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Tooth and Nail

I always feel befuddled by how democracy works in Mexico, and Tijuana is a good example of how this type of democracy works in just about every other corner of the country. If one compares Mexico’s democracy to the American form and its mechanism, you’ll find out that representation is where the two forms of democracy differ the most. Though I am more familiar with American democracy, where representation means the possibility of influencing policy at the local level, this is not so in Tijuana; when a Mexican official gets elected it’s not the person but the party that gets elected. Hence, the protests, cries for change, and the bureaucracy that remains unmoved by the cries of the populace because, unless the party decides to step in to solve their issues, the bureaucracy won’t even bother to turn its massive head.

A good example of this bizarre sort of influencing government is the way prominent members of society address the president of the country. They all pool together to buy space in the local newspapers and display a sort of plegaria (a plea) indicating how terrible things are for particular groups...as if the president — who governs 32 federal states — will read the Tijuana newspapers the moment he wakes up. Now imagine that happening in San Diego — that is, someone buying space in a newspaper, pleading to President Obama to hear them out. If that sort of thing happens in San Diego, it doesn’t happen anywhere near the rate that it does in Mexico, where, more often than not, this sort of plea runs on a daily basis.

In my experience, this method of gaining politicians’ attention is in opposition to individual accountability because it is a system that is open to all sorts of manipulation — not just theoretical but practical as well. The people who elect these parties are also few and scattered. The last election this summer had among the lowest participation, and yet the winning party was ecstatic about the results that brought them the win. Supposedly the people of Tijuana were tired of the old regime. Will things change? Who knows, but judging by the local newspapers, things could have been just as I left them two decades ago.

As I open the newspapers from Tijuana, the headlines still charge the local police of being corrupt, they still decry how young people are used to smuggle people into the U.S. and how poor government maintenance allows for corrupt officials to turn a blind eye to the discomforts of the its citizens. So why is Tijuana thriving? (Though some say the city is flatlining, don’t be fooled.) Four Nobel Prize winners are scheduled to come to Tijuana in October, a city in a country plagued by a war on drugs. The thought appears ever so sly on the horizon: has the smear campaign that’s marred Tijuana since its inception been put to rest at last? Other cities in Mexico (which have in the past spared no small amount of disregard for my native city) are practically in flames, with a rather bleak outlook of the future.

One wonders how is that possible — why is Tijuana spared, this time, of the turmoil affecting other border cities and other major cities throughout the country? One can only speculate. Be that as it may, Tijuana is poised to host an important meeting of the minds with the arrival of Nobel winners Mario Molina, Robert Grubbs, Al Gore, and Robert Aumann, who will come together to express their opinion on the social and economic future of the world. The event will be held at Centro Cultural Tijuana in October. The people who embarked on this quest, a group named Tijuana Inovadora 2010, show what Tijuana is a master at: tourism.

While the traditional attractions of tourism (curio shops, restaurants, and beach businesses) wail about the lack of tourists, the fact of the matter is that tourism is booming, for all intents and purposes. Of course, this is a rather more specialized sort of tourism — tourism for gawkers. These gawkers are pouring money into the local economy. Want to see the local narco dealer’s ostentatious lifestyle? It can be arranged. Want to get a firsthand look of migras from the Mexican side of the border? It can be arranged. Want to see how local poor people manage to solve their housing problems...you get the drift. This cash cow has been milked by the local arts community for the past decade, and though unaware of their contribution to the local economy, they happily still go about showing the city to anyone interested.

But it doesn’t stop there. Tijuana has also become a destination for what is known as medical tourism. Heck, my kin that live in Chula Vista are frequent visitors to Tijuana for healthcare. There is fleeting tourism as well, but money is flowing from everywhere — through investments in old bars; events that attract international players; and visitors that see in Tijuana a cheaper alternative to California. If anyone is making a buck out of this recession in Tijuana, it’s due to tourism, whether old-school tourism or new-school.

Having said that, I am surprised that Tijuana doesn’t have some sort of school that specializes in tourism education. Tijuana-style tourism: by word of mouth and self promotion. How does this tourism come about? Local writer Rafadro comes to mind; with his logo and attitude, he brought self-promotion into vogue by announcing everything he did to his blog readers. It has since caught on, and all Tijuana artists now promote what they do to anyone and everyone. Back in the day, such shameless self-promotion would cause a minor scandal...now it is almost post-hip.

Believe it or not, tijuanenses are ardent believers in a better tomorrow. They fight with all their might anything that smears the Tijuana name. For example, it was first reported that Los Chicharrines — a couple of clowns that visited Tijuana in August — had fled the city because they had received death threats. The local chamber of commerce came out the next day and announced that it wasn’t fair to smear the City that way...it wasn’t true. The mental attitude of the true tijuanense requires that he/she focus all their energy on defending the city’s name.

On the internet there are tons of documents that try to convince everyone that Tijuana isn’t as bad as it seems. Tijuanenses don’t want you to believe that things are as ugly as they are portrayed. Of late, there is a video done by American Katherine Sweetman, “Gringos Living in Tijuana,” which includes interviews with Americans who show off their living situations, and they talk and smile about the misconceptions people tend to have upon finding out they live in Tijuana. This sort of mentality is in contrast with the rest of the Mexican population. Most Mexicans are ready for doom and gloom, but the tijuanense believes in the future and defends this ideal a capa y espada (tooth and nail). And now that Tijuana is gaining acceptance, some people are wondering what is going on? They are sensing the lull that permeates the city; that is, finally no one is pouring diatribe onto the city’s image. A change is in the offing: Tijuana is finally becoming bigger than Tijuana.

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Lorena Mancilla Sept. 11, 2010 @ 12:21 p.m.

I am afraid to say that "crime has diminished radically lately", because as soon as I say it, something happens in Tijuana or Rosarito.

But well, I don't know why lately things cooled down a bit in the northwest border region. The war moved to the northeast: Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Nuevo León are in a critical situation.

A couple of friends and I have been talking about a Tijuana based involuntary movement that we call "Tijuanacionalism", that pretty much refers to the topics that you talk about in your article.

Tijuana is indeed bigger than Tijuana, but what I will never stop to criticize is the constant campaign of fear that made Tijuana the darkest of all the black sheep.


JulioS Sept. 12, 2010 @ 8:38 a.m.

Yeah, I think it is a bit eerie as well. Though, and am only speculating here, I think that it lies in the interest of the US that Tijuana and it's vicinity is free from severe sorts of violence. The whole west coast is littered with Military Complex goodies. My guess. I am kind of flattered that although am not in Tj per se am still very much in tune with my conciudadanos. Thanx for the comment.


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