Tijuana Dreaming: Life and Art at the Global Borderby Josh Kun
Tijuana Dreaming is an unprecedented introduction to the arts, culture, politics, and economics of contemporary Tijuana, Mexico. With many pieces translated from Spanish for the first time, the anthology features contributions by prominent scholars, journalists, bloggers, novelists, poets, curators, and photographers from Tijuana and greater Mexico. They/i>
Tijuana Dreaming is an unprecedented introduction to the arts, culture, politics, and economics of contemporary Tijuana, Mexico. With many pieces translated from Spanish for the first time, the anthology features contributions by prominent scholars, journalists, bloggers, novelists, poets, curators, and photographers from Tijuana and greater Mexico. They explore urban planning in light of Tijuana's unique infrastructural, demographic, and environmental challenges. They delve into its musical countercultures, architectural ruins, cinema, and emergence as a hot spot on the international art scene. One contributor examines fictional representations of Tijuana's past as a Prohibition-era "city of sin" for U.S. pleasure seekers. Another reflects on the city's recent struggles with kidnappings and drug violence. In an interview, Néstor García Canclini revisits ideas that he advanced in Culturas híbridas (1990), his watershed book about Latin America and cultural hybridity. Taken together, the selections present a kaleidoscopic portrait of a major border city in the age of globalization.
Contributors. Tito Alegría, Humberto Félix Berumen, Roberto Castillo Udiarte, Iain Chambers, Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, Teddy Cruz, Ejival, Tarek Elhaik, Guillermo Fadanelli, Néstor García Canclini, Ingrid Hernández, Jennifer Insley-Pruitt, Kathryn Kopinak, Josh Kun, Jesse Lerner, Fiamma Montezemolo, Rene Peralta, Rafa Saavedra, Lucía Sanromán, Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez, Heriberto Yépez
"This is an exciting and timely collection of cultural criticism and creative work. The selections are inspired, alert to a wide spectrum of practices and debates. Personal narratives, urban development, art, literature, photography, and architecture are just some of the matters covered in this rich and thought-provoking conversation, and the foreword by Iain Chambers provides the perfect framing device, linking Tijuana to global studies and critical inquiry."—Roberto Tejada, author of National Camera: Photography and Mexico's Image Environment
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TIJUANA DREAMINGLife and Art at the Global Border
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRoberto Castillo
Welcome Tu Tijuana
Ladies and Gentlemen
Welcome to Tijuana,
The most mythical place on earth,
Where tongues love each other and unite
In the "aló," the "oquei," the "babai" en the verb "tu bi";
Where the free zone exists,
The fayuca and the little gifts
For the boss, the secretary,
The horny friend, the wife
And the unbearable children;
Where the pizza boys in motorcycles,
The cops, the taxi drivers,
The narcojuniors and their buddies
And the ladies with California license plates
Don't respect lights or stop signs.
Welcome to Tijuana,
The city farthest from centralism,
Where the clamatos and parties have flavor
Where the junkyards and the muffler shops flower
Where the blocks
Are spaces for pharmacies
Liquor stores, casas de cambio
Taco stands, Oxxos everywhere
And seafood restaurants
Where the regional food
Is carne asada and beer,
The lobster and the fish tacos,
The Caesar salad, the pizza
And the Sunday Chinese food;
Welcome to Tijuas
The place with emergency architecture,
Where the women are houses,
Moles are offices
And sombreros are restaurants;
The marvelous space
Where used tires
Are transformed into steps,
Into swings, into retaining walls,
Pots or huarache soles;
Where the department of tourism
Thinks that the only important things are
The Chapu towers, the Cecut ball, the plaza rio,
The Jai Alai, the Revu and the minaret's plaza.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to Tiyei
Where the cholos, surfers, and punks,
Drug dealers, mercenaries and federal police
Make leisure their business;
Where politicians, businessmen,
maquila bosses and customs agents,
salesmen and money exchangers
"loteros" and policemen,
are the true illegals;
Where the polka becomes cumbia,
"norteño" becomes techno,
"mofleros" are sculptors,
paint ers are graffiti artists (taggers?)
and the culture is in the Zona Norte;
Gentlemen and young ladies,
Welcome to Tijuana,
Where "compiures" and hearts unite
The new technology and the old
And the donkeys have stripes;
The northern zoo
Where coyotes and "polleros"
The "chiva," the "perico" and the "gallo,"
The "tigres" and the "tucanes"
Are millionaire animals;
Where the beautiful calafia
Legendary queen of California,
First was transformed into wine
And now, sad and forgotten
Has become only public transportation;
Welcome to tijuana,
The city of lights
And home of Juan Soldado,
The migrant's saint,
Lord of the little miracles;
Home of the "leche Jersey,"
De kid with the "beisbol" hat
And the fortified smile
That substitutes the mother
In childhood feeding;
Where "doing line"
To cross to the other side to go shopping
Becomes a two-hour torture
Or a sour eternity of horn honking
And "agandalles" to get a spot
Welcome to tijuana,
Promised land for migrants
National and foreign,
Where life is worth a lot
And death is a business;
Where unknown heroes
Decorate avenues with "glorietas";
Where it's the same to have Lincoln,
Cuauhtemoc, saint rocket or
An incomprehensible sculpture;
Welcome to tijuana,
The street, the unexpected phrase,
The "hornyness" and the binary system,
The border crossing, the "albur,"
The going "there" and coming "here."
Chapter TwoHumberto Félix Berumen
Snapshots from and about a City Named Tijuana
On the Discourses That Made Tijuana an Unmistakable Icon
Over the course of the years, what are the discourses that have built the contemporary perception of Tijuana? There are several different discourses and it would serve us well to take this opportunity to review them, even if only briefly. These discourses are enumerated below in a quick and succinct list. It's true they are contradictory, in opposition, and ambiguous, but at the same time, they are complementary, perpetually in conflict, and in a process of negotiation.
Tijuana, Synthesis of the Nation
This discourse is based on the enduring metaphor of the city as a barely updated version of the border melting pot (the "crucible of races"). Put in another way (in its more widespread and accepted version): the city is thought to be a mosaic of every possible tradition, of all the experiences brought by a continual stream of immigration over the course of several de cades.
For the proponents of this discourse, Tijuana has almost been the emblematic symbol of a city in which diverse Mexican traditions coexist without significant conflicts. Every region of the country is said to be found in the city: they argue that it is, and has been, a home for everyone. Customs, traditions, forms of speech, regional foods, and social types all have been melded and muddled within the human mosaic that is contemporary Tijuana. The city is the northernmost point, a place where each of the states that make up the great Mexican nation converge and are integrated in brotherly unity. Because, just as the sociologist Martín de la Rosa has succinctly stated: "We come to Tijuana from everywhere, the difference is that some of us came first and others later" (Marginalidad en Tijuana [Marginality in Tijuana], 1985). This is an idea which the Argentine writer Manuel Puig would reiterate in the film script for Recuerdo de Tijuana (Souvenir from Tijuana, 1985): "We come to Tijuana from everywhere."
In fact, for an important sector of society, Tijuana has come to represent—and this is how several local authors have imagined it—the social laboratory from which will arise a new Mexican: an extravagant synthesis of all the cardinal points of the country. Each one has fed the cultural life of the city. As Antonio Pompa y Pompa discerned years ago in his essay titled Visión de Baja California (1979): "and so [the city] both shapes and constitutes in and of itself a baroque visage of the nation, an embryonic display of authentic Mexicanness. Because of this, California has been converted into a laboratory of the Mexican of tomorrow."
Many authors declare with false nationalist pride that Mexico's diverse cultures have melded together in Tijuana, even though it is not exactly clear what this phenomenon might mean. But in its less idealized version, it alludes to an undeniable fact: the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity that gave birth to this city. Tijuana's syncretism is recognized as an important marker of the identity of the city.
Tijuana, Land of Promise
Above all, this view is maintained in the official version of the city as a place with minimal unemployment and a low rate of illiteracy, wages above the established national minimum, the existence of multiple opportunities flowing from the proximity to the United States and the presence of numerous maquiladoras that utilize (and exploit) a low-wage workforce. This version of Tijuana seems to comprise what would be the closest thing we have in Mexico to a land of promise—even if it seems to be permanently out of reach.
Because of all this, it has been said on more than one occasion that Tijuana is an atypical city, which is "inhabited by the most middle-class society in Mexico" (Jorge A. Bustamante). It has even been asserted that it is the most cosmopolitan, dynamic, and progressive of the cities on the Mexican border; however, the poverty and extreme marginalization in which a large part of its population live is consistently forgotten. This is a situation which, even though seen in other places, is quite paradoxical for a city considered to be the model of a modern, egalitarian society.
At its heart lies a discourse popular in the business world, or which the primary commercial groups have promoted with particular resolve. They have spread a more idealized, less realistic vision in regard to Tijuana. There is a lot of Manichaeism in this vision, a false veneration of the city, and statements made by people blinded by the many interests at play. There is no other way to explain the arguments wielded, for example, by the businessman José Galicot. He expressed these views in his flawed book (flawed because it was badly written and devoid of interest) titled Presencias de la ciudad (Images of the City, 2001): "This is the Tijuana that I love: industrious and working productively in factories and maquiladoras. The fame of the high-quality Mexican worker has grown around the world and created more opportunities for the many unemployed Mexicans who stream into the city each year."
Tijuana, Ciudad de Paso, City to Pass Through
This discourse exposes Tijuana's existence as a border city, as a city open to the exploitation of U.S. tourism ("Tijuana, the most visited city in the world" prays the cheap mythomania of a publicity slogan), of commerce and large foreign investment. Its best expression is to be found in the Zona Libre, or red-light district, today experiencing a steady and unmistakable deterioration.
Tijuana is also a ciudad de paso, or a city to pass through, from another perspective entirely: as a result of the crisis in the Mexican countryside, people have been driven into a permanent diaspora and doggedly seek an opportunity to cross over to the "other side" for as long as they are able to stay there. Some of these people will end up swelling the ranks of those who have perished trying to cross. Others, after being deported from California, will end up adding to the steady expansion of the illegal settlements or asentamientos irregulares as they are called in Spanish. Tijuana is also a transit zone for the drug-trafficking groups that have converted the city into a beachhead for the distribution of illicit drugs.
A no-place (city one passes through, with no roots or traditions) that the anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla describes with a keen eye: "A city that is still in pieces." Wide avenues, towering hotels, and a background of arid mountains scaled by all kinds of constructions (up and down, along the canyons), the majority of them precarious. An unfinished Tijuana, without its own defined image—or, perhaps, this is its image: a new city of the border (the border crossing with the greatest movement).
Despite this, for the deceased poet Eduardo Arellano, Tijuana rather than "a no-place is the place of saturation. As such, it accepts and continually incorporates foreign elements, because, in fact, it would seem that nothing is foreign to the city. And a particular ambiguity arises within this incredible abundance of humanity that gives places like this city a feeling of perversity. This ambiguity makes these places exceptionally favorable to diverse expressions of the human, ranging from happiness to art" ("Estación Tijuana").
Tijuana, Symbol of Cultural Postmodernity
This is a discourse with academic origins. For a large group of social researchers, writers, and anthropologists, Tijuana has been the paradigmatic symbol for explaining the phenomenon of deterritorialization of cultural and economic processes at this turn of the century.
According to this well-known interpretation, Tijuana becomes the symbol par excellence of urban, cultural postmodernity. Authors like Néstor García Canclini ("This city is, along with New York, one of the major laboratories of postmodernity") and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, among others, have insisted that hybridity is part of the cultural identity of Tijuana. This would lead later to the contention of Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez (paraphrasing Walter Benjamin) that "Tijuana is the capital of the twenty-first century." This same vision has been repeated by other authors: "Tijuana is the city which best represents the twenty-first century, precisely because of its border nature and because it is a generator of so many itinerant identities. Tijuana is a markedly postmodern city" (Lauro Zavala).
Nevertheless, if the metaphor of cultural hybridity presupposes fluidity and cultural mixture as inescapable prerequisites, or rather, as the image of disintegration of cultural repertoires—the "settings without territory" to which Néstor García Canclini alludes—in the particular case of Tijuana, there is an image of a city of permanent nomads without any social roots. This is exactly what the writer Juan Villoro has warned, when he reminds us that "Tijuana has the temporality of a campsite, a space where everything signals its transitoriness and where tradition is improvised from minute to minute."
But the image is not completely accurate. "Although it is true that Tijuana, like other border cities, has a significant floating population, and that it is in fact the busiest border in the world, for a large part of its population Tijuana is, without a doubt, a home—with all of the positive and negative connotations of the word—a place full of history and memory" (Diana Palaversich). In summary, this is a vision we could only accept with some difficulty; the reality of Tijuana is not fully explained by the idea of rootlessness or by the transitory nature of its social relations.
In any case, we are dealing with an insufficient postmodernity, in large mea sure belated, subordinate, or which still has not fully established itself, in other words, embryonic. Tijuana is principally a premodern city with multiple deficiencies, but also it is paradoxical and contradictory. As Heriberto Yépez has stated quite clearly: "Tijuana is the failed project of postmodernity."
The Literary Discourse of Tijuana
Tijuana has occupied a privileged place in literature since the first years of its foundation; the city has been mentioned, invented, and reconfigured in the literary imagination. It is the archetype par excellence of a vilified city, due to the social violence and drug trafficking evident in a wide array of stories and novels. The subject matter in many of them is unimportant; even the details of their respective plots matter little.
The literary importance of Tijuana is definitely considerable and has transcended all territorial boundaries; it even possesses the semantic density of a new literary myth with its own unmistakable identity. And much more than that: it constitutes a symbol, since it always means much more than the direct or literal meaning signified by the word itself.
The Cinematic Discourse on Tijuana
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, American film, and later Mexican and Chicano film, constructed and propagated the primary stereo types that came to define the representation of Tijuana in the imaginary. They dedicated themselves to the work of projecting the configuration of Tijuana as a heterotopia (from héteros, other, and topos, place) through the cinematographic imaginary—that is, as a place in contraposition to the morality and culture of the United States. A place also in contraposition to the morality and culture of Mexico, as disseminated from the center of the country. Verbi gratia.
An other-space conceived and configured based on cultural and political differences, but above all, by the necessity to exclude everything American (and also Mexican) society considered reprehensible at the time. Tijuana: a territory liberated of moralistic pressures in order to curry favor with the ravenous tourists from San Diego and Los Angeles, California. The myth of Tijuana as the ultimate city of vice is the result of the articulations and distribution of American cinema in the 1920s and 1930s.
Excerpted from TIJUANA DREAMING Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Josh Kun is a professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America and coeditor of Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies.
Fiamma Montezemolo is an anthropologist and artist currently teaching in the Department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Faceless: Ethnicity and Gender in the Zapatista Movement and a co-author of Here Is Tijuana! Iain Chambers teaches cultural and postcolonial studies at the Orientale University of Naples. He is the author, most recently, of Mediterranean Crossings: The Politics of an Interrupted Modernity, also published by Duke University Press.
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