (The ATF, in an odd move for an agency whose role seems mismatched for such statements, warned students to avoid Mexico – and then later softened their stance).  The U.S. Joint Forces Command, meanwhile, identified Mexico as one of the two most critical states in danger of failing due to the havoc created by the region’s drug cartels. 

To be sure, the violence appears to have taken a particularly savage turn over the past few years. Missing in some of these assessments, however,  is that the backlash comes from the Mexican government’s own success in attacking the country’s drug cartels over the past eight years. Dismantling long-standing drug trafficking organizations, unfortunately, creates instability . Drug trafficking was a major problem during the 1990s but it may not have attracted this much attention because the drug groups operated with comparatively minimal meddling from the government. This created a false sense of order.

With so much attention on the violence in Mexico lately (I can’t seem to turn on the radio or read a news media source without hearing about it), Mexican authorities have lashed back. In recent weeks, they have pointed out that  the U.S. demand for drugs is fueling the drug trade. They have accused  the U.S. of not doing enough to curb the flow of firearms south of the border into the hands of drug traffickers. Mexican president Felipe Calderon also suggested that the U.S. do a better job of attacking drug corruption in its own agencies.

Things have gotten testy, and the visits by U.S. diplomats are clearly meant to soothe the bickering and focus on the cross-border collaboration efforts. Whether this actually translates to a reduction in the violence is unclear, especially when we consider the unabated demand for drugs in the United States. Instead, stability may be more dependent on the ability of Mexican drug groups to re-negotiate their roles in a way that gives us all the illusion that the underlying problem has been fixed. 

Read a story here in The New York Times, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitting that the U.S. shares a responsibility in Mexico’s problems. Here’s another one by The Washington Post.

Here is an essay by Mexican scholar Enrique Krauze who argues that Mexico is not a “failed state” at risk of “imminent collapse.” 

Here is a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune about how Mexican drug trafficking groups get their guns from the U.S.

Blog essay by Anna Cearley, former border reporter

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Mercado Hidalgo a breath of fresh air in Tijuana


It’s easy to overlook Tijuana’s Mercado Hidalgo, which is hidden from outside view by thick, citrus-colored walls. But once you find the marketplace, it’s a pleasure to get lost in the smell of spices, the rows of fluttering pinatas, and the colors of tropical fruits. Nestled in the city’s Zona Rio area, not far from the San Ysidro border,  the market reminds me of those bustling village-style markets in Mexican pueblos deep in the country’s interior.

Mercado Hidalgo is comprised of  several generations of vendors with roots that go back to  the mid-1900s. Reflecting the region’s unique border identity, the market got its start when vendors brought produce from California and Arizona to Tijuana. That was before Mexico built better roads to connect Tijuana with the country’s interior. Now most all of the produce comes from Mexico and you will often find nostalgic Mexican-Americans stocking up on their favorite foods.

During my last year as a reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune, I learned how to do multi-media presentations. Go here for a virtual visit of Mercado Hidalgo, which includes interviews with merchants, photos of the produce, a history of the market and a locator map.





Beach Cleanup at Playas de Tijuana this Saturday


Spring Breakers may not be showing up here in hordes this season due to warnings about drug-related violence in Mexico. But that probably is just fine for the people who are sponsoring a Beach Cleanup Day this Saturday at Tijuana’s beachfront, in a neighborhood called Playas de Tijuana. It probably means less riff-raff for them to scrape off of the sand…The event is being hosted by the Proyecto Comunitario Salvemos la Playa, which roughly translates to the Community Project of Save the Beach. It starts at 9 a.m. and people are asked to meet at this location. NOTE: That is 9 a.m. Mexico time and 10 a.m. U.S. time due to time difference.

It looks like they will sweep the beach clean first, and then have a beach party with music, a sand sculpture contest and volleyball. Heads-up to Unomos/aka Hansen Hunt, who reminded me about this one on his Twitter feed.

Screenshot of flyer from Salvemos la Playa website

Revisiting Miguel Felix Gallardo


picture-1I feel an odd sort of connection with Miguel Felix Gallardo, who was reputedly the precursor to the  Baja California area’s Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization. A blog post I filed last year about a web site set up by the reputed drug trafficker’s family – continues to generate a lot of traffic to my own site  from people apparently curious about Felix Gallardo’s savvy use of the Internet.

Felix Gallardo, according to Mexican and U.S. reports, is an older relative of the Arellano Felix brothers (a family member says this is not true), and he was said to be a major Mexican drug trafficker in the 1980s. He has been locked up in a Mexican prison since 1989. Family members started a web site to document his health needs in prison as well as a forum for people to ask questions and send greetings to Felix Gallardo. You can check out the site here.

Here are a couple of media updates on Felix Gallardo:

McClatchy News Service wrote a story about the Felix Gallardo website and about the use of the Internet by Mexican drug traffickers in general.  Reporter Marisa Taylor interviewed Felix Gallardo’s son, who started the website. You can read the story here.

In February of this year, Mexican media ran a story about Felix Gallardo writing a 32-page letter to La Jornada newspaper detailing his experiences with certain Mexican law enforcement officials, as well as other juicy details of his own arrest. You can read the La Jornada story here.

Screenshot of the Miguel Felix Gallardo web page.

Two years after the destruction of Tijuana’s bullring…



Tijuana’s bullfighting fans weren’t able to prevent the city’s downtown-area bullring from being demolished in 2007, but they recently got some validation from an internal affairs investigation. The city’s conclusion almost two years after the fact: Tijuana’s then-director of urban administration didn’t follow due process in allowing the bullring’s destruction.

“This makes it official and legally proven that the fight in defense of the Tijuana bullring was noble, legal and just,”according to a press release that came to me from Ricardo Zurita Lopez,  a Tijuana resident and member of a national bullfighting association, after I read about the development in the Tijuana weekly, Zeta

The old bullring on Boulevard Agua Caliente once drew Hollywood starlets like Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner to its stadium seats. Bullfighting fans considered the ring to be a historical monument, but it also became a symbol to some of lack of government accountability and the power of special interests.  The rumor was that it was to be converted to a fancy mall or high-rise housing. So far, nothing appears to have been built there.

Tijuana still has one bullring in the city  – at the Plaza de Toros Monumental in Playas de Tijuana. It draws fans and curious onlookers from both sides of the border.

Go here for a 2007 multimedia story by The San Diego Union-Tribune on the old bullring and its demolition.


Picture of Tijuana’s oldest bullring being demolished in 2007

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Wishing I could dance the quebradita


The quebradita is a dance style that is a combination of county western steps, merengue, and cheerleading stunts. Some see influence of the Lindy Hop, as well. At first I thought it originated in Mexico, but now I’m not so sure. According to this book by Sydney Hutchinson* , the dance evolved  in the Mexican-American community and it is seen as a backlash to the anti-immigrant rhetoric that was taking hold in California in the early to mid 1990s. The dance has developed a strong following south of the border, as well. The first time I saw the quebradita was a few years ago when I was watching one of those Mexican television dance contest shows. I’ve tried it myself, but not with much success. The last time I checked, the Las Pulgas nightclub on  Tijuana’s tourist strip of Avenida Revolucion was one of the places south of the border to go see regular local people doing these moves.

*Sydney Hutchinson book is “From Quebratida to Duranguense: Dance in Mexican American Youth Culture

Here’s another YouTube video of how you might see the quebradita danced in tighter quarters with more subdued moves.

YouTube video of quebradita dancers originally posted by rbdpancho1

Two time zones along the U.S.-Mexico border: March 8-April 5


It’s that time of year again when those of us who cross the border regularly have to brush up on our basic math skills and constantly check our clocks. The U.S. moves its clocks forward one hour as of midnight, March 8, to conform to daylight saving time. But Mexico won’t follow suit until almost a month later on April 5, according to a reminder in El Mexicano newspaper. 

This has been going on since 2007 when the U.S. changed its schedule for daylight saving time. For a busy border region like the Tijuana-San Diego area, the time difference creates a particularly annoying wrinkle in time since so many people go back and forth on a regular basis. Here is a link to a 2007 San Diego Union-Tribune story about how the time difference trips up people, causing them to miss appointments and show up too early for events.

Defying a Spring Break travel warning


People often ask me whether Tijuana is really dangerous. Well, the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives apparently thinks the drug violence is dangerous enough to warn university students about visiting Tijuana and Rosarito Beach during the popular Spring Break period. Some universities have also taken up the “don’t go south” mantra. I have mixed feelings about these advisories from my experience living and working in Tijuana as a reporter.  I wrote about some of the region’s most gruesome crimes – but I never got caught in the crossfire. Here is a recap of a recent, non-newsworthy Saturday evening spent in Tijuana.



I arrived at Tijuana’s main cultural center, the CECUT, at 6 p.m. to attend a presentation by Mexican scholar Marco Antonio Samaniego on his new book, “Nationalism and Revolution: The events of 1911 in Baja California.” The presentation had a late start (Mexican time frames are typically looser than ours) so I wandered outside and bought some warm cooked corn, called elote or esquite. I like mine plain, but most Mexicans prefer the works: Chile, butter, cheese, lime, salt, you name it.


Samaniego talked about the significance of the Mexican Revolution along the Baja border and how chaos basically created a volatile mix of interests that collided and intersected, and that some of this was fueled by the perceived or real threat of a U.S. invasion. More of that in a future blog posting…


Afterwards, I went to the restaurant Tabule to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Tabule is located along the main entrance to the Beverly Hills of Tijuana, a neighborhood called Chapultepec. There is also a Tabule in San Diego. I munched on assorted cheese, duck tacos and a tasty mushroom appetizer. By the time we left at 11 p.m., the place was just starting to get busy (Night life starts late here).


I think I saw some police sirens at one point during the evening – but they were way in the distance.


To get another glimpse of life in Tijuana during a typical weekend, check out Derrik Chinn’s blog where he recently posted an entry on what he did on a Saturday in Tijuana.

The blogger over at Tijuana Bible, Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson, recently went to a soccer game in Tijuana.

And Masa Assassin, an unidentified San Diego-based blogger, dishes about eating some birria tacos in Tijuana before heading to Ensenada this past weekend.