In the last year and a half I've spent in Tijuana, I haven't said very much about the city or about the political situation here. There never seems to be a shortage of people willing to expound at length about the city: its strange cultural mix, its violence and its sharp contradictions of First and Third World clashing in one locale. Inevitably all the clichés come out: from postmodern laboratory to den of vice, from beautiful Baja (the happiest place on Earth) to scary TJ (the most violent place on Earth next to Juárez).
In the last year though, I've watched Turista Libre and its tours of Tijuana, lead by Tijuana resident gringo Derrick Chinn. By its own definition, it's a "series of atypical international day tours in Tijuana, Mexico, a caravan that trounces around the city in search of the overlooked and underrated." The mission is simple: "To get foreigners into Tijuana but away from Revolucion. To introduce them the side of the city their local counterparts live on a daily basis. To live for a day as a local in a city that was built for tourists." Definitely an interesting project and one worth watching.
Last weekend, Turista Libre organized a tour of the Centro Cultural de Tijuana (CECUT) and its new exhibition, Obra Negra. I wasn't sure how to respond to this decision prior to the tour, but I've spent some time thinking about it and now I have some ideas.
I thought I'd share some information for everyone who went on the Turista Libre tour or is thinking of going to check out the CECUT: I think everyone should be aware that many Tijuana artists have observed a boycott of the CECUT for almost the last two years. Leading artists and human rights activists originally called for the boycott for a number of reasons. The current director of the CECUT, Virgilio Muñoz, was previously arrested for accepting bribes from human smugglers when he was the head of the Institute of Migration in Tijuana. As human rights activists have noted, Muñoz was never tried on these charges due to a web of connections that allowed him to escape scot free. When faced with demands to step down as director last year, Muñoz lashed out at his critics, calling them "more students than artists" and insulting them as inhabitants of "small worlds" while saying that he moved in larger worlds. Perhaps most unfortunately, there has been no response to the demands of the people calling for Muñoz's resignation, no dialogue, no open discussion and little media attention to the issue. In other words, no democratic process at all.
Recently, a number of artists have also criticized the way the Obra Negra exhibition was organized and curated as it does not include the entirety of the artistic communities of Tijuana, since a large number of Tijuana artists are currently boycotting the CECUT. In addition, a number of artists' names have been used to promote the exhibit after having made explicit requests not to be included in the exhibit.
Unfortunately, these issues have not been well-reported by the
media either in Tijuana or in San Diego. I wonder if any of this was discussed on Turista Libre's tour. I hope someone brought it up and I hope there was some discussion of these issues. In my opinion, if we, as gringos, are going to come to Tijuana and involve ourselves with its communities, we have a responsibility to inform ourselves of the complex situation on the ground here, as difficult or contested as it may be.
(All photos are from the Turista Libre Facebook page.)