The fourth Transmission of the Borderblaster project takes listeners on a psycho-geographic journey through two neighborhoods surrounding the San Ysidro Port of Entry, communities that have been impacted and will continue to be shaped by the border crossing. The title of the transmission, "Poetic Dérive," pays homage to the technique developed by Guy Debord and the Situationist International to traverse and map urban spaces. Debord's theory of Dérive sought to deliver new and enlightening experiences of the urban environment by breaking with the logic of streamlined mobility of goods and bodies—instead calling for a drifting of sorts through spaces, guided only by the immediate phenomenological response to stimulus encountered on the way.
Borderblaster: Transmission 4 "Poetic Dérive"
With this tactic as a model, we invited poets from San Diego and Tijuana to join us in mapping the psycho-geography of the neighborhoods to the East and West of the Port of Entry—the emotional and psychological effects of these neighborhoods clashing against the border fence, confronting the regulation of space and border surveillance. Colonia Libertad to the East and Colonia Federal to the West stretch parallel to the border and exemplify the negotiations that must be made when the border is in your backyard—in some cases literally.
Artist and poet Omar Pimienta has lived in the Colonia Libertad all his life. For the Transmission, he takes listeners on a short stroll through his neighborhood, reflecting on the history of "La Libertad", sharing personal childhood memories, and describing what he encounters as he walks. Pimienta explains that the Colonia Libertad was founded in the early 20th century by workers of the racetracks in Tijuana who managed to improvise a sophisticated urban plan of roadways and plots of land. Because of its proximity to the border, the neighborhood grew in the 30s as Mexican-American families who had been deported during the years of depression in the United States established themselves in the neighborhood. He ends the walk with a poem titled "La Libertad" which concludes: "La libertad is a premonition, a woman with suitcases, an ex-convict petrified upon his first free step, an exile with a false name. In this stop-over city, there is a place to stay."
For our journey through Colonia Federal we asked Jhonnatan Curiel of Colectivo Intransigente to lead us as we mapped the past and present of the neighborhood. To help us in this process, Curiel and fellow Intransigente Karen Marquez developed an exercise that consisted of registering a series of observations made on the trip, to use as the basis for writing a poem that would document the expernce. Many details emerged in the process of intense observation; what would have been overlooked or not given an extra thought became productive provocations for poetic interpretation and manipulation.
Joined by poets from San Diego and Tijuana and armed with notebooks to record observations, we moved through the small neighborhood, learning about its history and its close ties to the emergence and evolution of Mexican customs offices—thus the name, Colonia Federal, Federal District. Along the way, we wandered into close proximity of the newest entry point into Mexico, El Chapparral, which happens to be on the western edge of Colonia Federal. This new border-crossing infrastructure has literally encircled the neighborhood—El Chaparral on one side and the San Ysidro Port of Entry on the other. The aesthetic, psychological, physical and environmental consequences of such a massive project were not immediately obvious during our walk, but there was a sense that we were getting to experience the Colonia Federal before it underwent significant transformations—for better or worse.
This neighborhood is one that is familiar with transformation. Joining us on our trip was artist Elizabeth Chaney who lives in the Colonia Federal, across the street from the Casa del Tunel Art Center and literally just a few feet away from the border fence. Its proximity to the fence made the houses along the block desirable locations for drug smugglers to build trafficking tunnels under the fence (in Tijuana known as narco-tuneles), to smuggle drugs across the border. Before it was renovated into a binational art center, the house that became the Casa del Tunel actually served as a cover for a "narco-tunel". The conversion of the house into an art center is an appropriate transformation: art and culture representing a new form cross-border exchange between Tijuana and San Diego. In the last decades the Colonia Federal became a very active location for the arts, housing studios of artists like Marco Ramirez ERRE and galleries like Lui Velasquez. However, in recent years, the foci of the artistic community in Tijuana has shifted to the Pasajes (Rodriguez and Gomez) along the Avenida Revolucion in the center of the city, and the binational connection between San Diego and Tijuana has entered a lull.
The result of our journey through La Colonia Federal—which sought to document the current state of the neighborhood, juxtaposing the stillness of our encounters with the historical narrative of flux and the looming presence of the border's surveillance infrastructure—were 7 poems produced and performed in response to the experience by Tijuana-based poets and artists Jhonnatan Curiel, Karen Marquez and Elizabeth Chaney, and San Diego based Manuel Paul Lopez, Gabe Kalmuss-Katz, Kendall Grady, and Amy Sanchez. The poems, which are included in this transmission, were performed for the public inside of the Mercado de Artesanias de La Linea at Cognate Space.
Together with Omar Pimienta's piece on the Colonia Libertad, these poetic documents play with the temporal dimensions of space, splicing real-time encounters with local histories and grand border mythologies. They attempt to not only map the geographical and physical dimensions of neighborhoods and communities, but also register the psychological and subjective experiences of locations that are both foreign and familiar—experiences common along the border.
Transmission 4 was broadcast on October 26 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and at the University Art Gallery as part of the exhibition Living as Form (the Nomadic Version). Transmission 5, "Open Address" will be broadcast on November 2 at 3pm and will feature voices of individuals at the crossing addressing the border through song, poetry and collective proclamations. It includes performances by street musicians who perform at the border crossing and a binational Son Jarocho band recorded on October 27 at Cognate Space inside of the Mercado de Artesanias de La Linea.
Join us at Cognate Space for the final Live Recording Event "Mixtape for the Crossing" on November 3rd at 1pm. Artist Gary Garay will be creating a border mixtape with a sonidero cart that can play LPs, CDs, Cassette tapes, and MP3s. So bring along a song that represents the experience of the border for you and take part in creating the mixtape for the crossing.
Listen to and read about all the Borderblaster transmissions from Tijuana: