Crime, of Course
As a native tijuanense, I always tend to have my city on my mind even though I find myself in the northernmost part of Europe: Sweden. The internet age has made it possible for me to be present with my city even though I am so far away. There are countless places on the ‘net where one can find info on Tijuana…and perhaps more importantly, what my fellow citizens have on their minds. I see, hear, and read, and, short of smelling and touching my city, can learn about what’s going on in the life of the tijuanense.
I can see the gruesome aftermath of the war on drugs, the many ads for missing persons, and the sorrow of lost ones; also, the glee of putting out a new music album or a new painting and finding out the latest film on Tijuana. Even the petty arguments of communities tied by friendships are abundant on the ‘net. This makes me an odd spectator from the comfort of a well-organized country, where the doldrums allow time for a drive on Tijuana’s internet highway.
So, what’s going on in TJ? What’s on the mind of the tijuanense these days? What worries him and her? Well, the most prevalent atmosphere in Tijuana these days is crime, serious crime. From the junior high school blogger to the professors and professionals, there is only one thing on their minds these days and that is how crime is affecting daily life. You’d think that the authorities would do something about it. And they are, but they have also become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Perhaps this is undue criticism, but the vox populi on the Tijuana blogosphere is awash with testimonies about the inadequacy of the police, army, and other institutions supposedly in charge of law and order. Other testimonies include laments of lost ones. The deaths of young people are too commonplace. Some people are so scared they don’t go out at night. Others, such as music artists PGBeas and Hiperboreal, have wished for their friends that they not be stopped at an improvised military post. Other gripes have been about city planning; as architect Rene Peralta said in his 2010 wish list: ¿Hasta cuando se jugara con el futuro de la ciudad sin el conocimiento y la opinión pública? (When will they [City Hall] stop toying with the city’s future without the consent of the people and public opinion?) But life goes on, and there is more to this window of the internet than the overall angst that is eating up tijuanenses.
Aguas — an Innuendo Meaning “Watch Out”
One example of the angst is the quarrel that some of the more-established cultural figures have with their Gaius Maecenas. Certainly there are some independent artists, but Mexican culture tends to be subsidized by the central government, and if one falls out of grace with their patron, money stops flowing. This is the case with the collective called Todos Somos Un Mundo Pequeño. It is only when an appointed budget butcher arrives with a seemingly personal agenda
that people start to take the skeletons out of the closet. Everybody knows that brownnosing is an integral part of receiving subsidies from the government — especially in Mexico — so this sudden interest for morality and ethics is just a front to masquerade their privileges. They have staged some pretty decent protests, such as handing out bottles of water to the populace. This ploy was intended to make fun of the saying in Mexico of aguas, which means “waters”; it is an innuendo that means “watch out.” This was used to denounce the new Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) director; however, little attention has been paid to artists’ plight.
Tijuana artists tend to be middle class, and the majority of tijuanenses tend to be of a lower class who have different priorities. And now that the local government has slashed money for the arts by more than half, well, cries of treason have been heard; the independent La Ch news outlet reported recently the local cultural elite encouraged local politicians to reconsider the budget cut. La Ch is a purely tijuanense news outlet formed by former Frontera newspaper reporters. It’s independent and a voice to be reckoned with.
Make a Protest and Throw a Party Afterward
But one of the most bizarre aspects of tijuanenses on the net is their obsession with writing and getting published. They have an almost incessant desire to be somebody. Everybody from Cristina Rivera Garza, Heriberto Yepez, and collectives such as Recolectivo attach great importance to what it is being written. It is, in other words, through language arts that most professional tijuanenses seek to identify themselves with the rest of the world. And they love it because most of them consider such an accomplishment (to be published) a high pedestal.
Which explains the attitudes of some book groupies. Yes, there are such groups in Tijuana that like to follow blog stars and book authors. But don’t ask the book writers about their publishing because they will start complaining that there is no reading or written culture to speak of in Tijuana. The fact of the matter is that people are interested in the written word and they use these modes of expression to exact a meaning from life, as opposed to a more gringo way, which tends to live by the pursuit of happiness.
Tijuanenses seek a meaning through words. So, what are they writing about? About love, in general, with government corruption not lagging much behind. Although there are loads of political problems, environmental problems, and corruption, most writers tend to avoid those subjects. One can only wonder why — there is an acceptance amongst tijuanenses that apathy is rampant. Though the people of Tijuana complain about government, they don’t demand solutions. And when they do, they hold a protest and then throw a party afterward. I don’t want to underestimate the efforts of my fellow citizens and what they have to write about…though they know exactly what I have said about them before in reviews of their works (not that I haven’t been ostracized for it).
However, these tijuanenses have made an impact. The cultural program called Kobra in Sweden aired a segment last year dedicated to Tijuana. Going beyond the boundaries (or as the recently deceased Uruguayan Mario Benedetti said, salir de la comarca) is a badge of honor for many and certainly for me as well. I am particularly impressed by the accolades and prizes some of my fellow citizens win, such as Omar Pimienta’s recent poetry book award in Spain. No small feat, and the award came along with 8000 Euros.
Other sources that bespeak of a spirit to move on despite the harsh conditions imposed on the tijuanense are an abundance of mass media communication. More than ever, there are many radio stations, television shows, and the internet, which houses an even larger cornucopia of media.
Are you paying attention, San Diego?
Julio Sueco is native of Tijuana. His real name is Julio César Martínez. He calls himself a xicano tijuanense and has both lived and resided in the Californias…that is, Baja California and California. He currently resides in the Swedish highlands, where he is a high school teacher and teaches English and Spanish as a second language. You can find his website at yonderliesit.org
You can read the Spanish version here.