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Books about Tijuana

Naked Indians, Latin America's first blood bank, Rudolf Valentino's wedding in Mexicali, and a quotation from Graham Greene

Bookstore owners in Tijuana say that these histories are snatched up as soon as they are put on display
Bookstore owners in Tijuana say that these histories are snatched up as soon as they are put on display

ln Tijuana men and women are eagerly researching the past. The histories they write, often in textbook form, are lively ones. There is a giddy, unrestrained quality in these books that approaches glee. Many of the books are emblazoned with the Baja state seal, which boasts a busty, bare-breasted gal and a muscle-bound guy thrusting lightning bolts toward a ghostly Everyman who stands with his arms outstretched before a blazing backdrop of cacti, factories, leaping fish, and a fireball sun promising “work and social justice” — a better tomorrow.

Young men coming from Oaxaca will tell you that back home, there is an ongoing debate among those who routinely cross into America. The Tejanos — the men who work in Texas — say theirs is the state best suited for illegal work. The men who work in California argue that it is best: there are fewer polleros in Juarez; la migra in Texas is meaner; the officers are mas racisitas and hit the people they catch; the Rio Bravo is dangerous to cross, and there is less work to be found if and when you get to the other side.

The Mexicans who come to northern Mexico, to Tijuana, the border cities, are cattle-prodded away from their homes by material need. The cold-handed shove that sends Americans to Southern California, to San Diego, is failed romance and dead-horse marriages. People scan maps for the country’s farthest corner. Turn their backs on that son of a bitch or on that bitch. Fill a Thermos with coffee. Slam the door. Start the car.

Gone.

Simply, it is hope that Mexicans and Americans share in this part of the world. Americans who want to forget their past.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Mexicans who want a future. On one side of the border, people are obliterating history. On the other side, people are creating it.

This creation, essentially a task of construction, has nothing to do with remodeling storefronts and paving streets. Drainage and potable water ameliorate peoples’ lives but do not change the way people think. Paper and words are mortar and brick.

Your average bookstore in Tijuana has always been more comprehensive than its San Diegan counterpart. In Tijuana a bookstore will have Spanish translations of I’m OK, You’re OK and various American teen-age rape-pregnancy novels. But it will also offer the complete works of Lenin, Freud, and a wide-ranging selection of the best of European, American, and Latin American literature. Within the past few years, however, books symptomatic of northern Baja’s emerging ego are appearing on bookstore shelves. And bookstore owners in Tijuana say that these histories are snatched up as soon as they are put on display. Local Mexican writers are aware of their unique position and are producing testaments of the continual face-off and exchange of two regions with populations evolving in stronghanded flux.

Professor Pablo Martinez, one of these authors, has written Compendio de Historia del Estado de Baja California. Intended for use as a school text (each section concludes with a summary and list of questions), its initial chapters on the state’s original Indian tribes are spirited and bizarre. Maybe San Diego’s Indians were dull, or maybe our teachers never dared tell us the truth. Professor Martinez has served up a spicy prehistory, complete with anatomically correct sketches. Naked women carry babies, hobo-style, on sticks thrown over their shoulders.

Naked warriors stomp, grimace, and yell to scare off enemies. Students and other readers are sure to pay close attention to illustrations that show how Indians “perforated the ears [of their children], the nose, and sometimes the lower lip,” so the kids could hang tiny creatures — spiders, lizards, and mice — from the incisions.

Maria del Carmen Marquez de Romero Aceves may not have included titillating graphics in her Geografia e Historia de Baja California, but her scope is equally broad. Her children’s textbook starts with a brief discussion of the universe and moves rapidly to locate Baja’s place in the great scheme of things. Written in elementary Spanish, the book offers a brief and thorough account of the state’s geography, politics, and history, from the time of the first Spanish presence to Baja’s economic development in 1986.

Maria’s husband, Ricardo Romero Aceves, also writes and has produced an extensively researched work, Baja California — Ensayo Enciclopedico. The book contains nearly 1500 brief articles on historical figures, political movements, word origins, real and legendary events. It seems that little has been left out.

Gringo is here. And Indira Devi is here — the extraordinary woman who established a yoga institute outside Tecate.

Los Pioneros de la Medicina en Tijuana by Dr. Rafael Mercado Diaz de Leon will tell you everything, every single thing about the history of medicine in Tijuana. He has compiled a who’s who of the more than 700 doctors who have served the city. He has written a history of the city’s funeral homes. He has written a history of blood banking in Tijuana — the city established Latin America’s first blood bank in 1943. He has written about Sara Villarreal, the first woman doctor, who arrived in 1928. He has written about the evolution of the cancer clinics. About social clubs for doctors. About nurses. He starts his book with Hippocrates and goes from there, vigorously cataloguing his profession’s and his city’s past.

There are other histories, all of them equal in scope and exuberance. But there is one that stands mean and tall. Mexicali — Escenarios y Personajes is cool.

It is wry and sophisticated. Its 300-plus pages are rife with essays, articles, book excerpts, photographs, poems, and newspaper clippings — all concerning life in Mexicali and life in general on the border. In addition to material on UFO sightings, cholo slang, and Chinese secret society shootings, there is a description of Rudolf Valentino’s 1921 wedding to Natasha Rambova in Mexicali. The two young men responsible for the book, twenty-eight-year-old Gabriel Trujillo Munoz and thirty-year-old Edgar Gomez Castellanos, are the progeny of a life lived in cultural opposition. Their acute self-consciousness, their extreme sensitivity to the ironies of life lived in proximity to the United States, indicate, perhaps, that a new generation of local Mexican thinkers and writers is beginning to regard the border as an end in itself. Munoz and Castellanos close their book with an especially appropriate quote from Graham Greene’s The Border (1938):

La frontera es algo mas que una aduana, un oficial de pasaportes, un hombre armado. Alla todo va a ser distinto; la vida nunca sera la misma despues que el pasaporte haya sido sellado y uno se encuentre mudo entre los cambios de dinero.

El hombre en busca de paisajes imagina bosques extranos y montanas desconocidas; el romantico cree que las mujeres del otro lado de la frontera serian mas bellas y amables que las de casa; el hombre infeliz imagina al menos un infierno distinto; el viajero suicida espera una muerte que nunca encuentra.

La atmosfera en la frontera es como comenzar todo de nuevo....

(The border is more than a customs station, a passport official, an armed man. There, everything will be different; life will never be the same after the passport has been stamped and one finds oneself mute among the money changers.

The man in search of landscapes imagines strange forests and unknown mountains; the romantic believes that the women on the other side of the border will be more beautiful and more kind than those of his home; the unhappy man imagines that at least he will find a different kind of hell; and the suicidal traveler hopes for a death that he will never find.

The atmosphere of the border is one of all things starting anew....)

It is not surprising that Baja Californians should take themselves and their history more seriously than we do ours. They are, after all, part of a culture much older than our own. Here we are so unencumbered by tradition that we have entirely lost track of time. In the past, Tijuana, the border region, is searching for a mirror, looking to see itself clearly. This investigation is actually a search for the future, for possibility. The possibility that someday things will change.

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Bookstore owners in Tijuana say that these histories are snatched up as soon as they are put on display
Bookstore owners in Tijuana say that these histories are snatched up as soon as they are put on display

ln Tijuana men and women are eagerly researching the past. The histories they write, often in textbook form, are lively ones. There is a giddy, unrestrained quality in these books that approaches glee. Many of the books are emblazoned with the Baja state seal, which boasts a busty, bare-breasted gal and a muscle-bound guy thrusting lightning bolts toward a ghostly Everyman who stands with his arms outstretched before a blazing backdrop of cacti, factories, leaping fish, and a fireball sun promising “work and social justice” — a better tomorrow.

Young men coming from Oaxaca will tell you that back home, there is an ongoing debate among those who routinely cross into America. The Tejanos — the men who work in Texas — say theirs is the state best suited for illegal work. The men who work in California argue that it is best: there are fewer polleros in Juarez; la migra in Texas is meaner; the officers are mas racisitas and hit the people they catch; the Rio Bravo is dangerous to cross, and there is less work to be found if and when you get to the other side.

The Mexicans who come to northern Mexico, to Tijuana, the border cities, are cattle-prodded away from their homes by material need. The cold-handed shove that sends Americans to Southern California, to San Diego, is failed romance and dead-horse marriages. People scan maps for the country’s farthest corner. Turn their backs on that son of a bitch or on that bitch. Fill a Thermos with coffee. Slam the door. Start the car.

Gone.

Simply, it is hope that Mexicans and Americans share in this part of the world. Americans who want to forget their past.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Mexicans who want a future. On one side of the border, people are obliterating history. On the other side, people are creating it.

This creation, essentially a task of construction, has nothing to do with remodeling storefronts and paving streets. Drainage and potable water ameliorate peoples’ lives but do not change the way people think. Paper and words are mortar and brick.

Your average bookstore in Tijuana has always been more comprehensive than its San Diegan counterpart. In Tijuana a bookstore will have Spanish translations of I’m OK, You’re OK and various American teen-age rape-pregnancy novels. But it will also offer the complete works of Lenin, Freud, and a wide-ranging selection of the best of European, American, and Latin American literature. Within the past few years, however, books symptomatic of northern Baja’s emerging ego are appearing on bookstore shelves. And bookstore owners in Tijuana say that these histories are snatched up as soon as they are put on display. Local Mexican writers are aware of their unique position and are producing testaments of the continual face-off and exchange of two regions with populations evolving in stronghanded flux.

Professor Pablo Martinez, one of these authors, has written Compendio de Historia del Estado de Baja California. Intended for use as a school text (each section concludes with a summary and list of questions), its initial chapters on the state’s original Indian tribes are spirited and bizarre. Maybe San Diego’s Indians were dull, or maybe our teachers never dared tell us the truth. Professor Martinez has served up a spicy prehistory, complete with anatomically correct sketches. Naked women carry babies, hobo-style, on sticks thrown over their shoulders.

Naked warriors stomp, grimace, and yell to scare off enemies. Students and other readers are sure to pay close attention to illustrations that show how Indians “perforated the ears [of their children], the nose, and sometimes the lower lip,” so the kids could hang tiny creatures — spiders, lizards, and mice — from the incisions.

Maria del Carmen Marquez de Romero Aceves may not have included titillating graphics in her Geografia e Historia de Baja California, but her scope is equally broad. Her children’s textbook starts with a brief discussion of the universe and moves rapidly to locate Baja’s place in the great scheme of things. Written in elementary Spanish, the book offers a brief and thorough account of the state’s geography, politics, and history, from the time of the first Spanish presence to Baja’s economic development in 1986.

Maria’s husband, Ricardo Romero Aceves, also writes and has produced an extensively researched work, Baja California — Ensayo Enciclopedico. The book contains nearly 1500 brief articles on historical figures, political movements, word origins, real and legendary events. It seems that little has been left out.

Gringo is here. And Indira Devi is here — the extraordinary woman who established a yoga institute outside Tecate.

Los Pioneros de la Medicina en Tijuana by Dr. Rafael Mercado Diaz de Leon will tell you everything, every single thing about the history of medicine in Tijuana. He has compiled a who’s who of the more than 700 doctors who have served the city. He has written a history of the city’s funeral homes. He has written a history of blood banking in Tijuana — the city established Latin America’s first blood bank in 1943. He has written about Sara Villarreal, the first woman doctor, who arrived in 1928. He has written about the evolution of the cancer clinics. About social clubs for doctors. About nurses. He starts his book with Hippocrates and goes from there, vigorously cataloguing his profession’s and his city’s past.

There are other histories, all of them equal in scope and exuberance. But there is one that stands mean and tall. Mexicali — Escenarios y Personajes is cool.

It is wry and sophisticated. Its 300-plus pages are rife with essays, articles, book excerpts, photographs, poems, and newspaper clippings — all concerning life in Mexicali and life in general on the border. In addition to material on UFO sightings, cholo slang, and Chinese secret society shootings, there is a description of Rudolf Valentino’s 1921 wedding to Natasha Rambova in Mexicali. The two young men responsible for the book, twenty-eight-year-old Gabriel Trujillo Munoz and thirty-year-old Edgar Gomez Castellanos, are the progeny of a life lived in cultural opposition. Their acute self-consciousness, their extreme sensitivity to the ironies of life lived in proximity to the United States, indicate, perhaps, that a new generation of local Mexican thinkers and writers is beginning to regard the border as an end in itself. Munoz and Castellanos close their book with an especially appropriate quote from Graham Greene’s The Border (1938):

La frontera es algo mas que una aduana, un oficial de pasaportes, un hombre armado. Alla todo va a ser distinto; la vida nunca sera la misma despues que el pasaporte haya sido sellado y uno se encuentre mudo entre los cambios de dinero.

El hombre en busca de paisajes imagina bosques extranos y montanas desconocidas; el romantico cree que las mujeres del otro lado de la frontera serian mas bellas y amables que las de casa; el hombre infeliz imagina al menos un infierno distinto; el viajero suicida espera una muerte que nunca encuentra.

La atmosfera en la frontera es como comenzar todo de nuevo....

(The border is more than a customs station, a passport official, an armed man. There, everything will be different; life will never be the same after the passport has been stamped and one finds oneself mute among the money changers.

The man in search of landscapes imagines strange forests and unknown mountains; the romantic believes that the women on the other side of the border will be more beautiful and more kind than those of his home; the unhappy man imagines that at least he will find a different kind of hell; and the suicidal traveler hopes for a death that he will never find.

The atmosphere of the border is one of all things starting anew....)

It is not surprising that Baja Californians should take themselves and their history more seriously than we do ours. They are, after all, part of a culture much older than our own. Here we are so unencumbered by tradition that we have entirely lost track of time. In the past, Tijuana, the border region, is searching for a mirror, looking to see itself clearly. This investigation is actually a search for the future, for possibility. The possibility that someday things will change.

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