Tijuana Gringo : Other Poems
First Place Winning Manuscript: Ford/Frontera Binational Poetry Competition, December 2000

Codex TijuanA

by Daniel Charles Thomas

Table of Contents.

00. Invocation

09. San Ysidro on Foot

01. Galactic Frontier

10. Passage

02. Define @ Time

11. Ex-Casino Agua Caliente

03. Voices from the Rocks

12. Choque--Wreck

04. Migration

13. Narco Frontera

05. Ecology

14. Camión A to the Border. No.

06. Manifesto: Beaches

15. A Tale of Two Men

07. Manifesto: Long Version

16. Inauthentic Riddle

08. San Ysidro Friday

[Notes @ End]

00. Invocation.

Awaken, muse of the rocks and nopal;
fly, twin eagles of our border sky
scavenging stone;

remember and record with black
these thoughts you imagine in red.

Tint a prayer – oración
ink take my pen in hand
and let the words flow out
like cars upon the carretera
freeways feeding frontier gate

crowded, dense, at rush hour,
scattered alone



01. Galactic Frontier

"It's its own world, no?"
Oh no; no, no, no.

Tis much more, Horatio, than you or I
can ever dream in our philosophy.

World of frontera runs two thousand miles
from Texas Tamaulipas to Pacific shore

I write only one stone west on that long
chain of dusty pearls – yet this Tijuana
gem holds more than I can fit in my pen.

Not a single world, star, constellation,
but a galaxy – no, two galaxies
in collision, ripping oceans of stars
from each other's bodies, exchanging our
nebulae, combining gasses, dust, fire
and ice in storms of creation and death.

No words can do justice to this event;
we may only, like the Buddha, point at



02. Define @ Time.

Measure the border, name it
in abstract

or concrete.


Left / Right .


Here there be
two sides.

there be

two sides.

faced god
or devil

each, both
and / or

one another.

Una moneda de dos lados –

a coin
with two faces -- two sides
measuring same, measuring different
over your shoulder in front of your face
one monstrous mouth turning both directions

a single funnel in all these miles of wall
swallowing and passing the gaze of wire

endless rush and then endless waiting to rush
across that one open eye in December/Janus

while all the other days of the year they
wait for the green migra truck to leave

and then try to slip into time.


03. Voices from the Rocks.

First you must understand that we
have always crossed the river here.

Upstream rise the ragged mountains
downstream stretch the muddy swamps.

For travelers on the coast,
here is the place to

cross this desert river

mountains and the sea.

That is why the path was here.
That is why the road is here.
That is why the gate is here.

No matter what you call us, north
to south, or south to north, here
is where we always crossed the
river (from)
before the border was born.

We came. They come.

Indian Kumayai, Ipai people,
Mexican Spaniard, Yankee conqueror,
man woman child tourist or worker.

Greencard or illegal, laser visa, passport,
what is your citizenship, green light you
may pass –

red light inspection.

Come to cross between the mountains and the swamps
where the river flows down & turns left toward the sea

here where sand and brush kiss the winter water,
cross here, before the mud, below the hills, here.

So we came. They come.

From the first Indian trails
where no one said stop
on our way to harvest shellfish
at the rocks south of playas

to the expedition of 1769
colonizing California for new Spain

to dirt roads of yanquis
& rancheros
with wagons and horse
driving cattle toward market
on San Diego bay

to 1911 filibusterers
who fled across the river
from defenders of Tijuana

to the refugees from revolution
and returnees for colonia Libertad

to Volstead prohibition drinkers
and Hollywood tourists spinning
rubber tires on new cement

Orson Wells and Dolores del Rio,
World War II, Korea, Marilyn Monroe,
bracero laborer, soldier-sailor, Vietnam
Japan Korea maquiladora Germany France
19-year old college drinker party dancer
Mexican shopper crossing to buy @ discount
and silent worker-employee seeking pay.

We came, and they come –
to the

vast millenium freeway where
all must be beckoned forward
into the gate of judgment by
man and guardian dog

into the sovereign mouth of hell
where immigrant fires lick at the fence
through the teeth of unequal yet
friendly neighbor nations

we came – you come – to this

place to cross the desert river
of sticks and sewage foam

here, here, here between the
mountains and the ocean.


04. Migration

Cat and mouse;

green truck
dusty brown men.

Crescent moon;

bright floodlights
your fifty yard dash.

L A restaurants;

highway checkpoints
bosses eager to staff dishes.

Money sent home;

family house town
end of long year road.


05. Ecology

Voice of sparse rain, hands of mild wind, shaped the
scattered bands of valley coast, hill and song

directed toward an Indian mountain

– Kuchama –

If only we lived so naturally.

Across San Diego & Frontera Baja
Ipai name Kumeyai sang their lives

harmony with scarce water
canyon trees
valley grasses
hillside cactus.

Over their grey-backed mountains from
sand of beach to sand of desert, the people
spoke deer, coyote, rabbit, snake, bird.

Notes emerged from climate music
sounding along peninsular ranges
echoing over unknown border – thirty
miles north
a hundred south
one people, one language, one land.

The sun moved south and north
from winter summer winter
while the people walked east and
west desert mountain ocean.

This frontier coast marked
all the same place
all the same time.


Now we hold two worlds where
separate Spanglish arms create
a megalopolis of concrete, plaster
glass, wood, steel, adobe, rubber,
breathing the heavy fire

– Gasoline –

Ecologists and natural historians
(divided between field and lab)
shall call this region one, and
complain too many people live


Climate is a curse which calls us to our
cross. The fabulous lotus island of
twin Californias, ruled by an amazon
queen – in your dreams – is too benign.

Our music begins to lose its tune when
so many people try to sing at once.

From the north, out of cold and ice; from east,
of industrial waste; from the south, to rise
toward plentiful work; from west, ocean-crossed;

we have come here

to the half-dry, half-wet coast, from the
colors and names of all the Earth, seeking
gold, sunshine, fame, wine, car, and home.

We have come to discover

– A New World –

divided by fading border nature
multi million thirsty tongues suck water
from distant rivers
out of smoggy view

a world
where lights might suddenly dim while
shopping for power emergency

a world
that was
one sweep of valley, coast,
and mountain

a world
now a tangle of
stoplights, frontier gates
and lifestyle bills.

This is the brave new world
that hath such creatures in it

forgotten music shattered sphere where
border separates strangely same
yet different
brother sun
father sky
mother earth
sister moon....

Those four will not forget what we have done.


06. Manifesto : Beaches

Green sea moss and black mussels colonize
our western tip of the new Berlin wall.

Steel piles drive straight out into ocean.
Only a chihuahua can squeeze through now.

Above high tide, crossbeams and panel sheets
appear as waffled tracks of metal plate.
Interlocking jigsaw cutting teeth weld
and rivet themselves on iron bones.

Our border friendship park has been locked down.

Facing south onto beach, immigrant
rights activists hang up large white signs.

Black letters spell out names of hundreds
dead since operation gatekeeper began.

Many names say "no identificado".

Somewhere else, someones release balloons
for memory of those missing lives.

Art is but small respite from politics.

In the sand, Mexican children play with
families and picnics. Seagulls
and border patrol wait for low tide.


07. Manifesto : Long Version.

Used to be thousands simply walked across,
played cat & mouse with Border Patrol,
hurried to avoid robber rapists, then made
their way north to work and send money home.

"The soccer field" crowds gathered each day at
dusk, ate a last taco, and tied their bags.

At the beach, other clusters waited for
the lone migra truck to turn away, then
quickly crossed, walking north along the shore.

All through the river valley from swamp to
city street in storm or clear of night people
came seeking that old American dream.

Then came "reform." Dark wings of talk
show radio mongers urged the Anglo public
to drive to the border and shine their
headlamps into that nightly parade.

Washington gave birth to operation
gatekeeper, sent hither swarms of officers,
trucks, equipment, night vision goggles.

They graded miles of boundary guard roads,
erected a hard new fence from mountains
to the sea, and set out a brilliant string
of floodlamps to light up the dark line.

The new wall of China Berlin stretches
over coastal hills, leaps across the river
valley, climbs up onto Otay Mesa,
then shoots into the jagged back country.

Turned east by that dam, immigrants
abandon former channels on the milder
coast and pass into ragged wilderness
where once only Indians could survive
who knew the land so well, so long, so true.

What chance do these newcomers have today?
Same chance you have: to live until we die.

All through the wild territory, small groups
move out on mountain paths or desert flats.

The price these pollos (chickens) must pay for
smuggler guides (coyotes) has risen from
one thousand to six thousand dollars, cash.

Imagine if the U.S. collected
even one fifth of that for a legal
work permit – it would be what – one hundred
million dollars each year? No? And why not?

Obviously people are willing to pay,
for they walk with coyotes every day.
Obviously there are jobs waiting, for the
owners of the north still hire every day.

No. Better to build a stronger wall to stop
these people who need and are needed.

What is wrong with this picture? Where's Waldo?

Shoved east into the mountains and desert,
led astray by high priced smugglers who
may, after paying all their bribes, abandon
their chickens to struggle alone in cold
of winter freeze or burning summer thirst.

They appear days later in newspapers,
dead or dying in the sun or the snow.

Since the five years of gatekeeper, some
five hundred souls have passed in the Kumayai
wilderness. What is wrong with this picture?

Why must the sacred mountain of Kuchama
be the scene of lost immigrant death?

Why not one hundred million dollars each
year be collected, clean, clear, at the gate?

No, this would be too mercenary, yes.
Better they should struggle and die. That way,
we know we only get the very best.


08. San Ysidro Friday.

Red trolley rolls above commercial blocks
toward its border end. Rails descend to
meet the street. Passing cars ignore Latin
muzak buzzing from Kentucky Fried
Chicken. Chicano family chows down on
buckets. Jet planes cut the sky. Seagulls wheel
and flock, laughing for dumpster. This poet
sips fresh coffee. Colonel whispers his luck.

Write, fool, write; the clouds are passing and your
winter sun remembers February.


09. San Ysidro on Foot.

Walking downstream from the colonel,
el border funnel – embudo de la linea –
narrows to a tiny pedestrian focus between
trolley station and U.S. customs doors.

"Please wait behind the yellow
line – there's no other way out."

Over and over they say again, again –
"Please wait behind the yellow line,
your friends will come out here."


From here the walkers' ramp
over forty lanes of traffic
in/out in/out/in out/in/out....

From here the clattering red trolley
trains toward downtown San Diego.

From here the shuttle busses
direct to downtown Tijuana.

From here the forty-dollar taxis
north to Lindberg Field airlines.

From here the greyhound to
L.A. or Central Valley.

Here the McDonalds Jack-in-the-Box.

Here the hills rising empty brown above
shuffling daylight crowds.

Here the silence of three a.m. when
distant sirens whisper.

Sometimes the 24-hour gate is jammed
with human flesh, sometimes not.

The funnel / embudo either
gushes or drips, but
it stays




Walls to the left of them, walls to
the right of them, guarded by green,

and only

here, here, only here,

the opening of the

busiest gate



10. Passage.

Comes a moment when it hits
& peels back your psychic bone:

You've crossed over into México.

Feel it riding that blinking disco
bus from border gate to beaches.

Behold la virgen del parabrisas
– virgin of the windshield – whose
metamorphosis strikes at hillside
landscape beyond Tijuana centro.

Taco carts and power poles and Pemex
stations stagger along this twisting
boulevard snake, forked traffic tongue
twitching at your root of consciousness.

You look out the window and
hear the street singing:

ya estás aquí, muchacho,
your're here now, boy....


11. Ex-Casino Agua Caliente.

Palace of dreams, temple of drinks. Casino.
The baths, the dining rooms, the gilded
gambling salons, ballrooms, patios, courtyards,
gardens, golf course, private airport, race track,
luxury hotel, bungalow villas,
all of it done in Moorish Spanish tile,
with a driveway that stretched over a mile,
yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, the Casino.

Raised to welcome the roaring twenties, the
Casino ruled a golden age of old
Tijuana, the chief of crown jewels and the
prize of bourgeois bosses who gathered in
a stream of shining gold and gleaming silver
coin from Hollywood and all its world.

Laurel & Hardy both came, saw, and spent.

Then drinking became legal in U.S.
again, while in México, the Baja
California governor Esteban
Cantú fell from grace, and el presidente
Lazaro Cardenas decided he
must silence the separate frontier.

Gambling was outlawed, all casinos closed.

Yet, in phantoms of dreaming night, elegant
women still walk jeweled dogs through gardens
of palm and tile, searching for lost fortune.

Until in dawn light visions vanish and
five thousand students come to learn at an
elite public school opened in ex-Casino
and named for that same president.

Hotel, ballroom, and gilded salons were
later destroyed for new class buildings; and
Damocles' sword hangs over our heads – you're
damned if you approve and damned if you don't.

Behind the gym linger the ruins of
swimming pool, tiled arch, chimney minarette.
In other corner, crumbling bungalows.

The golf course became the town country club.
The old race track rebuilt as new race track.
Aircraft beacon tower moved to a park –
now the proud symbol of New Tijuana –
la torre de Agua Caliente.

Nothing else remains but memories, except....

Oh yes... ten thousand spoons, plates, cups, forks,
towels, lamps, gates, chairs, windowframes, doormats,
and much else scattered about the homes of old
Tijuanans who once lived with... Casino.


12. Choque – Wreck.

A young Chicana from California
drove her car off the bluff at the beach
of Tijuana.

It was only ten feet high, but
she flipped and rolled and landed

A gathering of police, lifeguards, tow truck,
ambulance, saw she was okay, and proceeded
to greet one another.

"Ach!" she screamed, "Mexico!"

The crowd sighed, and tried
to comfort her.

"Ah," they whispered, "authorities."

Eventually her dead beast was dragged
up the slope, lifted onto a trailer, and
carried away to la Gloria.

She, however, would face a heavy
fine for that infractious moment when
she lost control.


13. Narco Frontera.

News of the shooting flew across the line:
"Chief of Police assassinated!"

Over a hundred rounds shattered his
Chevy Suburban – the vehicle of choice.

Special investigators assigned to the case
were found one week later shot dead in
their car driven off a high mountain cliff.

The rich in hillside homes drew worried blinds.

Then an infamous narco-financier
got arrested at his son's soccer match.

For a little while, all would be quiet, but
the hungry yankee beast still wanted drugs.


14. Camión A to the Border.

Tijuana bus holds dark windows, tinted
clouds hide the coral peach sun. Patchy sky
broods turquoise as an Aztec shield set in
obsidian street or blue hillside brush.

Dark red pastel houses shift burnt umber.

The blood-of-night motorcycle cop leads
a shadowed funeral procession up
toward that open grave on the hill where
one shaft of sunlight strikes our yawning Earth.

No one is bored. No one lives forever.
Moon crosses that line, and then she will die.

At the island of tacos beside the
sea of taxis they are selling them two
for one. The young woman shortchanges me.

Doesn't she see what I am writing here?
Tinted window bus to the border? No.


15. Tale of Two Men

Carlos H.S. – one of the princes of Tijuana –
offspring of native and immigrant –
was enjoying a wonderful day.

Everyone knew him at the bullfight. To the
delight of visiting Sonora cousins,
hundred of well-dressed women and men
waved at him, blew kisses, and called his name....

Then the band which would never stop
playing – except at the moment of kill –
signalled the time for the fight

to begin.

Today was especially splendid – Hermoso
de Mendoza fought en estilo rejoneador – on
horseback, in Cordobés suit, hat, and boots.

Man and horse bestowed a vision of beauty,
grace, and power, dancing fleetly beyond
the furious, charging bull and horns.

The second kill – magnificent. Plunging
his sword in one fell stroke, Hermoso then
leapt from his mount, stepped over to the
frozen bull, and set his hand against
the beast's brow...

A flicker of this one, silent moment, and

the bull

fell dead.

The crowd – and Carlos – burst into
a frenzy of thrilled applause and cheers.

Judges awarded a tail and two ears.


16. Inauthentic Riddle.

Meanwhile, back in San Diego, tourists
suck up quote-unquote Mexican culture
from our quaintly restored "Old Town" park.

Mariachi bands play standard repertoire
in restaurants where tacos come fried
(dorado) not soft like across the line.

Souvenirs imported from Mexico
sell for five and ten times their native price.

On the Cinco de Mayo weekend
(nothing to do with Independence),
historical volunteers re-enact the
three ages of old San Diego.

Indian, Spanish-Mexican, Yankee.

I wait for the trolley, and think of the
Sphynx. Crawling, walking, then crippled for life.

There once was a certain ambiguous
relationship between the upstarts of
Greece and the older, civilized Egypt.

They too had their pyramids and temples.
The riddle is: who do we think we are?

# # #

END NOTES: Please be advised that our editors are still experimenting (and learning) various techniques of HTML indentation and other forms of formatting. The text of Daniel's poem as it appears in this on-line version DOES differ somewhat from the original. ALL the words and lines are present, but some of the INDENTATION -- in particular of shorter lines -- does not appear. At times, to achieve a similar effect (like indentation), the author has approved the insertion of an additional line of empty space. Please accept our apologies for this makeshift albeit slight sleight.

You may look that one up in your Funk & Wagnall Dictionary.


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Copyright 2001 Daniel Charles Thomas