Sounds Like Spanish
Of course, there are other factors, such as classical tijuanense-speak that more often than not includes borrowed words from the English language. This sort of lingo was highlighted in Luis Alberto Urrea’s book Across the Wire, in which he asks the reader to try and understand Mexicans from the south arriving in Tijuana and hearing a lingo that sounds like Spanish but is far from it. I can understand that sort of lingo and especially the old lingo with its caló, pachucho speak, spoken near what was once the center, or downtown, of Tijuana.
There was a time when Tijuana was known only for its downtown. In fact, we thought of La Mesa as a place where las aguilas vuelan, that is, a place where the eagles fly. This was meant as a taunt to mean that La Mesa was so freaking far away from downtown (or as the buses used to paint on their windshields, “El Daun Taun”), that only wild life roamed those areas. We, who lived near the Línea, the border, were proud. Going beyond the old Hipódromo was beyond our imagination, indeed.
Tijuanenses are identified by that which they are not; that is, supposedly, Mexicans. Yes, there is an old myth among some Mexicans from the south that Tijuana is no longer Mexico. Remember the efforts by Spanish entrepreneur Antonio Navalón and his Tijuana art exhibition “Third Nation”? Well, that is like a small spin-off of that myth. Its denizens are also rejected similarly. Hence, the government’s effort to instill identity in us either directly or indirectly…like the time they tried to make the peso the only valid currency in Tijuana. God forbid we come up with our own version of who we are. And, in fact, we have been called pochos, a yaqui word meaning “short of”; in this case, short of being Mexican to not being Mexican at all.
One of the reasons immigrant advocates in the U.S. use to defend migrant workers coming to labor in the Californian fields is that regular Americans will not do menial jobs for low wages. A tijuanense, meanwhile, would not be caught dead selling corn on the cob from a cart all around the city. Nor would they sell bottled water from trucks…not even shine shoes, or as this profession is known, shainiar, a spanglish word meaning “to shine.” These sorts of jobs are reserved for the new arrivals.
But the new Tijuana identity is alien to me. Not only on a personal level but geographically as well. This can be seen in the city’s level of tolerance for other Mexicans. It used to be that we identified people from the Mexican capital by being the opposite of everything they were. It was the paradigm of who not to be. It used to be an insult to be called a chilango, which is a person from Mexico City. I was even surprised that our local rivalry between Mexicali and Tijuana had come to a sour point when mexicalenses started calling us tijuanenses “chilango light.” Those were the good old days, indeed. These days, people from Mexico City are more and more accepted. Which is good, of course, but something happened during the course of the past years. Our natural brethren — people from Sinaloa, Nayarit, Sonora — are now the model not to follow. They are now the chilango for the tijuanense.
I don’t know where this will lead the new tijuanense who easily adopts ways that are now alien to me. Maybe the government has finally won the battle of identities — not by a program, but because the city has become so big there might be a chance that there is more than one Tijuana to speak of these days.
Read the Spanish version here.