Deportee Purgatory – Tijuana’s El Bordo Is Home to Thousands of Heroin Addicted Mexican Deportees
Each year, more than 30 million people flow between the US and Mexico through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest land-border crossing in the world. Situated between San Diego and Tijuana, at one time the area around San Ysidro was a prime spot to cross illegally into the US. But in 1994, Operation Gatekeeper expanded the border wall and increased the number of checkpoints. With the more recent addition of unmanned drone patrols along the border, Tijuana has become one of the most fortified border points in the Americas. Border crossers have been forced to turn to alternative sites of crossing, such as the Sonoran Desert, where hundreds of people die each year.
About 40 percent of Mexican immigrants deported from the US are sent back through Tijuana. Many of the deported border crossers have established a makeshift shantytown inside a dry, concrete riverbed where the Tijuana River once flowed—called El Bordo.
In years past, local nonprofits and shelters offered humanitarian aid to immigrants attempting to cross into the US, but today they primarily care for the deportees who have been booted back to Mexico. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (better known as ICE) reported a record 409,849 immigrants deported from the States in 2012, and a recent report published by Social Scientists on Immigration Policy states that, based on the current rates of deportation, more than two million people will have been deported by the Obama administration by 2014, more than under any president in American history.
El Bordo roughly translates as “the border” or, more grimly, “the ditch.” In the 1960s, the area around the Tijuana River was a frontier town where would-be immigrants would congregate to meet polleros (“human smugglers”), who would transport them into the US for a fee.
Micaela Saucedo runs the Casa Refugio Elvira shelter, located a block away from the dry river, and has assisted border crossers and deportees for more than 30 years. “In the 60s, it was very easy to cross. In those years, it was a different world.” Micaela led me to a public square where several hundred homeless deportees were milling about, waiting for the free meal that local humanitarian organizations dish out every day. “The deportees stay here [in Tijuana] because they think crossing again will be easy,” Micaela said, “but they don’t realize that the border is now completely secured. It’s very hard to cross.”
Later Micaela gave me a tour of El Bordo—an inhospitable concrete embankment filled with a sea of tents. The elegant Las Americas mall in San Diego is visible just over the border fence.
“Gallo!” Micaela shouted. A man emerged from a hole, crowing like a rooster. Delfino Lopez, a.k.a. El Gallo, a man in his early 30s who wore a hat with a fighting cock embroidered on it, is one of the estimated 3,000 people who reside in El Bordo year-round. Like many of his fellow inhabitants, Gallo previously resided in the US. He crossed the border illegally in 2005 and worked in construction for six years, sending most of his money to his wife and kids in Puebla.
American Boys in Tijuana
Last month, while at the New York Art Book Fair, Los Angeles-native Michael Ray-Von was asked to help build and curate a modest, contemporary gallery in Tijuana, Mexico. Without a second thought, he told Todd Patrick (who offered him the position), he would do it and within a week had dropped everything to move across the boarder. The first exhibit was set to premiere during two of Tijuana’s most interesting musical festivals Notre Sonoro and All My Friends Festival. Patrick and Ray-Von had a month to rebuild an old hair salon into a gallery and get an exhibit happening.
Ray-Von and Patrick called upon the work of New York-artist Jesse Hlebo to team up with Mexican City artist Joaquín Segura to create a collaborative exhibit. Hlebo runs his own record and print label, Swill Children, and his work has been displayed at MoMA Library, MoMA PS1, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Museum of Arts and Design, Printed Matter, Inc., Clocktower Gallery, and The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in NYC, the Khyber Center for Contemporary Art and NSCAD in Halifax, Nova Scotia, among others. Hlebo was recently named one of “The Best of Young Brooklyn” by L Magazine. Needless to say, the guy is around.
I went down for the opening of Hlebo and Segura’s exhibit, To Preserve Disorder. It was cold, interesting, perceptive and the after-party was super fun.
I decided to follow-up up with my two friends about their gallery in Tijuana, and why they crossed the boarder in the first place.
VICE: You’ve been living in Tijuana for a while now. Can you talk about your adjustment?
Michael Ray-Von: Tijuana is a density of ideas. And they’re all pronouncing themselves at once. Because this is a very busy border town, you have a complex of translations and exchanges occurring everywhere, all the time — totally dynamic. Translation and exchange, representation and value systems, are areas that interest me very much, so I’m really turned on by this place. Plus, the space is located in Centro (downtown), where a substantial part of the economy is focused on bars and nightclubs (facilitating wildness). So I’m occasionally confronted by a new version of “the craziest shit I’ve ever seen”.
Are you bilingual or was language an issue?
I spoke very little Spanish prior to coming here, so that’s been a substantial hurdle for me initially. Fortunately 60 percent of Tijuanenses speak English. Everyone has been very generous and patient in the language area. There is also a good deal of customs or cultural paradigms that were completely unexpected and will occasionally turn my world upside down. I would tell you about it, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun for foreigners who might visit.
How did you manage to re-make an entire gallery in less than a month?
We’ve been really lucky to have the support of a number of artists and musicians in the area early on. I’m also super stoked to have had three talented people join our team in the last few weeks, You Schaffner (who plays music as Dani Shivers), Luisito Noctámbulo (who studies art at ESAV), and Andrea Noel, (who posts photos atVinyl Revolver), all living in TJ. They’ve been instrumental to facilitating this endeavor.
Why set up in Tijuana?
Tijuana is in segue, socioeconomically speaking. Through a concerted effort stemming from the youth and the universities (as far as I can tell), the hegemonies of Tijuana, which have consisted since its inception are beginning to splinter. These being the things you’ve likely heard about the place. It’s actually a surprisingly unique and exciting time to be here!
TRANSMUTATIONS IN TIJUANA -
MEET THE CHRISTIAN PASTOR WHO’S PRAYING AWAY THE GAY IN THE MEXICAN BORDER TOWN’S SLUMS
The pastor finishes her sermon and closes her eyes, waiting for her parishioners to come to her at the altar while the house band provides a down-tempo accompaniment to the congregation’s reading of the Psalms. The only fan inside the cramped, overheated church is pointed at the drummer.
“Open your heart so that Christ may cleanse and heal you,” she commands the dozen men walking toward her. One of them is sweating profusely (or crying, it’s hard to tell) while lifting his arms toward the pastor. He has a girlish face, dyed hair, and plucked eyebrows. The pastor takes him by the shirtsleeve. “Just like Jesus rose from the dead, so shall you,” she assures him.
The other 150 or so worshippers begin to shake violently—some yell and gasp, others jump and spin in circles. The music speeds up. It’s the climax of the ceremony, which has been going on for almost three hours in the sultry heat.
“In the name of Jesus, I’m saved! In the name of Jesus, I’m saved!” yells the man as the pastor grabs him by the hair and brings his forehead to hers. The man’s sweat wets her face, they both take a deep breath, and then he collapses onto his knees and begins to pray in silence.
The man’s name is Eduardo Herrera Gómez. He’s 30 years old, and he is one of 25 “redeemed” homosexuals who have kneeled before Alma Leticia Rosas, a Pentecostal pastor who claims to have the power to exorcize diabolical spirits that, according to her, cause homosexuality “and other evil deviations.” Every Sunday at the Templo y Centro de Rehabilitación La Esperanza (Temple and Rehabilitation Center of Hope) in Tijuana, the group gathers to celebrate having turned their backs on what Sister Lety—as she’s known to her followers—calls “the evil way.” The Temple is one of four affiliated rehab centers in the neighborhood, but it’s the only one that, in addition to treating addictions to hard drugs, also strives to train gay men to love women.
The surrounding area is typical of the borough of Sánchez Taboada, one of the most violent in Tijuana: a labyrinth of muddy roads cluttered with homes made of cardboard and tin. You can buy drugs from hole-in-the-wall stores called narcotienditas, and some of the neighborhood’s flimsy houses serve as holding cells for kidnapping victims. At night, luxury SUVs with tinted windows drive through the streets at high speeds.