Page 14


LAS AMERICAS Colosio’s Tijuana BY ELIZABETH KADETSKY Tijuana, Mexico WO NIGHTS AFTER the first assas sination of a Mexican national leader in 66 years sent the country’s markets, political figures and armchair analysts spinning, what passes for the mundane here in Tijuana had returned to the downtown streets. -On Avenida de la Revolucion, discos blared technopop from second story sliders; strobelights cast the scene below in menacing silhouette: blond boys and girls giggling in English sauntered along as if visiting a city that had no nationality; young men occasionally stopped midstep and simply howled, picking up pace seconds later. I was sitting in a Mexican dinerin one of those requisite pink-and-yellow vinyl banquetteswith Jorge Hinojosa, a Tijuana human rights activist. Behind Jorge was a wall of miniblinds painted in garish magentas and oranges; on one side was an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, on the other Frida Kahlothe doyennes of modern Mexican mythology, both representing . Mexico’s much-talked-about mezclado, or mix, of the Indian and the European. Jorge was talking about a new kind of mezcladothe mixture of U.S. and Mexican culture that is quickly replacing the old as Mexico integrates economically with the United States. “The border is a mixture of three realities,” Jorge was saying: “a Mexican reality, a U.S. reality, and a reality that is a mixture of both, people who speak both English and Spanish. If you don’t understand this last culture you’re almost missing a third of the reality.” American tourists have long seized on one element of Hinojosa’s paradigm: It can often be heard that Tijuana is not “really” Mexicoit is far too tacky, too scary and too overrun with gringos to live up to their placid image of Mexican taco vendors by the sea. But Tijuanaits cash registers clicking in dollars, its drug cartel serving its neighbors to the north, its Denny’s, its thousands of would-be immigrants lined up in the nightly shadows along the Tijuana Riveris fast becoming a profoundly Mexican city. There is a certain poetic justice to Elizabeth Kadetsky is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, California. the fact that the assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the future president of Mexico, took place in border Tijuanathe city for post-NAFTA, post-Zapatista Mexico. Mexico’s Lee Harvey Oswald is 23-yearold Mario Aburto Martinez. Like Oswald, the confessed assassin is a mysterious and methodical figure, a B-student with political ideals but with vague and somehow illegitimate-sounding connections to any political movement. A true border denizen, Aburto is one of those members of Hinojosa’s “third reality,” someone fluent in both U.S. and Mexican culture who moves between the two. It is chillingly apropos that Aburto probably purchased the gun that killed Colosio in the United Statesit was last registered to an owner in San Francisco. Until last year Aburto worked in a U.S. furniture plant just 90 miles away in Torrance, where his father and brother also work and live nearby. Evicted by immigration authorities, Aburto then came to Tijuana and took up as a mechanic in one of the 700 maquiladoras, or factories, the majority of them U.S.owned, that crowd the zone. Having dominated much of the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, maquiladoras themselves have come to represent the future of U.S. influence in Mexico. Here, U.S. companies have taken advantage of what are essentially tax breaks that have since 1965 facilitated their relocation to the 2,000-mile border maquiladora zone. NAFTA extends those breaks to the rest of Mexico, so both supporters and opponents of NAFTA have looked to the maquiladora zone as, in a sense, the future of Mexico. For those who opposed NAFTA, Tijuana itself told much of the story: A vapor explosion at a U.S-owned chemicals company in Tijuana last September killed two workers; since 1991, the 170-family neighborhood just down the hill from Tijuana’s Johnson & Johnson plant has seen the births of six babies without brains, a condition known as anencephaly,which also occurs at a disturbing rate along the Lower Rio Grande and has been related to chemical runoff; after several on-the-job accidents including a miscarriage and a loose drillbit that took out a worker’s eye, employees at a Boston-based manufacturer of “environmentally sensitive” garbage bags started a unionand were fired. “Any of these companies are here because they can do things they can’t do in the United States,” Fred Sanders, the manager of one Tijuana maquiladora park, told me blithely about the people he represents. “They can spray industrial lacquer, for instance. It’s toxic. It’s hard to apply. It’s messy. You can’t do it there. We can do it here.” Jorge Hinojosa speculates that Aburto’s employment at such a place was a defining element in his decision to carry out the assassination. “Anybody that works in a maquiladora and is paid a hundred dollars a month is very conscious of the fact that I’m working for a North American company,” Hinojosa says. “Their work, their labor, is going to create wealth for another country. So does that have an effect on somebody’s psyche? Of course.” Aburto lived in a working-class Tijuana barrio typical in all senses except that it could have been worse. Houses in the barrio Buenos Aires del Norte, with their pit latrines, brick walls and tar-and-corrugated-tin roofs, seem if not palatial at least middle class compared to their neighbors’. In contrast are the many neighborhoods where handbuilt shanties with cardboard and mattress-spring walls seem toand sometimes doslough off steep dirt hillsides next to raw sewage and chemical waste. That more aptly describes Lomas Taurinas, the closely built colonia, as the border’s poorer barrios are called, where Luis Donaldo Colosio took his last stroll, via steep mud path, on March 23. A resident in the neighborhood next door, known as Barrio 70-76, described Lomas Taurinas like this: “The difference between that barrio and this one is that over there is for paracaidistas,” the well-appointed university student, Ariel Tapia, told me using an expression that translates literally into “parachutists” and is often used to describe maquiladora workers. “They’re people who make less money, who drop down and sit on a piece of land that’s not theirs. Then when it rains it all washes away. Here,” Tapia added proudly, “we own our homes.” His friend Raul punched his toe into the curb and added, “The real difference is here we have paved streets.” 18 APRIL 8, 1994