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Crossfader Playlist: Living (through) Tijuana

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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. Read the other installments of Artbound's "Crossfader Playlist" series here.

Josh Kun


Living (through) Tijuana


It happens again. I see it live and direct from the scene. Like all of Tijuana were a theme park and there were nothing else to do but sit back in the taxi and enjoy the ride, just stare through the window at our disaster of a city, this perfect example of no-holds-barred postmodernity.

    Feeling (un)safe, check. The patrol cars massing in another commercial-school zone, the insistent ambulance sirens, dozens of armed, restless agents, nosy people making comments without knowing what's really going on. Seeing everything as some kind of blood-and-bullet show, without imagining that the illusion of it being them vs. them is rapidly disintegrating, the lie that the conflict doesn't affect us yet and won't invade our own comfort zones.

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    No one wants to even imagine that what we are living through (badly) is a gore movie, one of the ones they show on the weekend at 3 A.M., that it will shake much more than some middle-class fears and the social conformity that has been our companion for the last twenty years.

    "The situation is completely intolerable now," we hear the host of a popular local radio show say. It's the same thing that a house wife is thinking, the dismayed house wife who, like the wife of Reverend Lovejoy on the Simpsons, asks someone to think about the children as she gets out of a taxi in one of the many fortified parts of the city. God help them, she manages to say to us.

    Days later, on the way to a Thanksgiving dinner, a friend points at an empty corner around the corner from his parents' house, reporting like a TV correspondent: "That's where the narcos left three dead bodies wrapped in blankets."

    Yeah, it's hard to accept: la city is a violent playground (Nitzer Ebb dixit).

This year I've seen the most unimaginable things in the media: obscene close-ups of a series of disgusting murders meant to satiate our morbid curiosity and leave us gasping for air, the sadism and cruelty of the posthuman tragedy, the unrelenting update of lives converted into mere statistics. A torrent of blood.

    The press drops any pretense of ethics in pursuit of that segment of the market that devours crime news with savage ner vous ness. The way the media wallows in the violence and the spectacularization of civic fear seems to be covering up both a moralistic stench and a chart of economic salvation. Some day we, the people of Tijuana, we'll make them pay for their despicable contribution to the present psychosis.

    Because of all this, blogs are a better option for fi nding out what places to avoid, tips for noticing the behavioral tics of the invisible enemy now lurking all over the place, the judicial system's anomalies, details the press covers up, the hidden realities of the impoverished masses whose ranks we've let swell. And then the blogs of the people who think "it's hard to stay quiet when it hits so close to you. Hard when it become a modus viviendi." The ones who write for the people who aren't here anymore, for the ones who've dissappeared.


Tijuana isn't Gotham City. There aren't any superheroes to respond to our calls or competent authorities to attend to our appeals. What can be done in a city that's devouring itself? Write a post everything j'accuse fingering the criminal impunity, the police corruption, and a state overwhelmed by its inefficiency and the lack of strategies for attacking the first problem and controling the second? Analyze our debilitated value system and its impact on social breakdown, the ideals of the drug- dealing youths and their connection to consumerism and generalized disillusionment? Entrust Tijuana over to some supreme power (whichever one it might be)?

    Will it help anything to walk through the various theories dealing with fear as a means of control, prayer chains, the importance of a life and honest work, political participation, solidarity marches, and occasional, well-directed protests? Or will we turn people from Sinaloa into the perfect target for attacks, letting them stand in for the misnamed narcoculture in the border imaginary? Tijuana wasn't like that before.


Two thousand eight will go down in history as a terrible year: the more than seven hundred dead and a series of excessively dramatic images (those kindergarten kids and the shootout that were transmitted around the world, Aiko Enriquez Nishikawa's sad farewell letter to Tijuana, the stories heard during the marches for peace and safety, the riots in the Penitenciaría). Too many things, too many.

    Terrible? Yes, but as our neighbors on the other side of the border say: Life goes on.


I'm part of a generation that grew up with the privileges of progress and that carefree feeling that the city has stood for since its beginnings. A generation that defends Tijuana nightlife tooth and nail as a way to escape-valve the implosion of violence that used to be selective but now is a kind of lottery of death.

    Tijuana is our home, our border roots, our web of friends, our work, and our dreams. Like so many who head out every morning to face the uncertainty and turmoil of capitalism gone wild, I can say this: I'm not afraid, I don't want to be afraid, I refuse to be afraid.

    One more thing: if we lose Tijuana, Mexico has no future.



The Tijuana We've Got Coming


Thursdays are like my Sundays. The days I don't go to work, when I can wake up as late as I want. I work twelve hours on Wednesdays. The only thing I want to do when I get home is tumble into bed and kick back. I've done just that the last two weeks. Rest is good for me.

    Today was no exception. The sound of the phone woke me up. It was noon. My sister, telling me to turn on the TV, a shootout. I turned it on and, starting with that moment, that Thursday will forever be marked in my memory.


The images I see are like out of a movie. I remember on a local news show I heard a businessman famous for his cultural and media missteps say that Tijuana looked a lot like Pakistan. I remember a statement, from only a few days ago, by a police chief saying we were living through a war in Tijuana. I remember this entire week there hasn't been one day I've woken up without reading news of some murder, kidnapping, drive-by, etc.


I followed the news on three different channels. I turned on the computer to check the Web sites of the national newspapers to see if there were updates. Information wasn't fl owing. I kept watching the same images on an endless loop. Zooms, pans, close-ups. There was something obscene in these images that, at that moment, I couldn't quite identify but I knew something about them bothered me.


I work close to where the shootout took place. A few blocks away. Sometimes I hail a taxi on the Boulevard. Several of my friends and students live over there. I talked to a few of them on the phone. They're fine . . . nervous, upset, worried, but fine. They can't leave their work / their house / their school.


I realize this is a new kind of experience when I see no one knows how to act, how to behave, how to react. On the TV News, the reporters look for the best image, the most dramatic one, the one that might work for I don't know what purpose. They've lost their way and aren't providing information, balance, control. And so I watch images on the TV that far from providing information, just strike the short match of our social psychosis, injecting fear, uncertainty, rage.

    The media boasted about presenting the most complete information, the reporters said they felt like they were in a war zone, shamelessly interviewing kids and people on the edge of a breakdown, enthusiastically showing the same images over and over again. Qué vergüenza.


One of the local news shows comes on at 3 P.M. I sat down in front of the TV and watched the images again. I changed the channel and they had the same images (different shots, different angles, but still the same). Soundbites, threats transmitted on the radio dial, silence. Gunshots.

    I went back to the news. In the overwhelming number of violent images, I made out the familiar faces of two much-loved friends of mine. Two girls sitting on the patio of their house, with the channel's microphone in one hand, both of them waiting perhaps for some question. Yeah, it's them: the byline identifies them by their first and last names. Their image was on the screen for a few, three, five seconds? I reacted when I saw the same images from the last few hours come back on. I decided to call them, several of their friends and family members were thinking the same thing and decided to contact them. At the end of the call, one of the girls said to me: We lost her, R. No, I answered. Not yet.

    I know what she's talking about: mi city, nuestra city.


I had a few things I had to do today. The people in my house asked if I was going out. Yeah, I'm not going to be held hostage. If fear wins, we'll end up barricading ourselves in our homes like they did in Medellín. Our fight is for our freedom, for the power to move around this city, nuestra Tijuana, to not let them defeat us. Despite the fact criminals face no punishment and have no fear, we have to keep on doing even the smallest and most insignificant of our daily activities.

    I went out.


I went to visit a friend. I walked a few blocks listening to Ciëlo on my headphones. When I got there, he had coffee and pizza waiting. He's upset, sad, all messed up by what happened. No one with a sensitive bone in their body or a little solidarity could feel removed from the tragedy of the situation. We know the fight is not between good guys and bad guys. We all participate in this. We're implicated by our silence, our indifference, our typical attitude of "I don't care as long as it doesn't affect me.

    "It's barely 6 PM and we can't take our eyes off the TV news. Once again the same images. Those images now starting to circulate around the world. We see them on the Internet. We'll see them tomorrow in the papers. We see them. Yes, they're obscene, terribly obscene. Will we remember them like the pictures from March 23rd? Will it be a defining moment for TJ? With these questions and a lot of other ones banging around in my head, I said goodbye to my friend.


Even though the media was telling everyone not to leave the house, I went to el Centro. It's calm. I passed by a few businesses with the TV on. News, of course. In the taxi, the people, none of whom knew each another, talked about what had happened. There are several versions out there. I've never believed rumors. The worst thing was seeing proof that scare tactics work.

    When I got to the CECUT, I asked to be let off. It's an old refrain that culture is our only possible way out. What happened today is still the main topic. Everyone has something to say, something to express, something to feel. We all saw those images. We all reject them.

    Just like me, there were several others who didn't pay any mind to the official recommendation. We go out that night to feel alive, to prove we're alive, to feel like our city's alive. Directors of cultural institutions, university professors, journalists that are sick of so much shooting, house wives, teenagers who kill time waiting to see Taurus do Brasil, people who put together university cultural programs, people who had the idea to visit the CECUT on a day like today. A lot of people, strange for January, surprising for this Thursday in particular.


Before heading home, I went with Boo, a very close friend, to the Starbucks at the beach. This might seem like an empty and ridiculous thing to do, in view of what had gone down. Even so, it was the best way to end a horrible day. We had a good time talking about the books friends have recommended we read, the little things that come up in the process of getting a master's, joking about future trips and group therapy techniques. There, sitting down, drinking a latté, watching a ton of people laughing and chatting with their friends, I understood that everything had not been lost.


Back to la realidad. I made it in time to see the national TV news. Hechos plays the same images again, the extended version. Like three or four minutes. I don't understand. Or I do understand: they're into anything morbid, into emotional blackmail, they're shameless and completely insensitive. Change the channel. Another news show, this time with their logo superimposed on the exclusive images. Sick to my stomach.

    On the Internet, I found out more things, more reactions. I read about it in a few blog posts. All of them talk, locate the place where it happened, know people who live nearby, are indignant or moved by the images. Some of them say— openly or between the lines—what we all know and don't want to recognize: we are also guilty. The city's open, receptive nature makes it progressive and paradoxically makes its own survival all the more difficult.


It's almost twelve. I know that, despite not wanting to, these images will invade my dreams. Despite it all, have a good night, Tijuana.

PS: Yeah, I know. I'm a goddamn optimist.

Read the other installments of this Artbound exclusive series:

1. Crossfader Playlist: Living (through) Tijuana

2. Crossfader Playlist: Tijuana Makes Me Happy

3. Crossfader Playlist: Tijuana Dream

4. Crossfader Playlist: Tijuana Youth


Copyright Duke University Press, 2012

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Top Image: Photo by Ingrid Hernandez.

About the Author

Rafa Saavedra is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in magazines and culture supplements in Mexico. He has been editor and coeditor of several fanzines and independent publications. He is the author of ...
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