Tijuana explains it all the time:
'It is easier to reveal what I am not, than what I am...'
Tijuana, in each of its significant fragments, reaffirms that she is not herself and least of all what the external gaze (be it mine, that of an Italian anthropologist, or of an architect from Tijuana, or of a taxi driver that used to have a taco stand) intends to capture.
Amid exoticisms, nationalisms, hybridizations and purisms, within all this and much more, the only argument that could be made is that Tijuana is right: She is not she, but something else, beyond definition.
As Hermes of Greek mythology or any other mythological trickster of anthropology, this ranch-metropolis seems to have chosen the most refined path; not to lie about herself and by that same token, not to reveal THE TRUTH.
If all truths are fictitious, or partial constructions (Clifford, 1987; Geertz, 1973), Tijuana, shows me that she has thousands of relative truths and depending on the circumstance she hides one or evidences another...or two...possibly in contradiction...such as these:
Tijuana is unique / Tijuana is like any other city
Tijuana is violent / the fact that Tijuana is violent is no more than a negative myth, after all any city is dangerous
The fatherland begins in Tijuana / Tijuana as third nation
Tijuana as a ranch / Tijuana as laboratory of postmodernism
Tijuana is more Mexican than Mexico City / Tijuana is not Mexico
Tijuana trans-border city / Tijuana individual
Concerning statistics, the city proudly exhibits its incoherence: Tijuana can have a population of over one million, or more than three (Aqui es Tijuana, 2005 ).
The following contradiction is historically or science fictionally accepted
Tijuana belongs to the XIX century / Tijuana belongs to the XXII century.
Therefore, it does not seem that Tijuana hides behind the powerful modern lie that begins its tale with a firm definition of an object's representation: a lie, modeled thanks to exclusion and rhetoric (possibly above all an American one ), left behind in irony about her and going forward with tolerance. A tolerance, consisting in the rigorous exercise of a sense of partiality and of continuous processuality. Hence, leaving room for auto and hetero constructed representations of her and presented in the different tales and descriptions that can be read, heard, and seen about her.
Writer Rafa Saavedra describes and fanaticizes his city in this way: "Don't be fooled by the myth and the legend: neither Sin City nor the happiest place on earth [...]. Some things repeat like a loop: Recycled images and multicolor trace over a charismatic reality in complete reshuffling. Tijuana does not stay put, it moves and its moving, that is why it so difficult to isolate her and that is why it is difficult to label her"... (Saavedra, 2002)
This is what Rafa suggests, one of the few Tijuananenses that are not afraid of the possibility of being swallowed by their own city, in an anthropophagous delirium that gives him the just and 'partial ethnographical authority' within a self representative point of view. "Build your own idea of the city... TJ too real to be a simulacrum, too artificial to be a legitimizing act. Tijuana is Tijuana; it is not the junk yard or the backyard of the United States. Tijuana is the chip and the software to recreate, feign and sell our own voices". (ibid)
Fragments are not recomposed within a specific logic that would be impossible:
It would be like searching for a precise sense to the futurist polyphonic poetry. Tijuana is not a performance that assumes ownership of the objective of coherence, and precisely within what she means and at the same time denies being, lays the richness of self-interpretation. The only way to de-colonize the pretentiousness of any ultimate and unique truth is to burst it into a contradiction by multiplying its meaning.
As an example: What happens in the famous Revolution Street ? A false exhibition of calculated Mexican exoticisms, a joke in which all know ('authentic' Mexicans or 'dumb' gringos, depending on the stereotype) the part that must be played, or a nostalgic exhibit of a past that never really existed ?
What image is the one being sold in the Rio Zone, is it one of an area built in the American ( U.S.) fashion, with multiplex theaters and shopping malls?
Moreover, what about the Zona Norte? The area known as the "indecent" part of the city, the tolerance zone, an area of prostitutes, bars and whores and the recruitment of illegal migrants to cross the border to the other side.
And the Hills? Where the self built houses lack electricity, water and sewers most of the time.
Furthermore, what can we say about the famous Linea (border line)? A fundamental component of this city which could become a principal focus, together with the era of the casinos during prohibition and the development of the manufacturing parks (maquiladoras) in the sixties , in the reconstruction of its biography. La linea is famous for being the most crossed border in the world, likewise famous for the death of people trying to cross it illegally in search of a better way of life. La linea, where each type of irony and ingenuity is applied and separated to transform the negative into a positive and vice versa. An example of this is the period after September 11, when the border wait by foot or automobile was enormous due to the time it took INS officials to search and check documents. People that where accustomed to crossing on a daily basis like the commuter that resides in Tijuana and works in San Diego- chose to pass the night near the border in order to cross early for work. This brought about the creation of a different way to cross the border: the bicycle. One man bought 50 bicycles destined to be used in a special route, accepted by the US authorities, and by renting the bicycle; you purchased a short cut to cross. In times of high alert, like during the war with Iraq, the cost of renting a bicycle, on the Tijuana side just to travel a few meters and return it on the San Diego side rose to seven dollars, while during times of political calm the cost was five dollars. A very special consideration was created within the border: a helmet was not required.
What does TJ say and express about herself in her relative truths? What is she trying to affirm or deny?
For example, how do you interpret the New York Statue of Liberty, recreated as a gigantic naked woman rising from a poor neighborhood near Tijuana's international airport? Or the existence of the popular sanctity of Juan Saldado, a soldier accused in 1938 of raping and murdering a young little girl, but to whom migrants give thanks for his protection when crossing the border by sending to his resting place offeringsphotocopies of their real or fake green cardsobtained on the other side of the border. What about the musical compositions of the area in which in some cases symbolism of the drug smuggling culture (narcocultura) and prostitution are reduced in order to deny their power, specifying without repressing realities that have a strong essence in the city, or the houses built with used garage doors and tires from the United States... the re-appropriations of form and matter, the politics of camouflage and of the value of wasted material, of a process that changes but never ceases. Recycling as a synonym of the acceptance of the ending of a cycle and the insertion of the elements of that same cycle into a completely new one and re-signifying them into new conditions. Re- information of something, everything begins through the end of something. Many conditions begin from the necessity of something else, such as the self-urbanism which is the spontaneous structure of construction that surges from the necessity of a roof and of the lack of a city politics that is behind the unstable growth of a population that is not able to have a safe and rigorous development.
The Architecture Dictionary from ACTAR, defines recycling in this way: "with rubbish we can trace history; migration, disasters, the rise and decline of civilizations" (2003:518). This quote seems to describe a scenario such as Tijuana, which narrates the history of a population that with time multiplies (by the arrival of migrants from Latin America), and is in constant heterogeneity , and pushed to construct its own space with recycled materials. The Municipal Institute of Planning (IMPLAN) predicts that Tijuana grows 3 hectares daily and its floating population is 200,000 and 400,000 of the total population lives in unsafe areas. How do you interpret all this?
If something is true about Tijuana it is its communicative need, evident in its urban semiotics and its capacity for change: an adaptive-semiotic at times in conflict , certainly temporal and in constant movement. This is one of those metropoli of which Massimo Canevecci (1997: 99) might mention as being everywhere, made by pervasive micro-logical differences. Tijuana's nostalgia is of a city that within the present is in search of a past that will justify the possibility of projecting it towards the future. In this sense, it is everywhere (sprawl), not limited to a spatial logic but a temporal one as well: "Cities should act like chips: do more and more in less space" (Gausa, Guallart, et. al. 2003: 556), this would seem to be the law of the New Tijuana where the danger of physical and existential claustrophobia is exponential due to spatial compression . The opposite tendency is of the gated communities like La Perla in Playas de Tijuana (a district in the outskirts of the city), an enclosed space for the upper middle class where they are free to live due to the fact that they are enclosed, isolated of the corrosive dynamism of the city, of its dangers and chaos. Communities being promoted more and more in the Americas, they are voids in a heterogeneous map and strange for their search of a peaceful homogeneity, primarily white and wealthy. If in the past the ghettos were located on the periphery and were made up of sub-alternate ethnicities and the lower class, today in many cities there is an opposite tendency: the building of new ghettos for the elite because the poor invade and appropriate the centers of cities. The Tijuana enclaves are another of those "protected fortified spaces, islands of enclosure and anticipated protection against the real and imagined danger of daily life" (Soja, 2000:299). Yet, clearly there is something else in the Tijuana enclaves, because most of the time it deals with the application of another local irony: the excluded that exclude others. If its impossible to access the American wealth in a direct way, then it is reproduced here by imitation of the same elitism but re-localized, houses are an imitation of the California style that was once an imitation of Mexican colonial houses.
In TJ, I would apply the Nietzschean rejection of the search of an origin ; it is why I believe that TJ is not TJthere are thousands of them. In the origin, you obviously look for an essence, a purist possibility, an indistinguishable identity, a static form, a search for sameness and not difference. TJ is a continuous game of diversity, of simulated truths and not of conflicts and recomposition, a view that due to being situationst, knows well where to look.
We can conclude in the following manner: "The city has stopped being an enclosed area and has come to manifest itself as a combination of multiple and fragmented remnants. Like a patchwork on the land, the crystalline shape of the primitive city erupts in a heterogeneous spread of splashes and hollows. A patchwork of linked realities, of conflicts and tensions and loveliness-attractions fostered precisely by the potential for mobility, interchange and displacement. A patchwork therefore or perhaps more like a plankton converted into a collection of individual fragments without apparent cohesion [...]. The harmonious music of a completely refigured, balanced city yields to a complex arrhythmic score with perhaps possible melodic fragments, but generally with a syncopated and atonal non-rhythm of points and counter points that make the contemporary urban space a definitively open and irregular body" (Gausa, Guallart, Et. Al. 2003:472).
Two partial truths, that after a couple of years experiencing them, I would affirm in regards to this contradictory space that is TJ:
After all it seems possible to love her by scorning her. Speak of her with the same intensity of the representation that Baudelaire made concerning Paris (Canevacci, 1997). That is to say, with this typical scorn full of attraction, impurity forces one to talk bad of something, because there is a deep attraction in us that we can't avoid. Tijuana is ugly, as said by the majority who live here, yet we end up on the dance floor with her anyway (Peralta 2003). As power is not always repression (Marx did not understand, Foucault did ) because a subtle pleasure always accompanies power, and the mostly negative categorization of something takes into an implicit attraction. That is why I doubt U.S. citizens who detest Tijuana, even as they fantasize her as the city of tequila, sex and marijuana in a Manu Chao style, as I also doubt Tijuanenses that detest San Diego and yet consume it in one form or another.
TJ is not TJ and she knows it. This is her weapon: versatility.
Fiamma Montezemolo teaches at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Tijuana.
Printed with permission of Fiamma Montezemolo.