Over the next several weeks we'll be posting excerpts from a chapter in our upcoming anthology, Tijuana Dreaming: Art and Life at the Global Border. The book collects writings on contemporary Tijuana, Mexico from a variety of poets, critics, novelists, essayists, and scholars from both sides of the border, many of which have been translated into English for the very first time. "Crossfader Playlist" is one such piece-- a sampler of key tracks (blog posts, essays, digital riffs) from noted Tijuana writer, DJ, teacher, blogger, and after-hours chronicler Rafa Saavedra, whose 1995 book Esto no es una salida: Postcards de ocio y odio has just been re-published by Nitro Press.
Essay translated by John Pluecker.
Callejeando. Everytime I walk these street something unique happens. There's always something different. A business that's closed, new cafés and drugstores offering the ultimate pill for losing weight, some homeless who took over the most weirdo nooks and crannies, tons of freaks, loads of lost tourists and cops hard at work. I walk and watch, listen and spy, sit down and then wander one more time down streets that, by force of habit, end up being just as familiar as the people we call family. For the last few years, I've gotten into the habit of carrying my digital camera to take pictures of what I see in my daily travels. I have a collection of photos of my favorite urban characters in their natural state (the Bob Marley clone cleaning car windows at the intersection of Calle Segunda, the Siete Culos hyper-drunkie poet in El Turístico, the scabby superstar Maguana hanging around the mercados populares, the karaoke family at the door of my favorite ATM, Señora Cajas and her cardboard house right in front of the entrance to the ex-Palacio Municipal). A few weeks back, one of my projects was to take pictures of the backs of people walking around el Centro. After the loud cries made public in the peace and safety marches held a few months back that you couldn't walk peacefully around la city anymore, my idea was to prove that this wasn't so true. I took almost a hundred photos in different places, high and low, safe and really scary. I ﬁgured out that none of the people I took pictures of were watching their backs. Each one of them was walking at their particular rhythm, ﬂowing with a relative freedom around Tijuana.
In la city, that made-in-the-media fear that would keep us from going out and wandering around Tijuana hasn't won quite yet. Apparently, public spaces are under control, vice and pleasure locked away at home and, despite it all, you can wander around God's streets protected by police ofﬁcers and video cameras with high-powered zoom, with the possibility that any night at the usual checkpoints they could surprise us with Breathalyzer tests. The American "No Loitering" made into rule of law. Everyone happy and safe at home. A return to decency, it seems. Sorry, Tijuana still has the party deep inside.
¡Donde hay PAN se vive mejor! This slogan is still plastered in practically all the places I walk through to get to work, to go to school, or to head back home. Whether on a banner or a sign, it's the same message. Leaving aside the obvious religious connotation, we still have to notice the reductionist vision of whoever invented or recycled or appropriated it: our well-being is reduced to a matter of food (pan of course means bread in Spanish, as well as being the acronym for the Partido de Acción National). And the circus? What happened to the circus? The recent PRI victory in the race for mayor in Tijuana is a sign: the circus has now come to town, with its exotic animals and everything else. No importa, I was part of the 60 percent of people who didn't vote, but I don't feel guilty, since I know I've got a front-row ticket to this sur-reality show. The businessman Hank Rhon promised in a meeting with college students that Tijuana was going to be bien curada (super cool) beginning in December. Or at the very least, there will be a lot to comment on and analyze.
El weekly viaje a San Diego is one of our most deeply rooted border customs, one that just won't die despite the peso-dollar ﬂuctuations. It's said that San Diego is the pretty side of Tijuana. A cliché about to go into bankruptcy, under stress from the misuse of pensions, corruption, and the baggage of being "The Finest City in America." My friends use the Sentri lane to cross the border quickly. And they smile as they say, "No more long line or bikes or domineering Immigration agents." I know, in ten or ﬁfteen minutes, you're across and in the old empire. When I don't have time, I get on a $1.50 bus and in less than an hour, which I almost always spend reading a Baudrillard book or correcting my texts, it drops me off right in front of the Immigration agent. If I'm feeling really conﬁdent, I have an adventure and get in line Saturday morning right at the time when there's the most trafﬁc. Since 9/11, crossing la línea has changed so much. There's more and more surveillance on the trip over and it's always congested. Crossing la línea is unpredictable. I can take a few minutes or hours to do it. At the front of the line, I hand over my visa and answer the agent's routine question with a moment's hesitation: I don't bring nada de México. I amble over to the trolley and buy an All Day Pass for ﬁve dollars ﬁrst, making a mental plan of the spots I'll hit that day. Yeah, amo a San Diego as much as I love Tijuana. Like Richard Hell, that New York punk poet, my love comes in spurts.
It was the early eighties, I was headed over on a family trip to San Diego. I still remember it like it was a slow-motion video: the pollos' crazy break-for-it—ilegales, compas looking for better opportunities or however you want to call them—through the slew of cars in line and how we shouted euphorically when one of them was able to dodge the soldiers there to stop them from getting on the freeway. Or even more sad, from a window of the restaurant Coco's, when we saw them come out of some nearby storm drains scared, dirty, and wet. Things change in a decade, now it's normal to see, all of sudden, right before getting to the review checkpoint, a guy opens the door to his car and runs toward Mexico, leaving it behind in the middle of the line to cross. Everyone knows that, after they inspect the car, you'll see one, two, three, or even ﬁve people get out of the trunk. And even though you can't do anything about it, it's rough to see them emerge confused and all sweaty with their shoes, sneakers, or boots in their hands.
In Tijuana, there's another border too: the language one. Phrases, slang, inﬂections, tones, and accents. There they are, we hear them when we change the dial on the radio to listen to the morning shows with their sonidito sinaloeanse, when we cross la línea, in the cultural programs on the university stations, as we hang out talking at a café or in the typical weekend drunkfests, while we're chatting online or in normal coming and goings. The ones of us who live here, the ones who just got here and the ones on their way, we construct la city and la city constructs us as we get to know her. Every day, language is resemanticized, recontextualized; as the communicologist Ricardo Morales has explained it, it's reconstructed by all of us, artists, the public, advocates for fronterizo ways of communicating and fronterizo culture. In Tijuana, language has moved past the narrow alley of Spanglish, lo pocho, or chicanismos (too seventies, too radical, too religious). The Tijuana writer Heriberto Yépez has mentioned on his blog that one of the reasons behind the use of English on the border is what he calls "emotional detachment" and he argues everything is más light in English, full of overused clichés. He equates the use of English to an escape (from reality, from Mexicanness). I think English provides the simple gift of economy; when dealing with a more complex idea—Yépez is right about this—it moves the idea, and only the idea, to another context and although its usage often is reduced to media-friendly sound bites already charged with meanings, that doesn't mean the use of Tijuanero Spanglish is a condescending way of looking down on someone else or a submissive nod to the gringos. As an epilogue, it's worth adding an anecdote that Yépez has told about being at a literary encuentro in Guadalajara and receiving a compliment for speaking Spanish so well despite being from Tijuana. Yeah, we can speak Español too.
In a recent talk at the CECUT, as part of a series of events bringing together the artistic community in the Tijuana—San Diego area, Norma Iglesias, a former researcher at the Colef, said, en inglés, that Tijuana was moving quicker than any of its artists. True. Despite that, its artists recognize its movement. La city, we already said it, is moving.
If its artists go slow, the media in general is even further behind. I can tell more than a hundred stories about all the people who've come in the last ten years to cover the Tijuana experience. Big names and unknown names, indies and ofﬁcial operators, with agendas and without them. I've talked with a huge number of journalists, writers, musicians, academics, and video and ﬁlm makers trying to discover and then take away their own Personal TJ that boils down to what others have already said. That's why it's not strange they still haven't registered or understood a couple of phenomena on the wild periferia of la city or the anomalous Tijuana that is coming out of a permissive Centro. On the other hand, they've provided a sneak peek of what's to come. The ones who defend the periferia of la city point to hip-hop, a return to the cholo aesthetic, and wager their lives for the barrio; through break beats and hard rhymes they show what's going on: violence, police harassment, the inﬂuence of drugs, the legacy of neoliberal catastrophe, the poverty of la city. It's the seventies otra vez, grafﬁti without a critique, monosyllabic Spanglish de El Ei, poverty all riled up and concentrated in isolated groups of young folks who'll die young. That's why the old guard is scared that soon they'll see them blossoming in DVDs.
On the other side, el Centro and its allies. The Tijuana Bloguita Front (TJ.BF) is/was a swarm of more than a hundred blogueros (writers, musicians, designers, architects, fanzineros, academics, videographers, radio programmers, journalists, and more) who live in Tijuana, bringing together the experimental and the academic, the superﬁcial with a hint of perdiction (sic), avant-preppies and the coolturoso, el underground and the mass media in a postreality show that spans la city. They take the party with them, they walk the talk and document it all in an inﬁnite number of Weblogs. It's today's Tijuana, half space invaders (clubs, galleries, schools, institutions), half disaster waiting to happen; an open viral web that has no morals and is hard to satiate, with different information hubs and varied communication platforms. Theirs is an attempt to recreate la city, mix possible realities together, ironically comment on the construction of "lo tijuanense," shake up antiquated structures, and, in the process, make the most impossible places fashionable as objects of study for academics from various parts of the world. The TJ.BF is ON, close by here, dancing to a DJ spinning mixes semiotically, on the edge of la nada, with the tedium of everyday life in their faces, immersed in something that is barely known: postborder life, the joy of living en la city, the challenge of what seems impossible to interpret.
The War Is Over! TJ Won
In the words of Marc Auge, though he was referring to Paris: "As long as Tijuana keeps resisting Tijuana, Tijuana me gusta." Tijuana is un teenager who always wants to be up on the latest trend, be buten cool and megadiver; however, it needs no alibis: la city is rebellious and transgressive per se. Tijuana is a mix of styles and epochs; it's not static, it does a 360 on the establishment's rules and loses itself in the most devastating euphoria. Tijuana scratches, caresses, stimulates.
This is what there is: a future of great challenges and opportunities, with a 1950s main avenue under surveillance with technology from the twenty-ﬁrst century, an economy based more and more on the dichotomy of cartels and police corruption, made of bleeps and scratch in lost bars, of ﬂirting glances at the old new empire always on the lookout, the language play that will replace the Spanglish that so deeply bothers the defenders of a model that was never ours, a new morality that greatly resembles the old morality, glancing at brochures with detailed instructions on how to leave the border. Whatever, this is the way it is: today everything is border, ﬁssure, the largest chunk of what previously was an idea of nation. In Tijuana, people stick around, euphoric or resigned, because, paraphrasing Fromm, in the end, they weren't headed anywhere anyway.
Or not. If you notice, there's a riot going on. Remember one thing: la city is not a utopia or a dystopia, it's the afterparty where you hear the last call. We'll keep on having fun while the next thing starts. ¿Qué? We don't know and don't care, here we're enjoying the time we have left to live. A few years back, the Borderhacker activists used the catchphrase "Delete the Border" in their v.3. We, all ironic, are still pushing a different version: "Delight the border." And come as you are (Nirvana dixit). All welcome, no problema. Come before it's gone and the party's moved on to someplace else. Come to witness the moment when TJ reinvents itself on pay per view.
Tijuana has no fear. Tijuana is (a) heroic (drug). Everything here happens at the same time, but we don't realize it; it's a white label for a beyondeada generation that rebels with electrobeats of a radiant future, right on the line dividing this from that, calculating the moment that'll decide the fate of all the parties in the future and of the other extraordinary actions or even the social uprising expected one of these days.
Second warning: Just like Juan Luis Curiel suggested at the end of the show he had in the seventies on the local channel 12, if you didn't like Tijuana, don't tell anyone.
BTW, Tijuana makes me happy, so happy.
En la línea fronteriza. A blazing sun and a line at least an hour and a half long. What ever, it's what you have to go through to satiate the ridiculous desire to get the last copy of Dazed and Confused and ﬂip through the used bins at a couple select music stores. As always, the time passes slowly, but, to my pleasant surprise, the line is moving pretty fast considering the hour and it being the weekend.
The conversations make the wait easier. Up ahead, Mexican Americans taking their weekly supply of Gamesa cookies to some San Diego suburb; further back, a group of Europeans switch between a heavily accented English and their native French. I inadvertently eavesdrop on some of the conversations. It's either that or make do with watching the cars go by, because this Saturday I decided to cross by myself.
More "Crossfader Playlist" InstallmentsCrossfader Playlist: Tijuana Makes Me Happy
Crossfader Playlist: Living (through) Tijuana
We get to the point where the ﬁrst American ofﬁcer is standing. Instinctively, I check my wallet: I want to make sure I've got my passport. Yeah, I've got my visa, enclosed in the same protective envelope they gave me years ago. My breathing relaxes a little and I walk forward.
We're already in the installations of the USA. At least, the signs prohibiting loitering are better translated now (though they still translate violators as "violadores"—rapists). It's funny to see how people lower their voices, barely speaking, and move super slow like they're not trying to draw attention. Somehow, the line has a pacifying effect. No Cameras. No Photos. Every act, every movement, every conversation is being recorded. We know it. We're used to that invisible Big Brother, the one we know is always there. In this line under constant surveillance, we're all suspect. Standing in line, waiting, walking, crossing over isn't just a formality, wasting time in a kind of limbo / gray zone / dead space / a no place that still modiﬁ es the way we act before entering what they advertise as paradise.
Others don't make it. They're caught with fake passports, expired permits, mistakes on their papers, stolen identities. Sometimes, like today, we see
them lined up in a different line, in the same space but in the opposite direction. They barely talk, walk slowly, as if they were trying not to draw our attention, those of us practically in front of them. A family with their hands secured behind their backs, one after the other. The parents at the head of the line, their teenage kids in the middle, and at the back, the littlest ones. All of them with their heads down, trying to hide their faces in the collar of their Nike jacket or their Gap sweatshirt, staring down (like a shoegazer from '85)
at the laces on the sneakers they bought in some mercadillo in Tijuana.
At the front of the line, we all keep our mouths shut because we know we could be one of them. With my incredible ear, I make out one of the French guys tell another in his weird English: The ofﬁcial gives back them to where they belong.
Five minutes later, I'm buying a Trolley ticket, downtown San Diego awaits.
Read the previous installments of this Artbound exclusive series:
Check back every Thursday on Artbound in the following weeks for the next installment of Rafa Saavedra's "Crossfader Playlist". Next week, the author examines the culture of youth and the counterculture in Tijuana.
Copyright Duke University Press, 2012
Top Image: Photo by Ingrid Hernandez.
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