As a San Diegan, trips are made to Tijuana occasionally, more for some than others. TJ as we call it, is a must see destination if you are a visitor or inhabitant of “America’s Finest City.”

But before you penetrate Tijuana you must cross a border, a contrived line, one that disconnects us all. On one side of this line, you have a society with its traditions, foods, music, language, government, and history. On the other side, you have a society with its traditions, foods, music, language, government, and history. Yet, this invisible line tells us one side is different from the other.

While each culture has its differences, we are all the same, in the sense that we all populate planet earth.  Regardless of our geographical location, as humans are we not trying to survive? Are we not trying to live? Experience love and happiness? Humans, along with all living systems on Earth are connected!

Let’s appreciate the diversity we have as human beings and obstruct those judgmental and negative thoughts that we may have of other people. Accept the differences, they are beautiful.

As I pass these borders of elitism, which decide if some people are kept in or out, I put on the shades of a tourist. Through these lenses I see: cheap lobster, corrupt cops, donkeys painted like Zebras, tacos, Mexican beers, underage prostitutes, and inexpensive souvenirs. But as my sightseeing continues, my shades begin to become transparent and the suffering is no longer avoided.

To my right, I witness men struggle over tagged fences while the USA border patrol supervises in their air conditioned vehicles. To my left I see the homes in which families dwell; shacks made of scrap wood, crates, and other items that many on the other side would dispose of.

My eyes try to escape their sockets with their constant gazing at abject deprivation. Nestled in between the legs of Tijuana, is poverty, thrusting its semen inside the streets, with no lube, no rubber.

San Diego is known to get on its back and take it, but covers it very well.  Despite the poverty we have, it is hidden under freeway overpasses, behind buildings, churches, within parks, and/or on bridges. Sooner or later, it won’t be long till the covers of our poverty are pulled off, exposed to the world.

After any journey to TJ, one must end where it started — the border. Unlike crossing from the American side, going back to the US involves interminable lines of cars colonizing the streets, putting poverty in slow motion.

I see you hobbling towards me with your hunch back, folds on your face, pain in your eyes, dirt and smudge on your clothes. I see you little one, holding that box of Chiclets gum bigger than your hands, with your voice echoing anguish. I see you wheelchair, rolling a passenger to me carrying only half of his body. I see you old man, with your soiled pants and ripped shoes, being held upright by your cane.

I see you all, don’t worry, my hands are on a quest throughout the fabrics of my car in hopes of finding something that can help. Pennies, quarters, and nickels are found, do you take credit? Here is some change, sorry I don’t have more.

Within a second, hand meets hand, smiles and ease emerge. After the window of my car climbs back up, that smile is taken away. Taken away, at least until the next time that person’s hand…. meets another. I know the money I give won’t fix the problems, but I am selfish; I want to see that smile, that hope, even if it’s for an instant.

Tijuana is an industrial park on the outskirts of Minneapolis. Tijuana is a colony of Tokyo. Tijuana is a Taiwanese sweatshop. Tijuana is a smudge beyond the linden trees of Hamburg… Taken together as one, Tijuana and San Diego form the most fascinating new city in the world, a city of world-class irony… Tijuana is here. It has arrived. Silent as a Trojan horse, inevitable as a flotilla of boat people, more confounding in its innocence, in its power of proclamation, than Spielberg’s most pious vision of a flying saucer -Days of Obligation. An argument with my Mexican father, Richard Rodríguez

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11 thoughts on “Crossing the Line!

  1. As I read this so many emotions cross my path. Anger, anguish, hate, love etc etc.. As Tijuana does hold a special place in my heart. It’s poverty and way of life in downtown Tijuana is horrid, but then you reach the outskirts of TIjuana and hit the individual regions. Each full of life and culture. Kids playing, (Tia’s, abuelas, comadres, compadres, tio’s and dads and mothers) cooking up a storm and the aroma all over the place. Brings happiness to my heart. Takes me back to all the fond memories I spent in Tijuana. All the scrapped knees, all the hide and seeks, all the carne asadas, getting in trouble All WORTH IT…

    • Damn, real deep, real real deep. Since moving here in 8th grade I have also fell in love with TJ. I can imagine what it may be like to grow up living in such abject poverty. Also, to get out of that, live in America, and still stay true to your roots is something you should be proud of.

  2. Very poignant, powerful, and sobering. I remember a line from another of your pieces, something about not being able to see borders from space. Yep! Too bad we see the borders we erect in our lives every day!

  3. I love this piece…and I agree with Romans emotions…I was born and raised in Tijuana, in poverty. There was times where my grandma didn’t have food to give us so I know first hand what poverty is like in Tijuana…but in the same token I had some of the most valued memories there 🙂 I love Tijuana with all my heart, people often wonder why is it that I go back so often, besides taking care of my grandmother and four monters( little cousins) it partly because it’s my real home. As messed up as it is like Roman mentioned there is much more going on than violence, drugs and prostitution. There is parties where often the main goal isn’t to get drunk and get laid but to enjoy quality time with not only your family but neighbors as well…where kids play outside all day in the summer until you can no longer see your feet in front of you instead of watching tv or playong a video game all day. I often see a parent on the bus with a load of groceries to take home to their kids and provide for them instead of parents who find it to hard to just go visit once a month or make a call like my dad, i see parents and their kids taking the bus home from spending the day at the park, the kids have their knees green from rolling around in the grass still holding left over treats, and it makes me smile to see that although they don’t have the commodities Americans do…they have something else, quality time spent with family, friends, and neighbors….I see what others in America don’t see…I see past the violence and poverty…I see what goes on beyond the scenes.

    • Wow! I love these comments. They are so personal and real. Thank you for that and love your sentiments. I try to show others the other side of Tijuana. But what many fail to realize is the rampant prostitution, drugs, and poverty here in San Diego. We just hide it well.

      • That is true. I like how people say ohh
        Man, TJ is sooo bad don’t go there. Don’t believe the lies the news tells you. I mean any where you go, it has it’s bad places and poverty.. Just some places hide it better then others.

  4. While I agree with what you are saying,the real sadness for me is that this country wont help its own people.
    That burden seems to fall on the United States.
    I recall a recent conversation with a Tijuana cab driver “I used to have factory job,Carlos Slim buy the company,fire everyone,rehire for lower wages”
    Mexico is not only filled with culture it is filled with oil and natural resources.
    Its time for the government to take care of its own people,and stop relying on the USA

    • Yea I can understand where you are coming from. That can be applied to almost every country in the world. So long as we live in a monetary system we will continue to see scarcity, poverty, and war. Our government (and mostly all other gov) doesn’t take care of us either. Obviously when we compare countries it is worse in some than others. Also, I don’t really think Mexico wants to depend on us. You can trace their “dependence” on us due to American hegemony and exploitation.

  5. It’s heart breaking to see the parade of vendors and beggars while waiting in your car to exit at the border. The little kids smiling as they go from car to car asking for coins and a blind man weaving in and out of traffic with his cane asking for help. God bless all of them and I wish I could help each one.

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