Chalk portrait of La Maguana in the park
  • Chalk portrait of La Maguana in the park
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Facebook post: “I'm in love with Tijuana.” Comment reply by David Duran: “Until you make love to La Maguana I'm not going to believe that you truly love this city.”

If you have walked around downtown Tijuana, chances are you have seen “La Maguana.” She walks around Zona Norte, dances around in Plaza Santa Cecilia, and sells candy to whoever she can.

Her mental health is deteriorating, and she has reportedly been seen walking around completely naked. She sometimes randomly yells and attacks people, but most often she can be found begging for money or dancing.

To avoid any problems with La Maguana, offering to buy her food or giving her some change makes her happy; otherwise, run.

According to a Frontera article, La Maguana frequently ends up in Las Memorias, a shelter for homeless people with HIV, hepatitis C, and those with drug addictions. She then finds her way back downtown to repeat the cycle. Each time she returns to the shelter she is “received with all the support and care of the members.”

There are countless tales surrounding La Maguana, an icon of Tijuana. Her real name is said to be Maria Luisa Castro Valenzuela; her age is unknown but estimated at 57. She’s reputedly said that her mom was Cuban and her dad from the Philippines. She was abandoned and left in Tijuana when her dad went to fight in the Vietnam War. 

When asked about where she's from, La Maguana says, “Soy pocha del otro lado,” meaning she's American. But she has also reputedly said she was born in Tijuana.

Legend says that she was the most sought-after exotic dancer in the ’70s. She has denied ever being a prostitute, but does say she loved dancing in all the bars in Zona Norte and drinking whole bottles of brandy by herself.

Some claim La Maguana has had schizophrenia since she was a little girl. Another popular story is that one of her clients promised her a mansion, endless money, and to be the queen of the world. But instead she was drugged, kidnapped, and abused, which led to her mental breakdown.

"I remember the first time I saw her back in 1992; she was defecating on the street," recalls Carlos Fernández, a philosophy teacher of a couple of high schools in downtown TJ. “She has only attacked me a couple of times, and that was back in 1997.

“I also remember seeing her by Third Street once, walking around in her underwear, she didn't look that bad back then. Not that long ago, I saw that the marketing campaign for the politicians of PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party] gave her a shirt with their slogan during the last presidential campaign. A lot of people, including myself, were angry by the cheap opportunism over this poor homeless icon.”

The night before writing this story, as I drank a beer in Zona Norte, I pondered what questions La Maguana would answer. While walking back home a bit before midnight, I spotted her across the street, swinging her arms and shouting. I didn’t dare go near her; instead, I walked away while keeping an eye on her. I saw her sit down and seemingly get ready to sleep on the corner of Second and Mutualismo.


La Maguana

I went looking for her the next day. After two hours of searching and asking around, there was no sign of La Maguana, I walked by the place she slept and past the cathedral and into Zona Norte. There she was. I asked some nearby cops if they minded if I filmed her.

“As long as you don't film us, do whatever you want,” one policeman said. “But watch out — she's drunk and aggressive right now.” The store clerk near where La Maguana was being belligerent came out and headed toward the cops.

“She's at it again,” said the clerk. “Guys, do something. I can't have her around my store when she's like that.” The cops shrugged it off.

La Maguana spotted me filming her and hid behind a post. Then the cops asked me to stop filming. They walked over to her and told her to move out of the area. She obliged and kept walking with her plastic bottle of tequila.

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shirleyberan Feb. 3, 2014 @ 12:16 p.m.

Interesting story about an interesting, complicated woman.


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