continued And now the women also knew their business was not illegal. "It has been amazing," says Alejandra H. "The police give us no trouble at all now."
But last March, when city hall wanted to clean up its tourist image along its Calle Primera ("First Street"), the Magdalenas rebelled again. They had agreed to a police request to stay off First Street between Constitución and Niños Héroes Avenues, after Tijuana's public-safety director, Oscar Euzkariatza, promised to meet with them to reconsider the situation a week later. When he failed to, they took to the streets again.
"The leaders came to my office," says Clark. "The rest, the 70 Magdalenas, were already outside the municipal offices. I had called all the media. I walked up with the leaders to the civic center. Outside, their leaders told them, 'We are going to enter the civic center. We are going to burn our IDs [issued by the medical service], and then we're going to have a press conference.'
"So they marched, with placards. They shouted, 'We have a right to work!' 'Prostitutes have rights!' 'Sex workers are Mexican citizens!' And they burned their cards. We asked for a meeting with the mayor [José Guadalupe Osuna Millán]. But this mayor never would receive them either. So we went to the federal courts and promoted 27 habeas corpus [writs]. And the women returned to First Street, but with that paper in their hands. The police couldn't move them."
The Magdalenas have been back on their traditional patch ever since.
* * *
This evening, as the Magdalenas introduce themselves, their stories are much the same.
Gloria, 34: "I have worked here four years. I come from Puebla. We had very little there. I came to Tijuana because economically it's better. I live more quietly here too."
Dulce, 32: "I come from Guadalajara. I have been ten years in Tijuana. I have a daughter of 12 years and a son who's 6, and I need to provide for them."
Angeles, 37: "I come from Tlaxcala. I've been 14 years in Tijuana, because I have four daughters, 15, 12, 10, and 4. Here you can earn more. But not working in the maquiladoras. They pay very little."
Jacqueline, 19: "I have been seven months here. I'm from Cuauhtla, Morelos. I had to work [as a prostitute], because I have a son. In a factory I only earned 150 pesos per week [$15]."
"Some of the women have come to my office and said, 'Victor, I don't want to work on the streets anymore,' " says Clark. "But when we found work for them at assembly plants, at maquiladoras, they'd only earn $35, $50 a week. They told me, 'Victor, I earn that money in half a day on the street.'
"Also it's hard to do other work here because we come from another state," says Mirna, 30, from Cuernavaca, Morelos. "We don't have the papers to qualify in Baja California."
Clark says between 1500 and 2000 prostitutes work in Tijuana's red-light district. So why do only 70 belong to the Magdalenas?
"We Magdalenas work in the day. We have children to look after at night," says Marta, 30. "And we don't like the night because it can be dangerous. They have a lot of drug addicts and drunks out there."
"And some Americans come here to do things they wouldn't back home," cuts in Gloria. "As clients they are more violent than Mexican men."
"We have invited the night workers to join," continues Marta, "but they don't want to come. They have kids too, but they say belonging to the Magdalenas loses them a lot of time they don't have. There's a distinct difference. Day and night. The two don't mix."
Clark says status is a factor too. Bar girls and taxi dancers have not joined the Magdalenas because they see themselves as above women who do business on the street.
The one thing they all share: this profession is a secret. "We send money back to our families," says Gloria. "But our families think we work in maquiladoras or as waitresses in small restaurants, or as maids in rich people's houses."
Clark, a university professor, has had many friends tell him he should not be encouraging women in this profession. "Our purpose is not to defend or foster prostitution," he says. "The point is to defend their human rights, as citizens, as women. And obviously I feel compassion and love for them. Through the years I have become close friends with all these women. I really don't like to see where they are."
So Clark decided to begin a program of education. "It's a process where they become conscious of their own circumstances, of the reality of the role they play as exploited women. Together we have organized workshops on women's issues, public health, first aid, the dangers of AIDS, the use of the condom, on how women perceive themselves in society. I invite members of the [city] council to speak. Three weeks ago I invited the director of the municipal police, Alfredo de la Torre. He is a good man. That's how far we've come. This is a great advance in the feminist movement. Today, they don't see themselves as a sexual object standing on the street anymore, but as a woman with a name, an identity, and rights."
9:30 p.m. The women start making their way out into the darkness. The Magdalenas have agreed to their next panel of speakers and picked up their weekly supply of condoms.
Tomorrow, as every day, they will be back on Avenida Constitución and Coahuila and First Streets, waiting for customers at $10 a trick, plus $3 for the hotel room.