“There is no planning, [the stars] do not contribute to anything,” Julian Plascencia, partner of Grupo Plascencia, owner of Praga Cafe, and director of the Tijuana Jazz & Blues Festival, gripes. “Avenida Revolución is the most emblematic street in the city, the one with the most history…. It’s the face of the city. How are you going to add something that is a plagiarized copy and has nothing to with the identity of Tijuana?”
El Paseo de las Estrellas, a version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, was begun on November 14, 2014, in front of El Foro (Jai Alai building). The first star was given to Italian pop singer Laura Pausini, who, during the ceremony, told the audience that this was her first time visiting Tijuana but was honored to be the first star.
Plascencia says part of the reason for the opposition to the stars by “merchants in general, is that they never told us.” On the morning of June 2nd of this year, he discovered that workers from the Tijuana Tourism and Conventions Committee were placing stars in front of his Cafe Praga and in front of his family business, Caesar’s Hotel and Restaurant.
“We didn’t have a chance to give a different proposal. Or to at least tell them, ‘Hey, the stars are a cheap copy. Why not do triangles, circles, anything else?’”
Praga received the star of a Latin-duo band named Sin Bandera, while Caesar’s got the Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz. Both stars have been covered with a black carpet since they were installed. A few feet away from Caesar’s a star was placed for Mexican singer and actress Susana Zabaleta. So far, there are 30 stars on Revolución, 24 are in front of El Foro, some already beginning to deteriorate — though not soon enough for Plascencia, who says, “Those who have been here for many years, since we were kids, and those who have been working on this new ‘renaissance,’ phase, we’ve witnessed tourism making a slow comeback. But it’s not at all the type of tourism that wants to see star-studded sidewalks. It’s not the same [one] dollar tourism from the ’80s and ’90s. There is a youth influence that comes and spends one dollar for two beers or so. And that’s fine on its own, but we need to diversify. It can’t all be antros [dance clubs], teibols [strip clubs], or farmacias.”
Caesar’s and Praga were not the only ones to wake up to find one of the stars at their entrance. Ana Torroja’s star was placed in front of the 69-year-old restaurant and Tijuana landmark Chiki Jai. Two more stars were going to be placed in front of Giuseppis restaurant on Second Street, but the owner of the building arrived before the tourism committee workers could finish the job and did not allow them to place the stars.
“They say that the sidewalk is a public space, but from what I suspect, and I can’t confirm, is that [the tourism committee] doesn’t have the project authorized by anyone. We thought that the project was going to be only in front of Foro. If that venue authorized them, then they can go for it. They can make ‘the block of the stars’ over in their space, but I did not know they were planning it for the whole [Avenida] Revolución.”
The Tourism and Convention Committee, operates with both private and public funds. The idea for the Tijuana Walk of Fame came from from its former director, Miguel Angel Badiola, the director of public relations of Grupo Caliente (the casinos). Badiola was fired from the tourism committee at the end of 2015 after a scandalous campaign promoting sex tourism called “Tijuana Coqueta.”
After losing his position, Badiola somehow worked his way into the presidency of the Cámara Nacional de la Industria de Restaurantes y Alimentos Condimentados, an association representing the restaurant industry, in January of 2016 only to be voted out of the postion in April.
“We are not on bad terms with [the tourism committee] at all,” Plascencia says. “We gathered, we had a good chat. I just asked them to have the opportunity to make a better project. A project that involves local architects, artists, engineers, and citizens. Hear their proposals, come to an agreement, and give the street an identity that is more in accordance with us tijuanenses.”
A petition to the mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Astiazarán, to eliminate the stars was set up through Change.org, gathering over 700 signatures in a couple of days. The majority of public opinion seems to be that the stars give no value to the city, are not an attraction for foreigners, and are a general insult for local artists and entrepreneurs.
“The last few years, it’s been a lot of work, but we have seen the return of the type of tourism that is looking for culture and gastronomy,” says the restaurateur Plascencia. “When you go to a city that you don’t know much about, the first thing you do is go to downtown, look for museums or galleries, find a nice typical place to eat. It’s a global tendency for every traveler.”
“We [Grupo Plascenscia] have been working with the [local] delegation. We invested in garbage cans that were falling apart, we invested in the bicycles for the tourist police, we invested in local businesses to make it appealing for all travelers. It’s a collective effort. The owners of Las Pulgas have also done their part in taking care of their block. It’s a different business, but they look after their own space and have done a lot of detail repairs all over downtown.”
Grupo Plascencia is a family business of restaurateurs that started in 1969 with their Italian restaurant Giuseppis. They’ve grown to more than five restaurants with several locations each.
Julian Plascencia, who moonlights as a bass player, is also the director of the Tijuana Jazz and Blues Festival, which over the Memorial Day weekend brought more than 7000 people together between locals and foreigners. He says those from out of town find the stars to be confusing. For instance, “A group of Italians came recently, through the Escuela Libre de Arquitectura, they walked through Revolución and started questioning the stars and their purpose.”
This writer has taken countless people on tours through Tijuana. None of them have recognized the name on a single star.
“José José, that sounds like the name of my gardener,” said Ashley from Arizona on my most recent tour. He’s a Mexican singer of romantic ballads from the 1970s.
Plascencia says he doesn’t care if the names are recognizable or not. “I wouldn’t accept a star in front of my business, no matter who the celebrity is. The problem is not the celebrity, it’s that it’s ugly esthetically, and it’s a project with no planning. What we want is something different, original, that actually works as a tourist attraction, and that it gives us an identity. Take Puerto Vallarta, for example, with the sculptures of Colunga, which is a functional structure. Not everyone will find them appealing, but it attracts people to take pictures with the sculpture.”
The interactive sculptures situated in 1996 on the boardwalk of the Puerto Vallarta (in the state of Jalisco) are called La Rotonda del Mar, the creations of surreal artist Alejandro Colunga. Plascencia, with the support of artists, sculptors, entrepreneurs, and architects has the idea of doing something more modern on Avenida Revolución.
“Our priorities are cleanliness and to remodel the avenue. New sidewalks, garbage cans, lighting, security.... But while we advance in some areas, in other areas it feels like we are going backward. For [the tourism committee] this is a project that they believe in. But I want them to see that the majority of the people, especially those who are involved in downtown, are not in favor of the stars.”