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May, 2002

Home on the Border
By Tammy Charnow

For many San Diegans, all of Tijuana is Avenida Revolución, a tourist trap of painted zebras, mariachis and two-for-one tequila poppers. But for the people who call Tijuana home, it is a bustling metropolitan area that’s growing faster than it can be mapped.

Like San Diego, most Tijuana residents are transplants drawn to the city for the possibility of a better life. But in San Diego, the good life is usually marked by the region’s temperate climate, nationally-acclaimed beaches and laid-back lifestyle. For many Mexicans who relocate to Tijuana, the city represents opportunity of a different sort: finding a way to scrape money together to cross the border, find work and forge a new life.

Mixed Feelings, a half-hour documentary airing on KPBS Television May 9, looks at the ways these sister cities grow, and how the architecture and urban development influences and responds to people who live there.

The story is told through the eyes of urban planners, scholars and architects, such as Tijuana architect Raul Cardenas, who in the program tells the story of a man who built a home in Tijuana.

“He wanted just to cross the border, like everybody who comes here,” Cardenas says. “But while he was finding the coyote (smuggler of illegal immigrants) to cross over the border he got a job at a maquiladora (factory). So, in the maquiladora they gave him palletes and the guy from the llantera (tire store) gave him the wheels, and the guy built his house.

“The next year, he has a second story. He even put on plaster. Watching his DirecTV he says, ‘Oh man, it’s been six years and I’m still here.’ So all of the sudden Tijuana did not become the trampoline for the pool, it became the end of the rainbow.”

And while the chaos of this type of development may seem distasteful for San Diegans who take shelter in gated communities, Cardenas has a different perspective.

“After you realize that it’s not only trash – that a family lives there – you start looking at the history of those buildings,” Cardenas says. “And you start seeing the history of a family and how it grows and how it becomes like a building block of our own architectural muscles.”

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