Articulo del San Diego Union-Tribune sobre Aqui es Tijuana, Worldview y sus autores.
Authors bring city's paradoxes to a new book, Web site
By Ann Jarmusch
July 31, 2005
TIJUANA – Like kids let out of school early, the trio pranced on the sun-drenched beach sliced crudely by the U.S. border fence. For months, the architect, the writer-poet and the urban anthropologist had worked hard together on an unvarnished and inconclusive book portraying their city.
Now it was time for a little fun and freedom, albeit tinged with irony as the nearby U.S. Border Patrol watched their every move.
Fiamma Montezemolo, a 34-year-old anthropologist from Rome who now lives in Tijuana and San Diego; and two native Tijuanenses, architect René Peralta, 36, and writer Heriberto Yépez, 30, recently came to Las Playas de Tijuana, where the steel border fence is designed to plunge into the ocean shared by Imperial Beach.
At the time of this visit, the fence was being rebuilt. The section that had blocked access and views of Imperial Beach was temporarily replaced by see-through, chain-link fencing that left a gap at the ocean's edge.
The controversial border divide, physical and psychological, runs like a jagged, festering wound through this terrain and the daily lives of millions. Inevitably, the international border became a nagging theme of their book, "Aqui es Tijuana" (Here is Tijuana), which is expected to be released next spring by Black Dog Publishing, a company in London that specializes in contemporary art, architecture and design books.
Meanwhile, a related and equally provocative multimedia report called "Tijuana: Mother of Invention" is available online at www.worldviewcities.org/tijuana/main.html.
Peralta coordinated this report, the fourth in a continuing series by the nonprofit Architectural League of New York called "Worldview: Perspectives on Architecture and Urbanism From Around the Globe."
"Tijuana is primarily a result of illegal or illicit acts," is the first, no-holds-barred sentence of Peralta's online essay, "Illicit Acts of Urbanism." He argues that his hometown has grown informally and opportunistically. While some laws reward the resourcefulness and endurance of squatters, the overall result is a dysfunctional, ill-equipped and unhealthy city.
Tijuana's rough-and-tumble history resonates with Peralta perhaps more than most of the thousands of newcomers from other parts of Mexico, who may or may not put down roots. His family, by contrast, settled in dusty downtown Tijuana during the 1920s; his children are fifth-generation Tijuanenses.
So far, the Worldview series also includes reports by young architects who live and work in Caracas, Venezuela; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Oslo, Norway – cities the mainstream architectural media tend to overlook, said Rosalie Genevro, the League's executive director.
The Caracas report, which debuted in late 2002, came first and Tijuana fourth partly due to League members' keen interest in Latin America, Genevro said. Between January and mid-July of this year, the site logged 24,000 visitors.
In September, a report on Beirut, Lebanon, is slated to be added to the online series, which is edited by Gregory Wessner. Zagreb, Croatia; and Helsinki, Finland will follow.
The Tijuana "Worldview" report contains essays by Peralta, Montezemolo, Yepéz, and six others representing two generations from both sides of the border. Peralta selected them to reflect traditional-to-futuristic responses to the sprawling city's challenges and assets.
In the report and the forthcoming book, statements, opinions and images may strike readers as bold and iconoclastic, but Peralta said the goal of these portraits isn't to judge, promote or condemn his tumultuous city.
"We wanted to leave it open to interpretation," Peralta said during an interview in his loftlike office in an old section of downtown. "We want to expose Tijuana not only to the world, but to ourselves here in Tijuana."
Peralta, Montezemolo and Yépez fell in and out of love with Tijuana almost daily, they said, as they gathered recent data and historic records, shot photographs and interviewed often overlooked residents, such as prostitutes and taco vendors.
They seem both fascinated and frustrated by the stark contrasts (extreme poverty and luxury), paradoxes (it is illegal to carry a gun, though drug traffickers wield automatic weapons during street ambushes) and myths (the city was named for somebody's aunt Juana) that have swirled around this former haven for Americans seeking pleasures outlawed at home.
Among the other contributors to the online report: Teddy Cruz, a San Diego-based designer with inventive redevelopment ideas for the border region; Mike Davis, author of "City of Quartz" about Los Angeles and co-author of "Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See;" Pablo Bransburg, a San Diego-based architect and architecture critic born in Argentina; and Miguel Escobar, a Tijuana architect who works with housing developers and teaches at Universidad Iberoamericana.
Punchy photographs and images, contributed by 38 artists, photographers, architects and graphic designers, pepper the site. A timeline illustrates Tijuana's bursts of unplanned, sometimes illegal settlements. A portfolio of work by 10 of the city's progressive, young architecture firms (Peralta's generica is among them) is the first resource of its kind and suggests Tijuana's future built environment could be far different from that of the past.
These components fulfill the Architectural League's template for a Worldview report, but Peralta suggested one more that the League has since adopted: a two-minute video punctuated by street sounds and music. "I thought it was important for people to see and hear Tijuana," he said.
The collaborators expect the report and especially the harder-edged book to rankle readers on both sides of the border, Yépez said. He teaches philosophy to maquiladora workers enrolled at a university across the street from their employer – just one example he cites of Tijuana's crazy-quilt of opportunities. The trio welcomes discussion, debate and even discord, which they expect from Tijuana's establishment, as tools to help the city grow up and perhaps take charge of its destiny.
All three discovered aspects of Tijuana they hadn't seen or considered before. The most significant is the rapid emergence of "New Tijuana," the name for an area east of the city being consumed by vast new housing tracts, some crammed with microcasas as small as 500 to 800 square feet. Peralta and others expect these government-sanctioned developments – alternatives to the precariously built shacks earlier immigrants built of recycled or scavenged materials – to sprawl one day all the way to Tecate.
"There's a whole different society over there, with their own social and cultural structure," Peralta said, adding that this is where Tijuana's newest immigrants from elsewhere in Mexico and Central America are settling. Markets and entertainment spots cater to the immigrants' roots.
"They ask you if you are from there, or from Tijuana," said Peralta, a rare, fourth-generation Tijuanen.
Montezemolo welcomes discussion, heated or not, of pressing issues and social ills raised in their two projects. "Tijuana is central to the national discussion now," she said, referring to the border city's growing, yet transient population that straddles life on both sides of the border and values education and career goals.
"COLEF (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte) researchers think Tijuana is representative of Mexico, a point of reference" of where the country may be headed. Some in other regions are worried about the "Tijuanization" of Mexico, Yépes added, without elaborating on whether he would view such a transformation of other cities as good, bad or ugly. For him, Tijuana embodies those easily identifiable qualities but also others far more mystifying.
"I think the city is changing every day, but you have to stop" researching at some point to get a book to press, a Web site online, said Peralta, who didn't set out to be an urban-design historian, but found himself increasingly intrigued by his own research.
When a visitor suggested the three collaborators revisit their research in 20 years, they howled or groaned. For one thing, they weren't ready to even think about repeating what turned into a massive undertaking that gobbled all their free time and left them cash-strapped for more than a year.
"You mean in five years," a smiling Peralta added quickly. "The city is changing so fast."
Ann Jarmusch: (619) 293-1019; firstname.lastname@example.org