Reader: What do you see in the future for Tijuana-San Diego?
Oppenheimer: I find it interesting that with your 60 percent or whatever majority of minorities -- Hispanic, Asian, and others -- that you still have a white Anglo powerhouse running the city. San Diego is still in the hands of Anglos. And considering that it has a 40 percent Hispanic population, how different it is from Miami or other American cities where you've had a big reversal [of ethnic populations]. If I look at Miami and how it has changed since I arrived there in 1983, I find it very interesting that San Diego has not gone in the same direction.
Reader: Why do you think that is?
Oppenheimer: Well, because probably the Hispanics in San Diego are not as middle class or upper class as they are in Miami. In Miami, the whole middle class from Cuba came over. You don't have that many middle-class and upper-class people doing business or living permanently in San Diego. But I think that will change. First, because the insecurity in Mexico City is driving more and more middle-class Mexicans to cities like Miami and San Diego and others. Second, because the children of the Mexican immigrants are going to be better off than their parents; and third, because of sheer numbers. I think San Diego will change more than Tijuana. I mean, Tijuana may become more and more Americanized, but San Diego will become more Mexicanized.
Reader: Yet the Anglo power "club" is still holding out pretty successfully here.
Oppenheimer: Well, yeah. When I arrived in Miami, it was run by something called the "nongroup," which was a group that officially didn't exist. But it was a group of CEOs from the biggest corporations in town and the politicians and the charities. An all-Anglo group that ran the city. They met the mayor, decided what was best, and then Corporation A would chip in one million, Corporation B would chip in a million, and that's the way the city worked. Then, in the late-'80s, they elected the first Hispanic mayor, and then that nongroup started accepting one or two Hispanic members. And then five years later, both the mayor and the whole city commission were Hispanic and the nongroup disappeared. Now many of the old members say that a lot of the corruption Miami has is because there is no longer this "nongroup" of corporate people tied to the political class.
But the fact is, that since I arrived, the city has changed completely. Now I would say that from the mayor down, you don't find a politician who doesn't speak Spanish fluently. And, in most cases he's Hispanic. The governor, Jeb Bush, is married to a Hispanic and speaks fluent Spanish. In Miami it's unthinkable, it's impossible to get elected to anything if you don't speak Spanish. And this year in January for the first time, my paper, the Miami Herald, the Anglo powerhouse in Miami, has become the first regional paper in the U.S. to appoint a Hispanic publisher.
Reader: The problem now with the Hispanic population in San Diego is you have very low turnouts or very low registrations.
Oppenheimer: Well, I read a speech on the Internet that Vice President Al Gore gave here in California, and I was surprised to see that he mumbled a whole paragraph in Spanish. It used to be that they said, "muchas gracias," in a bad Spanish accent. But now we're up to a whole paragraph! Which leads me to believe that there are some [Hispanic] voters here. And in Mexico, there is a NAFTA generation of incredibly smart people. There's almost a generation gap in Mexico City. You see these kids who are incredibly efficient, quick, fast. They don't spend four hours in a luncheon. They're all business. Some of them may have come to Tijuana. You see them all over the place.
Reader: But San Diego doesn't have that Hispanic middle class with the money to wield influence yet.
Oppenheimer: But I'm sure you will. Twenty years ago Cubans came to Miami penniless. Remember, they started from scratch. They didn't take their millions out of Cuba. And if things continue the way they are, there is a significant -- I wouldn't call it exodus -- but it is a significant move of upper-class and middle-class Mexicans out of Mexico City because of the insecurity issue -- the street crime and kidnappings. I would be very surprised coming back to San Diego in ten years and not seeing the same changes Miami has seen.
Reader: A lot of Anglo people come here to live the "American Dream," not the transcultural dream.
Oppenheimer: A lot of people used to come to Miami to live the "American Dream." They've all fled to northern Florida.
Reader: Does San Diego today compare with Miami in the '80s when it was the center for drugs being funneled into the country?
Oppenheimer: I think L.A. is more of a drug center than San Diego in that sense. I think San Diego is what Miami was 15 years ago politically and socially. Miami was a sleepy southern town. And I'm not saying that Miami is a model. It is one of the most corrupt cities in America. What I'm saying is that we're moving to international cities or global cities or hemispheric cities. And you guys, right at the border, how could you escape that?