Around the Counties: Commuting between the Imperial County and Mexicali with Amy Sanchez-Arteaga

View of the Imperial Valley - Omar Bárcena.jpg

A native of the Imperial Valley, columnist Amy Sanchez-Arteaga, has spent a lot of time traveling between her home and Mexicali.

Today, on Around the Counties she examines the small Imperial County art scene and the cultural factors surrounding it.

For this week's event recommendation, Sanchez-Arteaga invites everyone to join her and other members of the cog•nate collective, at a film screening across the border.

Amy Sanchez-Arteaga

What makes Imperial County so attractive?

The Imperial County is located in the center of a desert that through a massive irrigation project has become one of the nation's top food growers, and is located just across the border from Mexicali, BC. The fact that the Imperial Valley is a site full of contradictions desert, and fertile farm land, the rural US border up next to the urban Mexican border, makes it a space that can yield beautiful permutations of a unique culture and landscape.

What do you like about Mexicali?

The Imperial Valley is a very rural community. There's big agriculture and fields you can literally see for miles, which I think is really aesthetically interesting. But then you have access to this city that also has a foundation based in agriculture, but it's now become an urbanized city that is also the capital of Baja California. It was exciting for me to grow up between those two spaces. On the one hand, in a small town surrounded by farms and cows, but then on the other, to be able to just drive 10 minutes south and be at my grandmother's house and her take me to the state theater to see a ballet. So for me, when I was a little girl, Mexico is where I accessed these fine arts that weren't really available in the Imperial Valley.

Do you have any favorite art venues in Imperial?

That's sort of the issue. I don't think there's a committed art venue. There's a few venues for shows, for local bands to play at, and there's cafes that will showcase local artists' work but I don't think there's any commited art space beside those. For instance, SDSU has the satellite campus in the Imperial Valley and there's offices that will have events, but its not really a committed space for art.

Well, would Salvation Mountain count? That sort of is a dedicated art space.

I suppose it'd say Salvation Mountain which is located in the north of the Imperial Valley. While I am not a religious person, this is this monument this guy is building to god, to Jesus, with paint and with hay. He's this very old man that just lives out there, near the slabs. While I don't think many people go there because they're religious, it's not like a pilgrimage, I think that kind of determination and the creativity that it takes to create a giant sculpture in the middle of the desert is really interesting.

Salvation Mountain. | Photo: Softly Lit Studios/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Which art spaces do you like in Mexicali?

  • Located just across the border: Mexicali Rose is a community gallery and workshop space located at 1436 Ave. Colima in Pueblo Nuevo in Mexicali. The space is a very engaged laboratory for collective expression. The Sundace Institute used the space to do screenings this past year with this incitative called Film Forward there and then they did a few screenings in the Imperial County.
  • You know, as corny as it is, I have really beautiful memories of going to the Teatro del Estado, which is the state theater and seeing really beautiful ballet performances that had travelled from like Mexico City or from local students. I think its such a great resource, and its super cheap. When I was a little girl it was only 40 pesos, which ends up being like less than four dollars to see a world class performance.

Teatro del Estado. | Photo: Hector Lecuanda/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Which art event did you most recently attend in Imperial County?

I went to the [21st annual Mariachi Festival Sin Fronteras in Calexico] a few weeks ago. I want to say it was in late May.

It was fun but it was sort of a little sad. People started leaving cause it was too hot. That's sort of the trouble in the summertime. Something interesting to mention also, I think that a lot of people that live in the Imperial Valley in the summer either leave, they go to a summer condo like in San Diego, or they go to Tijuana even, cause its not as warm, or life becomes sort of nocturnal.

The Imperial County is the capital, or was, of the recession. It had the highest unemployment rate in the country. A lot of businesses closed down. And then a couple of years ago, there was this really big earthquake, it was actually a larger magnitude than the earthquake that hit Haiti, but it didn't get as much coverage cause the infrastructure is a little bit better, but a lot of businesses had to close down because there was so much damage to different spaces that people were trying to put together. I feel like just now people are getting back on their feet.

So, I think the way that people entertain themselves is by going to other places.

Imperial Dunes | Photo: bdinphoenix/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Do you see any art trends in Imperial County?


  • Film has become very important... There's now the Imperial County Film Commission and they're trying to do a yearly film festival, which I think is cool.

    This past April the Sundance Institute hosted, Film Forward, a cultural exchange initiative that encourages cross cultural understanding through dialogue and film ... in the Imperial County and Mexicali. So it was in both places, which I think is awesome because there's so much conversation, and so many people going between the two all the time.

  • It hasn't happened yet, but I feel like a lot of local musicians are trying to start stuff. Like just hearing talk of like, "Oh, such and such would like to open this venue" or "I have plans to open this up."

    I feel like there's things that will manifest in terms of music as well.

Can you recommend an exciting art event to the Artbound audience?

I would like to suggest an event that is not this weekend but next week that Misael [Diaz] and I are hosting in Tijuana at our space. Here is a link to the Facebook invite.

"Tierra Brillante" screening at Espacio Cognado (August 7 at 6 p.m.)
Mercado de Artesanias de la Linea, Garita de San Ysidro

Tierra Brillante - Trailer de Documental from Galatea | bulbo on Vimeo.

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Top Image: View of the Imperial Valley near the Salton Sea. | Photo: Omar Bárcena/Flickr/Creative Common License

About the Author

Melody Soto is a journalist living in the San Fernando Valley.
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