San Diego In New York, they're debating what sort of memorial to build on the six-acre site where the World Trade Center once stood. Three thousand miles away, in Tijuana, one such memorial of the attacks of September 11, 2001, is already being built and will be dedicated on September 11, 2002.
Behind the project is a group of 500-plus Tijuanenses called Comité de Imagen de Tijuana (Committee for the Image of Tijuana). "We want to show the real image of Tijuana," says committee president José Galicot. "The people of Tijuana are fed up with the image that we have in the world."
Galicot refuses to elaborate on Tijuana's negative image. "It's well known," he says. "I don't want to reinforce it by repeating it. But I can tell you, we want to change it."
To that end, Galicot says, his committee is developing 20 projects throughout Tijuana. But the most important is the September 11 monument. They have raised about $250,000 from private citizens in Tijuana to pay for materials. All of the artwork and construction is being donated by artists and contractors from San Diego and Tijuana. Construction has started at the site in front of the Hospital of the Children of the Californias, just south of the border in Otay. That particular spot was selected for the monument, Galicot explains, because "the space was close to the border, it was clean land, and we did not have to buy it. The hospital donated the space."
The hospital also fits the theme that was selected for the monument: hope. The idea to build a monument to the September 11 catastrophe grew out of the committee's weekly meetings very soon after the attacks. Galicot points out that Tijuana suffered strongly in the aftermath of September 11, and that mood pervaded his committee's meetings. "It had a great effect on Tijuana," he says. "We cross the border every day -- hundreds of thousands cross the border, and they were hurt by what happened in New York. And there were also Mexicans there who died. We want to show that we felt that pain. And we also have solidarity with all people who suffer pain due to violence." Sculptor Jack Winer, the chief artist on the project, describes his vision for the monument. "I envisioned an 80-foot tower made out of stainless steel," says Winer, who lives half of the year in San Diego, half in Mexico City, "with two openings shining into the sky, coming out of a circular pond surrounded by children holding hands, children from all of the world."
That idea, Winer says, came from "many conversations with the committee, especially Mr. Galicot. We thought that something with elevation, like a tower, would be very representative of a feeling of hope. We did not want a figurative monument that would be morbid or would symbolize death, or attacks, or destruction, or anything like that."
"There is one hint of deep sadness," Winer adds. "The tower has three sides, and there are two tears falling down the back side."
As it stands now, the 80-foot, three-sided obelisk will rise up from the middle of a raised concrete ring 30 feet in diameter. "Schematic children," as Winer calls them, made of metal, each of a different ethnicity, will crown the circle. Their hands will be welded together, and on each child the word hope will be written in its native language and alphabet. At one point in the design phase, the children were to stand on a pentagonal base, but some of the local artists working on the project objected to the imagery. "The pedestal was designed as a pentagon," says Encinitas sculptor Jeffrey Laudenslager, "which makes perfect sense considering the Pentagon was attacked. But another artist, Ante Marinovich, and I discussed this and were a little bit concerned. The Pentagon here in the United States represents the war machine, if you will. And the idea of putting the kids in conjunction with that is not an emotional and ethical position that we want to take. So we are working with Jack to modify that and make it into a circle, which, while it doesn't represent the bombed Pentagon, it represents the continuity and integrity of the people, which I think is a more important sentiment."
Though he argued against the pentagon, Laudenslager, whose most visible opus is the 34-foot stainless-steel, wind-driven kinetic sculpture on the east side of I-5, just north of the 805 merge, applauds the Tower of Hope idea. "I think that's very appropriate," he says.
Galicot believes that, despite long-standing rivalry and resentment between the two nations, and despite recent results in the World Cup, solidarity between the United States and Mexico is strong. "Here at the border," he says, "we have American friends, we do business together, we share many things. We like the Padres even if they don't win, and we go to the Chargers games. We are forever united. When good things happen in San Diego, in a way it comes to Tijuana and vice versa. In 1993, Tijuana had a big flood, and many people from the United States came and brought supplies and food for people who were starving. That is the spirit of this region; that should be the spirit of the world."
He adds, "One of every six Mexicans lives in the States. And almost every family has people on both sides. Family feelings in Latin people maybe are stronger than in other cultures, and those family feelings link the two countries."
And even if anti-American sentiment persists with some Mexicans, Galicot believes that Tijuanenses will have no problem with commemorating an American tragedy such as September 11. "They will accept it as a monument against violence. They will accept it as solidarity with the pain of people. They will accept it because they understand it. Many are here in Tijuana because of pain they left behind in their home towns. And I think the people of Mexico, we feel our emotions very strongly. We are not a cold country, we are a warm country and a warm people. So when we see pain in somebody else, we feel pain."