SAN DIEGO, CA – When US president Donald Trump declared last week that there was a “National Emergency” at the US-Mexico border, many of my friends and I in the San Diego-Baja California mega-region were taken by surprise. After all, my family and dozens of people we know make the commute across la frontera on a regular basis for work, play, food and cultural exchange sans incident.
But there is a distant possibility that the president’s base – located largely in the Midwest – know something that those of us who actually live here don’t. Perhaps we have been blissfully, some would say tragically, unaware of the looming crisis and the need to construct another blockade between us and our amigos in Mexico.
Thanks to the president’s declaration, a cloud has been lifted and I now realize that there are problems here at the southwestern border that have gone unrecognized for years but were inevitable, sneaking up on us like El Chapo emerging from a drug tunnel. So as a public service, A Gringo in Mexico presents the Top 10 Crises at the San Diego-Baja California Border to help you better navigate our region during these troubling times…
10. Zero-Tolerance Birria Shortages in Tijuana
Many of Tijuana’s food carts serve birria de res, a local specialty of seasoned and slowly-stewed beef, as a taco filling. Tacos Fitos, located just outside of Mercado Hidalgo, is famous for the stuff. Arrive too late in the day, though, and there’s a chance that they’ll have sold all of their birria and you’ll have to settle for a taco filled only with their delicious tripa (griddled small intestine). Arrive early so this doesn’t happen to you.
9. Arguments Over who will Pay for the Wall
When Donald Trump announced that Mexico would foot the bill for the wall, the effects were felt in Tijuana where souvenir hawkers beckoned pedestrians to “…come visit my shop! I need to pay for the wall!”. I was personally involved in several altercations, typically with laughter over a glass of good mezcal at an excellent restaurant with Mexican friends. A hotel owner in Ensenada challenged me to a round of poker to determine which of us would pay. I declined, knowing that I’d never be able to get that kind of credit.
8. An Epidemic of High-Quality Wine in the Valle de Guadalupe
For years, dealers (some call them vintners) in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California’s wine region, have been pushing an increasingly addictive product on an unsuspecting public — chiefly imaginative red blends and more recently, refreshing rosés. Visitors from around the globe have reported experiencing a relaxed state “under the influence” and return again and again to get their “fix”.
7. A Section of the Wall in Playas de Tijuana Disappeared Completely
For a few years, a section of the border fence that runs into the Pacific Ocean in Playas de Tijuana seemed to disappear. A local artist had painted the horizon behind the fence to give the impression that for just a few meters, we weren’t separated physically, socially or emotionally from each other. Twice a year, this part of the border is threatened with a “humanity crisis” when gates are opened on either side to allow separated families and friends from both countries to embrace and commingle.
6. Ensenada has a Problem with Pot(holes)
All joking aside, there are some real problems that need to be dealt with in Baja California’s famous port city of Ensenada. It’s main streets, particularly to the south, are plagued with potholes that more often resemble sink holes. Recent heavy rains have only exasperated the problem. However, local tourism has benefitted by luring visitors with the promise of its new cenotes (underground rivers, typical in the Yucatán) for adventurous swimmers.
5. Roger Waters STILL hasn’t Responded to my “Open Invitation” to Play Here
In 2017, Roger Waters, former lead singer of the rock band Pink Floyd and a vociferous anti-Trump activist, intimated that he would consider playing the US -Mexico border at some point during his tour to protest the wall. I wrote an “Open Invitation” to the musician urging him to play the border between San Diego and Tijuana, then asked all my followers to share it via social media. Still no word, but if nothing else, this post is another opportunity to get his attention.
4. Health and Human Services Crisis
As healthcare costs increase in the US, more and more citizens, unable to afford treatment in their home country, are forced to come to Baja California for the services they need — be it essential cancer treatment and dentistry or voluntary plastic and bariatric surgery. Tijuana, in particular, has a burgeoning “medical tourism” industry and doctors across the city provide modern facilities and crucial services well below what one would pay in the US.
3. There’s a “Plague” of Mexican Culture in San Diego
San Diego is plagued with a creeping influence of Mexican culture arriving from south of the border. Not unlike “Sharia Law”, its effects are felt throughout society. Our tacos have gotten increasingly better. Raucous Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations erupt throughout late October and early November. Local neighborhoods, such as Barrio Logan, exist almost entirely to express and celebrate Mexican culture through excellent food, beer and art.
2. Refugees are Causing a “Humanity” Situation at the Border
There is a real crisis at the border as caravans of refugees arrive here fleeing ravaged conditions in their home countries in Central America. A number of local groups and charities have helped by accepting and delivering clothing and other necessities to children and families. Chef Jose Andres, who fed desperate Puerto Ricans after the hurricane there, has opened his World Central Kitchen in Tijuana to feed Hondurans and Guatemalans sheltered in the city as they await asylum hearings in the US.
1. Beach City Caravans Storm the Border every Sunday
Approximately 15 million vehicles cross the border from Tijuana into San Diego at the San Ysidro border crossing every year. And arriving on a Sunday evening after a weekend in Rosarito or Ensenada, it can feel like they’re ALL in front of you. There is a cross-border expansion project underway that promises to expedite future crossings, but it’s often stalled by the US and Mexican governments. Working together to improve doorways instead of unilaterally building more walls seems an infinitely more useful, engaging and evolved exercise.