Tijuana  Gringo
gringo tijuanense
   Tur Info                   fresh gringo diary@.blog Border
megalopolis in miniature from space.   You can see the river valley between
mountains and hills, yes?  On the corner of a planet, a peninsula is breaking
away from her continent America.

[0.0.2    0.0.3    0.0.4    0.0.5    0.0.6]
Tijuana Map.text

a geographical & historical meander
un meandro historico y geografico

By Daniel Charles and Michael Thomas

Part One : Ancient history : climate, geography, and people who came here: Kumiai Indians, Spanish-Mexican colonization, U.S.American 1846 war & new border.  The name of "Tijuana".  The birth of tourism ("excursionism"), the filibustero TJ "revolution" of 1910, the golden age of prohibition, the silver age of world war, and the bronze age of maquiladora.  Etcet and on to part two.

ONCE UPON A TIME, Tijuana was an old rancho born in a river valley surrounded by canyons and hilltops.  Later it would grow into a border megalopolis where one world ends and another began.  Now it is a world-famous name where everyone speaks Spanish.  That is why we moved here.

In the beginning, before the old California rancho could speak Spanish, before it was even called a "rancho" or probably ever named Tijuana, the Kumiai (or Kumeyaay) Indians lived all around here.  Anthropologists argue over the details, and make up their own names for prior cultures (La Jollan, etc.), but one fact is indisputable: before the Europeans came to conquer these coasts, the natives lived here for thousands of years.

Unlike we moderns, they completely integrated themselves with their environment and geography.  Many local names like Cuyamaca, Jamul, Poway, Jamacha and Otay come from their language.  Furthermore, their descendants still live in the hills on both sides of the international border.  Some of them on the north side of the border now have casinos.

0.0.1 Ancient History
Layout of the Town:
0.0.2 The River :
0.0.3 La Mesa :
0.0.3 5 & 10 :
0.0.3 Camionera Central (bus terminal) :
0.0.4 Downtown Centro :
0.0.4. Revolution Avenue :
0.0.2.Zona Rio :
0.0.4.Zona Norte/Coahuilla :
0.0.6.Hills :
0.0.5.Agua Caliente and "the boulevard" :
0.0.6.Otay Mesa :
0.0.6.Cerro Colorado :
0.0.6.El Florido :
0.0.6.Playas de Tijuana :
0.0.6.La Gloria :
Points Beyond:
0.0.6.Rosarito :
0.0.6.Ensenada :
0.0.6.Tecate :
Other Mapping Sites

other tur.info babel:

TO: S.D.S.U. Tijuana River Watershed Site
Highly recommended for real geography....
Access the MEMORY-hogging killer applications to "fly" over the geography via the 3-D Regional Canvas of the Californias (don't say we didn't warn you!).

The traditional Kumiai land was an area about 100 miles wide, reaching from forty miles north of the international border to sixty more south of the line, or roughly between the modern cities of Ensenada in the south to Escondido on the north.  This territory reached east and west, through all the beaches, inland hills and valleys, up over the mountains and down into the desert.  In the east, along the Colorado river, lived their cousins, the Yuma.

There were other Indian nations to the north in the hills toward L.A., or to the south into the peninsula of Baja California; but right here there was no border: both sides of our modern frontier were at the center of the Kumiai world.

Climate and geography

   the great and mighty criminal city at the end of the Earth   
   unparalleled in scope, unknown/unknowable in shape,   
   unbelievable in truth in hoc signo vinces Trampoline   
   auh in ye yuqui in oaccico in xoloco TIJEI   
pleasant mediterranean climate town nestled in foothill peaks and valley below the sacred mountain Kuch*Ama with its new age vegan spa T*K*T gateway to lovely winding mountain backroad south through wine-growing wine-tasting Guadalupe valley the state capital from burning hell in summer, freezing dirt in winter, XIKALI requisat in pace habemus urbi diaboli best damn Chinese food on the continent once upon a time there was a river that drained half the continent. Now twenty million yankees drink it dry snow bunnies and gigantic shrimp argueably the most beautiful town in the northern reaches of the peninsula the face of postmodern indigenous wage slavery para los tomates de tu ensalada, snra gringa, and local delagran guerra civil de 2097 where Philip's great grandfather once tried to build a city against the wilderness 
   this is the peninsula   
   breaking off from its   
   continent America

What is the shape of this local world where the Kumiai came to live?  Step further back to look at another picture from space.  There you can see the one unifying geographic factor: this is the place where a peninsula is breaking off from the continent.  The deserts stretch to the right, the mountains run down into the spine of the peninsula (natural historians actually call them "the peninsular ranges"), and the hills, valleys and Pacific coasts lie along the left.  See?

Here, the shoulders of the Earth bend up from deep pressure of her twisting crust, and there be the peninsular ranges of mountains risen up between the desert and the sea.  Here, in these mountains, hills, valleys and coasts, multiple climate zones delineate attendant microclimate variations, each with very and subtly different weather regimes and seasons through the turning year.  In the mountains, freezing winters turn to warm summer.  On the coast, mild, slightly wet winters are followed by warm, dry summers. In the desert, cool dry winters become hot dry summer.

In point of fact, this is all the very edge of desert, the westernmost fringes of the great Sonora. If you prefer, you may call our climate semi-desert, desertic, or mediterranean; but whatever the name, it is only the 6000 foot high backs of our peninsular mountains, Cuyamaca, Laguna, Juarez, which keep us from plunging off the edge of our perfect lotus-eating clime into the beautiful abyss of full desert.  There is just enough rain here - teased from the sky by the storm-calling, cloud-raking mountains - just enough rain for oak and pine trees to grow and bushes (including holy sage) to share the hillsides with cactus.  This is the nature of the land we call home.

So then, for centuries and millennia, until the white and black and oriental man and woman appeared here, each year, while the sun moved north and south while the Kumiai migrated east and west, back and forth, up and over these peninsular ranges where cougar, bear, condor and eagle ruled. They hunted animals in the summer hills, harvested acorns from autumn oak trees, gathered shellfish in winter from the sea, and re-built their villages of stick and sometimes stone huts every year. They bathed and healed in hot sulphur springs like Agua Caliente in Tijuana.

Like most American Indian nations, they also carefully measured the astronomy of the sun with rock circles and boulder-cave observatories (you can see one at Vallecitos, east of Tecate, where a dagger of sunlight pieces a carved stone figure at winter solstice).

Between the mountains, desert, and ocean, the Kumiai made pottery and baskets and stitched rabbit skin blankets.  They sang very long songs.  Some writers say that after the first explorers and pirates came, the Indians changed their religion to use deadly nightshade (belladona).  Judgeing from the Cabrillo expedition log, it appears that the Kumiai had already heard from their cousin Yumans about Spanish soldiers marching and attacking by land near the Colorado River and perhaps, also, New Mexico.

We imagine they felt a sense of impending doom in the face of these strange invaders who crossed invisible lines from another world.  Perhaps their shamans foresaw the tidal wave of change that would bring three centuries of mass epidemics, rape, class slavery, concentration camp missions, Mexican and Yankee land seizures, and an ever continuous racial prejudice (are you a Good Indian or are you a Bad Indian?), and even that this darkness would be followed only now by brighter lights hallucinated from their great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren's casinos over there, on the U.S. side.  Or Perhaps We Only Fantasize: was that dark vision of the future why they made a native poison - belladona jimson weed - briefly become their new sacrament...?

We mention this curious demi-fact of deadly nightshade belladonna because, in the global economy and geography of our modern human spirit, Tijuana (as in "welcome to, tequila sexo and mariguana") later would become infamous as a city of intoxicants both sublime and deadly. These are the timely metaphors that catch - and try - poets' souls. Herodotus, the father of history, was also the father of lies.

Aboriginally, for clothing the Kumiai wore practically nothing at all - the climate was mostly warm, like today.  On chilly nights they had those rabbit and deer skin cloaks.  Of course they understood fire and the many blessings of cactus. They loved to dance and play gambling games. Coincidentally this, too, is still true about Tijuana.  Once, in the years 1970 or 1972 (before his Washingtown period), while new river bridges were being built in Tijuana, a man in a bar sold Danial a little rabbit skin.  It was deliciously soft and warm.  He gave it to his identical twin cousin Michael (then only a babe in arms).  But what? I thought you meant casinos... sorry, cousin, we digress. What we meant to say was Tijuanenses love to party and to dance.

At the center of the region, es decir the Kumiai world, was - is - the sacred mountain we now call Tecate Peak.  Some seemingly non sequitur digressions are deliberate.  One way to spell its holy name is Kuchama. It is still there, and still sacred, although now scarred, sixty kilometers from the ocean.  The international border runs right up over its southern flank.  Country ranchos and new-age spas cluster about those slopes.  Some of the best climate in the world - Mediterranean - is claimed to favor its arms and shoulders.  Tijuana/San Diego is a vast mass cell (sic) growing in your west.

The Mexican town of Tecate, just southeast of the holy mountain, is a delightful small-scale alternative to Tijuana, with an attractive traditional town plaza, brewery and beer garden, (a stop on the impossible railroad). On the U.S. side, state highway 94 gives access to the turnoff by the mountain.  From Tecate you will find easy and scenic motor travel via the back-country highway south through Guadalupe valley wine tasting rooms and later Ensenada.

A branch of the upper Tijuana river drains the flanks of Tecate Peak and falls down through a wild, scenic, jagged canyon where the superhighway toll road runs between Tecate and Otay (Tijuana).  The water downstream used to be much cleaner than what you will smell in the city walking from the border to downtown.  If you've passed there then you know what I mean.


          there are floors available
          in an office tower
                         across from
          Plaza Rio
          shopping mall

          eyeballs and cheekbones
                         of glass

          that noisy current burns more gas
          than water flows in the river

          where hands of cement
          wash themselves

          seagulls harvest trash
          emigrants wait for departure

          and the border patrol     watches
          from the other side

          over that channel
          by the bridge
          that leads to Revolution

          who cares if it stinks?


Rainwater falls upon the holy mountain to flow downhill into the Tijuana River, and pass to sewage before the city coast.  So, then, in this abiding mythological sense, here in Tijuana we are both at the edge of the Earth as well as within sight of one of its sacred centers. The international boundary between Mexico and the United States actually climbs over the shoulder of that holy peak.

Often, the ancient ones went even farther than this coast and its hills, over, and now beyond the mountains, into the deserts, across the barren flats toward their Yuman cousins on the great river, with whom they shared sister-language.  Sometimes the Yuma came over the mountains to the coast to find and take things they did not have in the desert.  We moderns call this war, and might think it was only for Yuman beans, not much at all compared to now when we fight our wars for something truly worthwhile: black, sticky, crude Tar-OIL.  Nevertheless it was so.

One of this writer's brothers followed the trails on foot twenty-five years ago from the coast over the mountains and down from Jacume to the desert (on the U.S. side, not Rumorosa).  This was during the day before, and night of, an absolute total lunar eclipse.  He slept near a hot spring, then awoke at midnight to witness a small black circle in the otherwise star-spangled sky... until the Moon returned in a crack of light.  We are a... an intense family.  One of our fathers invented a machine to make water in the desert flow over the mountains toward this coast.  Just so you know where coming from here... to there.

New neighbors, new neighbors... Spanish-Mexican colonization

Then the New World changed.  Two hundred years after its "discovery", the Spanish finally got it in gear to colonize Alta California in order to protect it from the Russians and the British.  Baja California had already been undergoing the process of colonization under the Jesuits, for a hundred years, until the King of Spain decided to expell that order from all "his" possessions in America - but that is another story.

The "colonial" history of Tijuana is, in fact, intimately linked with and subject to that of old Spanish/Mexican San Diego, and a European style of history which began in 1769 when the missionaries and soldiers got here to colonize for God and the king.

From that year, this frontier land - which for thousands of years had been the home of wandering stone-age tribes - underwent invasion, colonization and conquest by a new way of life.  Cattle, horse, donkeys, swine and sheep arrived from New Spain, along with the missionaries, Mexican ranchers, farmers, and soldiers.  The newcomers settled in, built adobe and wood cabins, raped and killed the Indians with measles, smallpox and syphillis, turned the survivors into servants and ranch hands, and thus brought European civilization and culture to this end of the continent.  At first, a number of Mexican soldiers actually deserted to go live with the natives. Many of the local Indians subsequently refused to submit to the missions or Mexican soldiers sent around their villages. There were rebellions, but after killing a priest and others in two or three short armed conflicts around San Diego, the surviving "rebels" withdrew into the mountains and deserts. Effectively they abandoned the coastal strip to the Spanish-speaking Californians and the remaining "good" Mission Indians, who were forgiven for, yet continued to communicate with, their cousins to the east.

At first, the mission system was reasonably successful.  Hundreds of Indians were baptized, concentrated into camps and quarters beside impressive new churches, taught how to make soap, grow wheat, rope and brand cattle and horses, and generally become good civilized European peasants.  And Christians, of course.  Then they began to die from European diseases. Epidemics were exacerbated by people being concentrated together in one location. Infections then spread to outlying villages, carried thither by visiting Indians, and sometimes by Mexican soldiers who had no women and found it very convenient to seduce, or rape, the local girls.

It is ironic that in a certain sense the mission system was destroyed by its own success.  Creating great ranches with animal and agricultural wealth led to the natural desire of the Mexican colonists to have some of this, too. Technically, legally, all these lands of California were supposed to be held in trust for the natives, who would assume title once they had been properly Christianized and Hispanicized. However, as the Indian population shrank, the local Mexican governors and settlers and became jealous of the vast herds of cattle and horses held by the missions. The dons, who felt superior to the simple Indians, did not hesitate to take their land when it became legally possible to do so.

After Mexican independence from Spain (1821), the mission system was dissolved by decree from Mexico City, (a process assisted by the fact that most of their captive Indians had either died or run away) and the great ranchos - which had originally been created for the Indians (under control of the missions) - were given to Mexican soldiers and settlers who had served for many years with little or no pay - or who had good connections with whoever happened to be governor of the province at the time.  There is an entire history of rebellion and internecine political struggle among the Californios which we will not go into here - you may consult, say, Bancroft for the details - but suffice it to say it was a long struggle for power between the northern and the southern parts of the province, as well as between various family groups and, naturally, between locals here in California and the official center of power, so-very-far-away, in Mexico City.

In every case it was easiest to pay old debts by giving land.  Almost everyone, it seems, had served without pay on the frontier, and had a good claim for repayment by land, when no money was available.  All the ranchos - which orginally were to have been for the Indians - now became secular Mexican holdings.  These rancheros - the dons - and their children would all use the few surviving Indians (who had been trained in the ways of European civilization by the missions) as servants and ranch-hands and cowboys and farm-workers, and this, among other factors, led to continuing violence between the Indians in the mountains and the Spanish-Mexicans on the coast.  In fact, during the 1830s, the Californios pretty much abandoned any effective control or use of "their" mountain lands.

Meanwhile, the great, romantic age of ranchos (which would give birth to the myth of Zorro) began, with an economy based on the herds of cattle and horse that were driven every year to pasture in the valleys and mesas all around here. We tend to think of the great Californio dons in their silver-buttoned suits riding around on horseback and dancing all night at fandangos with women who whispered behind fans, and we forget that it was the poor little mission Indians who actually had been the first "great" ranch-owners, before their way of life was destroyed and all their land taken away. History, you should know, is written by the winners, and the Indians either all died or ran away, or learned to speak Spanish and became peons, whom not even Zorro (a myth, we repeat) could protect from the new land-owners. Nevertheless, if the truth be served, some of the rancheros could be benevolent, as long as you were a good Indian, not a bad one. Good cop, bad cop; good Indian, bad Indian; plus ca change plus la meme chose.

The ranchos, now under Mexican, not church, ownership, began selling cow-hides to Yankees who came by sea, seeking raw materials for their factories in New England.  These "Americans" bought up cattle hides by the thousand, carried them away in their sailing ships back to Boston and other northeastern towns, where tens of thousands of Irish immigrants were working for practically nothing.  The sailing ships then brought them back next year as shoes to sell to the Californios.

Every year these Yankee merchant ships sailed all the way from Massachusetts, to China and to California.  In effect they became the first floating shopping centers, and when the Californios rowed out in little boats, they went to shop right on San Diego bay, wandering between decks selecting silks and leather goods and porcelain from open trunks and caskets and boxes, and paying for it all with drafts for hundreds and hundreds of raw cowhides.  It was in those days that a cowhide was dubbed a "California banknote" by the Yankees. At first this business was technically illegal, and many times the ships had to quickly hoist sail and slip out to sea, but soon enough the American seacaptains and businessmen were marrying the daughters of local ranchowners, moving their shops right onto shore, and becomming legal residents.  Many even converted to Roman Catholicism.  Of course their obvious mercenary business interest in the resources of the province soon raised suspicions (and proverbial eyebrows) that they wanted to take over this fertile land for their own people.  In a few years' time that reality would lead to invasion from the United States and the subsequent creation of the international border, which would divide Tijuana from San Diego.

One of those ranchos given by a Mexican governor to a Spanish/Mexican family, the Arguello family, was the Rancho Tijuana. Unlike many ranchos in California, it was never actually taken over by Yankees - because most of it stayed in Mexico after the war of 1846.

There was another industry involving American shipping at this time, (1800-1846), namely the whaling ships, which slaughtered the vast oceanic cetacean herds and rendered their blubber into whale oil for lamp light at night.  This was in the days before kerosene lanterns.  There was a rendering station on Point Loma, on San Diego bay (see Dana), and the few dozen to a hundred people who actually lived in or around the Tijuana rancho would have known about it and its Hawaiian laborers.

Mexican/American war and U.S. conquest: the "border" is born.

In 1846, war came between the United States and Mexico. President Santa Ana fought and lost and was forced to surrender half the country (sold or "seceded" at point of cannon) almost half of his country.  Alta California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico thus became the "southwest".  A column of forces (most all Mormon settlers who had been headed for Utah - and Mormon dreams subsequently included San Diego as the Pacific harbour in the Holy Deseret Nation) [shut up, Dani]... where were we Mikey?  Oh yeh, the "Mormon Batallion" was sent to California as part of this war.  You can still see an impressive echo of this overland exploit in the Mormon Museum at Old Town, San Diego (exquisite propaganda) [Dani...].  Ahem.

Following the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a joint US/Mexican commission of surveyors drew the new international line just south of San Diego Bay (a very strategic harbor; that is why the border was drawn just beyond it [well, duhhh!] {will you please Shut Up already!}WHACK owwwwww).


The earliest known written record of the name appears in the old San Diego mission records of baptisms.  Of course, people had to have spoken the name for some time before it actually got written down.  But the phenomenon of spoken speech has vanished like smoke in the wind.  Only the written record remains.  We are unable to look back in time and hear the voices of the people who lived here two hundred years ago, and so we will probably never really know exactly where the name came from.  There are several stories, some incredible, others possible.

But first, what we do know is that the Indian village ("rancheria") in the valley got named on the mission archives of baptisms which Franciscan priests kept at San Diego Mission.  By Spanish law of the colonies, the mission was in charge of all the Indians' spiritual and physical welfare.  There was still no border between Tijuana and San Diego.

HISTORICAL FACTzOID: ("Baja California" started about forty some miles further south, beyond Rosarito.  From that point southward, the Dominican monks had charge of the missions of Baja California. From San Diego north, the Franciscan monks were the rulers of the missions of Alta California.) Welcome to the holy colonial empire frontier of California. Where that name came from is even again another long story we shan't tell here. There.

The official mission records from San Diego mission are the earliest extant surviving occurence of the name "Tijuana" which was written in alegedly very bad handwriting of the monks, and also several different ways, viz: "Tijuan" and "Tiajuana" and "Tijuanh" and "Taguana" and even "Llantijuan" and "Llantiguan" - (  All of these variations were presumably forms of the name of the same village, and perhaps of the river itself.

We should also point out that the Indian village of Tijuana was Not the Most Important Indian Village around here.  That honor went to a village located at the southern end of San Diego bay, about two miles north of the border. La Punta was the name of the village, and it was the capital village for all the villages around the southern end of San Diego bay.  It was there that the San Diego Mission fathers eventually built an outlying chapel to which the Tijuana Indians would have walked (7 or 8 miles) for mass. 

This large village of la Punta, presumably with their Tijuana neighbors, participated in the rebellion during which a Franciscan priest was martyred at the San Diego mission.

That question itself: of where, exactly this name "Tijuana" came from is much debated - like the question of where the word "gringo" came from.

1. "Aunt Jane"

The most popular foundational myth, which every schoolchild here, and even the-man-or-woman-in-the-street has heard, is that there once was an old Indian woman named Jane (Juana) whom everyone called "Auntie" (TIA) & this tia Juana she did cook very well much goodes foodes for ye travelers and wayfarers who crossed over the river and passed by the old rancho on horseback or in stagecoach.  So they called this place TIA-JUANA.  Ahem.  Sounds like they called Adam "man" and Eve "woe-man" eh? Another story made up to explain how something got named. We got a million of 'em, yes sir-ee, we do.  That, too, is all part of human nature, folks.  Lore persists, in spite of all the arguments of academics.

One evening at the sala de Esplandian in the library at Teniente park, the late, great Professor Vizcaino furiously laughed when we mentioned this "myth" (and I thanked God we had used the word "myth") to ask his opinion).

2. "Another" Tijuana in far southern Baja California

THEN Professor Vizcaino pointed toward another explanation favored by the scholars here, that Tijuana received its name from the earliest Spanish Mexican soldiers and priests who passed by when they saw the valley with its river and said: this looks like that place way south in the peninsula, named Tijuana, that other valley with a stream, remember? The other place has been forgotten in old archives and books, but our beloved bordertown has made quite a splash with its "borrowed" name.

3. "Ti-Kuan" = "Stinking Water" or "Near the Ocean"

There is also often mentioned possibility - also very popular among people on the street and in the cantinas - that THE NAME comes from "Tikuan" a native word perhaps meaning stinky-sulphur water.  Any tourist walking across the river pedestrian bridge and smelling the sewer will quickly agree that this is STILL a historical fact.  But that is a false derivation, because the only stinky water back then was the hot springs where the casino bath house later grew up BUT Which Fact, in fact, then lends great credibility to this story.  It is, simply, too convenient that the river now stinks.  The original stink was from the hot springs.

BUT the village of Tijuan was probably not near the hot springs, nor near the ocean.

AND FURTHERMORE It is Also Argued by Ethnolinguists that the Indians did not originally call themselves "Tijuana" - because even though the word sounds native, like Jamul or Jamacha or Cuyamaca there is apparently NO WORD like "Tijuana" in the Kumiai language.

We cannot swear to this (the word, that is, although the stink IS Real) as we do not speak the tongue - only Spanish and English and French.

4. And we make up another one: "Teguex"

detail from Novis orbis, Abraham Ortelius, courtesy Library of Congress

THERE IS, However, Another Explanation which We Ourselves have discovered and/or completely made up: Oh Reader, Look To the Fabulous and Mythical Kingdom of Teguas or Tiguex or Tejuax et al, a legendary land and city which doth appear between Cibola and Quivira on the early European maps of North America dating from the 1500s.  We kid you not.  It's really out there, often set over toward the Colorado river instead of the coast. But Ortelius draws it on the Pacific coast right where Tijuas is now. Go look for yourself.  We only saw it first.  Heh he hee... naranjas dibs.  Thanks to the Library of Congress history in maps archives for opening that book. They hold all rights of ownership except free copies. OH, we should tell you that there really are a Tiguex people... they live in New Mexico. The map is just a mistaken location. Too bad.

IN SUMMATION, then, it is a Fact that the priests at the mission San Diego (which originally "ruled" Tijuana) wrote down their baptisms and marriages and funerals of the Indians from the native village (or "rancheria" or rancho) of Tijuana or Tejuana or Tiajuana.  That much is certain: the name was used even in the earliest Mission years, before the rancho became private property.

IF THERE HAD BEEN A "Tia Juana" who gave her name to the Rancheria, Rancho, and the City, well, this woman would have been very, Very, VERY old by the time the Yankees came, in order to have give her name, eighty years before, to the Indian village.  Go figure.  Maybe there was some kind of dynasty of Tias Juanas eh?  The restaurant power was passed down from Aunt to Niece.  Hehe heh.  See how the myth is extremely durable?  We promise you this story of Aunt Jane will outlast and out-survive all our little arguments for or against.  You can even see a photograph of the "original" Tia Juana proudly displayed (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) in the Foreign Club Museum off Revolution Avenue between Third and Fourth Avenue next door to the painted Aztec Calendar copy.  Never mind that in order to have given her name to the Indian village, she would have to have been born maybe a hundred years before photography was even invented in Paris, France!  Never mind that because the woman in the picture looks like she is a hundred or two centuries old!

Then, as if to throw a monkey wrench into this entire affair, we must inform you, dear reader, that there was, in fact, a "tia" Juana, BUT that Probably She Did Not give her name to the city.

She was baptised, according to Mission records, at the age of 80 years, in 1822, that her name was Juana Piguax, and she was the "tia" (aunt) of Javier Guatar who had godfathered Apolinaria Lorenzana (who was a locally famous caregiver and nurse at the Mission).  This curious bit of "Juana" information is much commented upon by Arturo Tello Villalobos, in his book TIJUANA, el principio, su nombre y semblanzas monografica en 1930 y grafica de 1887-1945.  But in the end it is his considered opinion that she Did NOT give her name to the city.  That the name already existed, and that her being named Juana, and being an aunt, is pure coincidence.

For the record, Arturo Tello seems to favor explanation #2, as do most scholars we have spoken with.  But....

Danial and Michael would like to point out that Juana, like Jane, is a very common woman's name, and that most women on this planet are also aunts.  In fact, we ourselves have had an Aunt Jane.  Sister to Daniel's late father (and to Michael's fictive uncle), she passed in 2004.


Back in the Tijuana river valley, the earliest Mexican customs office was opened by the border, and it, or the old ranch houses up-river (near where the big bus station is now, in La Mesa) probably (no guarantees on this information) became an important stop for stagecoaches on the road between San Diego and Ensenada. 

Modern times and the birth of Tijuana tourism ("excursionism") (1880-1910).

During the California land boom of the 1880s, the border crossing at Tijuana became something more than just a stagecoach stop on the way to the Ensenada gold rush.  It became a tourist attraction in its own right, with an adobe customs house and post office (where you could get your postcards stamped with real Mexican postmarks), a cantina, one or two old stores, and occasional bullfights.  After floods definitively destroyed the first village in 1891, a new town was built across the river where downtown Tijuana still is, today.

Visit our "Excusionist" trip via postcards courtesy of Rubygro's excellent collection.

To understand this first "birth/growth" process of Tijuana as a tourist destination for U.S.Americans, one must first realize that there was a historic conjunction of factors operating on multiple levels in the United States.  Among these social and cultural processes were:

  • The novel Ramona
  • land Boom - Real Estate Sales
  • Ensenada gold rush
  • railroad speculation
  • eastern money seeking California health climate
Ramona.  The phenomenal success of Helen Hunt Jackson's novel RAMONA mostly set in San Diego County and Temecula (Philip: Link, please, here) gave birth to a development of "Ramona" tourist sites purporting to be places where actions in the (fictional) novel took place.  Thousands and thousands of travelers came west to southern California wanting to see the "Spanish" places where her romantic story of old California took place.  They believed in it just as much as people now believe in soap operas or what we read on the internet.  Danial, in fact, can remember when the Estudillo house in Old Town (San Diego) was still being touted as "Ramona's Marriage Place" - or maybe it was "Ramona's Wedding Place" - whatever, those faded words were actually still painted on the wall (in English) facing the old plaza where he played on the irrigated lawns under the eucalyptus trees after eating "Mexican" food with his mother and aunt and grandmother.  (Meanwhile, almost a hundred years before, Ms. Jackson's [and friends'] lobbying in Washington D.C. had led to the federal government "creation" of many Indian reservations in San Diego County.  [But it didn't stop the city of San Diego from taking away the land for El Capitan dam {because the king of Spain had given it to the "pueblo de San Diego", after all} ho ho.  Put that in your pipe and drink it.]  Later would come the Indian casino revenge.  There is still a drinking fountain in the grassy plaza of San Diego's Old Town state park, and children still play there.  But we digress.)

Baja California gold rush.  The northern Baja California territorial gold rush had been perking along ever since 1869, but new discoveries and designation of Ensenada as territorial capital (a position it held 1882-1915) sparked continued speculation and development, and (we assume) an increase in the number of stagecoaches (and ships) running between Ensenada and San Diego.  The (in)famous Hussong's cantina was opened in Ensenada in 1892 FYI.  [INCIDENTALLY if you have an interest in this sort of thing, you should consider visiting the Museo de las Californias historical museum in CECUT in Tijuana to view its sweet collection of artifacts and exhibits.  Then take a walking tour of downtown Ensenada to see the two or three old buildings from those days, and also from the roaring twenties.]  The stagecoaches from San Diego to Ensenada would normally cross the border almost exactly where "Puerta Mexico" is now, at San Ysidro, where the San Diego trolley stops and the pedestrians all cross over the freeway going into Mexico.  There, between the flood plain of the river and the steep foothills you can see rising above you, at the point where the stagecoaches for Ensenada crossed over the border, the first Mexican customs house was built and a tiny settlement sprang up - this was the original town, but it got destroyed by river floods - and in 1891 was relocated across the river on higher ground - where downtown is now.  But by then Tijuana was more than just a stop on the way to the Ensenada gold rush.

Railroad Speculation.  The boosters of San Diego fought a long battle to have their port city made the western terminus of the "southern route" for a railroad.  In the mid-1880s they seemed to have succeeded, when the Santa Fe Railroad made San Diego their chief terminus (actually their yards were located in National City, but in this case "close" was good enough for a cigar).  Then, the floods of 1888 destroyed the railroad between Temecula and San Diego, and the Santa Fe pulled back to Riverside and San Bernardino, where its major yards are located to this day.  You can still see a piece of the old main line at the Perris Trolley Museum (a great place to go see and ride on old trolleys from all over).  The great boom collapsed, and the golden age came screeching to an end.  However, during the heyday, "paper" railroads were being built and planned everywhere, including a train to Ensenada and San Quintin (never built, except for a few miles by the bay of San Quintin [you can still see the old dike sticking into the bay in front of the "Old Mill" complex there] oh yes).  Meanwhile back across the line, Los Angeles became the giant of the west, not San Diego, which was relegated to just being a beautiful place forever cursing LA for stealing "our" railroad etcetera.  But by that time a train line had been built to the border, and later it would continue up into the impossible mountains.  Our in-house prophet NosTRENdamus says it shall return and we will rock and rattle up to Tecate.

Eastern Money.  Following the end of the War Between the States (aka Civil War or Rebellion), a period of economic expansion (the so-called "gilded age") led to the creation of lots of new money in the hands of a few very rich and even some money in the hands of a larger group of middle class workers. Fed by this new industrial boom of the 1870s and 1880s, people from the northeastern and midwestern United States were now looking for a "healthier" climate where they might vacation, escape from cold winter or hot muggy summer, "take the cure" or even permanently relocate. 

IN THE MIDST OF ALL THOSE SOCIOCULTURAL FACTORS, travelers came to San Diego.  Once they had arrived by train, stagecoach or ship, they could visit the beaches, tour the local sites, arrange for a longer trip to Ensenada, or just make a day-visit (an "excursion") to "Olde Mexico" at "Tia Juana."  Visitors were called "excursionists" in those first decades of Tijuana tourism, the 1880s and 90s and early 1900s. You can go check'em out in old postcards here if you like.

The residents of Tijuana began to realize that there was money to be made here.  First there had been the travelers passing by on their way to Ensenada, but now there was a wave of visitors who just wanted to cross over the line with real money, visit this spot on the edge of Mexico for the day, and buy a quick "Mexican" experience — shopping, eating, bullfighting, gambling, drinking, music, dancing.  The few early residents at the border were happy to oblige them with their small shops and cafes.  But there was a problem of who actually owned the land where the little border village was built.  (FYI the question of land title in Baja California is still a real concern. People have spent lifetimes stealing it from each other, if you can believe the stories they tell us flying over in airplanes dropping bags of white powder to mark their suddenly acquisitions or maybe they were making that up.)

Ahem where were we? Oh yes... technically all the land around here belonged to the old rancho of Tijuana, i.e. the heirs of the Arguello family.  But lots of people had just squatted down and built houses, and besides, there were now several sons and daughters and they all had their own families bitching at them sweetly and jealously the way different families ALways Do, and some of them had bought and sold their separate interests and On Top of That the government of Porfirio Diaz had even at one time declared someone else to be the owner of the land, and... believe it or not this little wrinkle ended up in a major lawsuit in the late 1960s and 70s that could have had portions of the entire city actually being owned by some damn half-foreign group that finally settled for a big payoff, which we still don't quite believe is true but we read it in a book so it must be true, so there.

Get the picture? Complicated. Anyway, back at the beginning, following some negotiation and a careful division of the different pieces of the rancho lands, the first "town" became "legal" per an 11 July 1889 agreement.  Never mind that by then the land boom of the 1880s was over kawham the bubble had burst. No, never mind, because there were still tourists coming west from the east and midwest and they almost always popped down to the border to see Mexico. That date, July 11, is now celebrated as the founding date of Tijuana &madah; even though, remember, a town/village had already existed and been wiped out by floods several times already. But in terms of legal nicety, well, the contract for land division is as good a date as any. It's all words anyway. What matters is that people believe and act in good faith. And now... as before... they did and do.

Yes. But the first little town of huts was located in the river valley close to where you cross the border now.  It was, however, periodically damaged, and then destroyed, by floods, and after one particularly monstrous inundation (on 28 February 1891, our sources indicate) the town leaders decided to rebuild their little village on the large flat space above the river, where downtown (el centro) is today.  This new old town is the one you will see in most old photographs and postcards, like these portrayed hereabouts, thanks to Rubygro's impressive collection.

The turn of the century, 1890-1910, thus saw the creation of Tijuana as a touristic destination for visitors from the United States, who were, in those days, called "excursionists," and who "came down to Tia Juana" to experience a bit of Mexican culture.  AND Remember, all that was BEFORE prohibition ReaLLy popped the cork!

Furthermore, the nearby (five miles south of the border) natural hot springs of Agua Caliente (haunted like many places of sacred weird water on this world) also became a tourist attraction for travelers who came seeking "the cure" (a tradition still prevalent over a century later in Tijuana, what with inexpensive and alternative doctors, dentists and pharmacies here).  The hot springs at Agua Caliente later became famous as the site for the fabulous Casino Hotel Gambling Spa which was erected there in 1928.  But we are only slightly getting ahead of ourselves.

For, already, other forces were at play which would create a different reputation.  The "dark legend" - la leyenda negra - of Tijuana as a city of vice and permissiveness, was about to burst upon the scene - a legend which would make Tijuana famous in the eyes of both Mexico and the United States, and later, the entire world.

How did this explosion happen? Well, from the 1890s to 1919, reformers over in the States passed laws against vice, namely prostitution, gambling, horse-racing and finally "recreational" (to use a postmodern word) alcohol.  This process of banning the legal practice of ancient sins in the United States went hand in hand with the development of Tijuana as a city where U.S.Americans - especially Californians - could escape the restrictions of laws back home, attend a bullfight, gamble, bet on horse races, even legally purchase the use of a prostitute.

The San Diego Historical Society's Journal of San Diego History has published an informative study on the first steps in this process of sin-business before prohibition (1920), and its subsequent development into the roaring twenties; this article (when their website is are up and running) can be found on line at http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/2002-3/frontier.htm that address.

The "Magonista" Filibuster : alias "Tijuana Revolution" of 1910.

Then, in the midst of this transformation from frontier village to sin city, came the curious events of 1910, when a band of mostly foreign adventurers (by "foreign" we mean they were NOT Mexicans), actually attacked and occupied the town of Tijuana.  It is difficult to see through the smoke of noise and opinionated name-calling, but it does appear that many of these alleged "revolutionaries" were soldier-of-fortune radical activists or professed socialists (we warned you about name-calling), and furthermore, that they would have agreed with Mao Tse Tung that power flows from the barrel of a gun (well, it does, but the problem is not the gun, but the man or woman behind it).  Furthermore, although (it is said that) they were mostly Not Mexicans, this band of filibusteros (to use the Mexican word) claimed to be acting in the name of two Mexican activists, the Magon brothers. 

The brothers Magon were outspoken critics of the then dictator President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, who had held power over Mexico for forty some years, right up to 1910, when (not coincidentally) the real Mexican Revolution began. 

The fake Tijuana "revolution" was crushed within weeks, the revolutionists fled across the river and were arrested by the U.S. Army.  It made for glorious newspaper headlines and... some conspiracy theorists wink at that fact.

All the sources we have read agree that the Magon brothers NEVER came to Tijuana to lend a hand, even though at the time they were just up the road in Los Angeles.  We are still researching reasons why they refused to "support" the "revolution" effected in Baja California in their name.  It should be noted, however, that they had experienced previous difficulties with the United States government (they were living in the U.S. in exile from the Diaz regime), and had even been imprisoned in Arizona.  Perhaps, as the saying goes, they decided not to rock the boat.  We are ashamed as Americans to admit that the U.S. government supported the Diaz regime for the simple reason that he delivered results, i.e. a peaceful business climate, no matter his methods and anti-democratic, and anti-republican, reality.  Furthermore, it is a fact that the United States (once again) invaded Mexico during the revolution, chasing Pancho Villa around the north in 1915, and attacking and occupying the gulf port of Veracruz in 1914.  We U.S.Americans may conveniently forget this truth, but the Mexicans have not.  When you live next door to big brother, you keep your eyes open.

But, to return to our subject (the growth of this border city and its image/reputation), it is another curious fact (noted in the San Diego Historical Society study) that the filibustering Magonist rebels who occupied Tijuana and northern Baja California made sure to take their cut from the gambling halls and saloons already in action.

Eventually the "revolutionary" filibusteros were defeated and chased out of town by a coalition of federal forces and locals.  There remains ENORMOUS controversy among historians and intellectuals in Tijuana To This VERY Day about all of these brief events and you should NOT Believe Anything We Say Here.

The real Mexican Revolution, meanwhile, along with subsequent "civil war" type struggle, continued for almost another ten years, had no direct effect on Tijuana.  The majority of the battles of the war were fought on the mainland of central and northern Mexico.  One real effect was a sort of refugee-phenomenon or syndrome, whereby thousands of people moved north to escape the fighting, and many passed through Tijuana, headed for Los Angeles and the Central Valley.  A few of them, however, stopped, settled here on the border, and contributed to the growth of this city in the early 1900s.

The city of Tijuana itself suffered from the "refugee syndrome" as it found itself again cut off from the internal struggles for power in central Mexico, and was forced to look more and more toward Los Angeles in the north, rather than south toward the capital, Mexico City.  This is the curse of living on the frontier, next door to a giant other.

The Mexican Fair of 1915

It seems to us, imaginatively looking back and inventing explanations, that the attention cast upon Tijuana by the filibuster "revolution" would not diminish its draw as a tourist site, any more than book scandals reduce the number of readers.  Au contraire - if anything, we imagine it enhanced the fame of Tijuana, gave it lots of free publicity.  Furthermore, the successful expulsion of the filibusteros by local fighters and federal troops could reinforce the appearance that this truly was "Mexico" - just over there, across the line, was another country - the very same attraction of the other that still draws tourists "down" from L.A. and San Diego, and has them ooohing and ahhhing out of the trolley windows when they see the huge Mexican flag floating on the hill above town, across the river.  Look, Mommy, we're really going to Mexico.

San Diego, meanwhile, was gearing up to host an international exposition in the City Park (now to be renamed Balboa Park).  In keeping with the fascination of the period with "romantic Spanish history" of California, the exposition buildings were designed to be modern reproductions of "Spanish/Mexican" architecture.  (Many have since been reconstructed and now form the Balboa Park museum core - some of the crown jewels of San Diego.)  Tijuana, not to be left behind, and in order to take advantage of the crowds of visitors expected to come to San Diego, now created the largest touristic construction to date, a complex of shops and displays that was called the "Mexican fair."  It was located at the corner of 2nd & B (now Constitution), on a site later occupied by the original Municipal Palace (now headquarters for the City Arts and Culture Institute [IMAC] and is currently (2004-2005) under reconstruction (closed).

You will also note that by this date (1916) the first bridge over the river had been constructed (if we can believe the evidence of postcards, which were tinted and painted and even fabricated and in this sense rather like precursors to modern graphic manipulation by newspapers, magazines and internet scamdlers [MIkey: Look! Just invented a word!].... bridge had been constructed.

The first bridge over the river was a wooden beam and trestle affair that rocked and rolled as wagons and cars and trucks passed over it.  The thumping and reverberating ride gave the bridge its nickname: "La Marimba" - no kidding!  After paying a toll and then jerking and rumbling across its narrow (ONE LANE ONLY) passage, travelers no doubt thrilled just to reach the far side and rattle up the hill into town: there - see the old road going uphill into town from the river?  That is old Avenida Puente Mexico (or First Street), where you can still walk uphill from the river to Revolution Avenue along beautiful new pedestrian-only red-and-yellow cement walkways specially designed for spiritual harmonic convergence.  (We are NOT kidding, that IS what we were told by another gringo who knows the architect.  (Oh Yeah, SURE, DANNY, and I know a friend who knows a friend who knew a lady who put the Proctor Valley monster baby in her microwave dog.)

Here's a couple photos of the old bridge, taken maybe ten years after it was built.  People still line up in their cars waiting to cross over the border, by the way, which leads to truly savvy visitors using time/space strategy over when and how and where to cross either north or south.

The First Tijuana Race Track and the Floods of 1916

We have already mentioned, above, that the process had begun whereby Tijuana was to become famous as a city of sin and permissiveness.  By the time of the "Magonista" filibuster, it was already well known as a place where one could gamble and indulge in sexual pleasures (another kind of gambling altogether, health-wise).

Horse-racing was also illegal in California (and would be until the 1930s).  In 1916, a huge racetrack was opened barely a couple hundred yards south of the border crossing, located roughly across from where Pueblo Amigo now sits.  There was regular train service between San Diego and the border, and the race track was an immediate success.  Its bar/restaurant, the Monte Carlo, became a very popular watering hole.

But this was also the year that the City Council of San Diego hired a rainmaker, Charles Hatfield, who promised them he would fill the new reservoir in the mountains - Lake Morena.  Whether or not he actually made it rain is moot.  What matters is that it did rain.  And rain.  And rain.  The floods of 1916 were huge, historic, almost biblical in scope.  Bridges were washed away, dams burst (not Morena, however, it simply got filled up), farms and fields in valleys obliterated, etcet.  And the racetrack was half-destroyed. 

Hatfield came before the San Diego City Council to ask for his payment, and the Council told him they would pay him the fee agreed upon if he would agree to pay for all the damage caused by the storms.  He declined, and wisely left town before a necktie party in his honor could be convened.

The racetrack, meanwhile, was rebuilt, and soon was once again immensely popular not only among the racing crowd, but also as a topic for Sunday sermons which were now vehemently preached all across San Diego, as a vast hue and cry went up to heaven against the evils of horseracing and gambling and all that carousing that went on "down there" in Tijuana.

Eventually this first big track was abandoned, due to repeated flood damage, not to mention competition from another group of investors who, in 1928, opened the Agua Caliente Casino and Hotel, and one year later, the soon-to-be-world-famous Caliente Race Track (which, although rebuilt and no longer running horses, only dogs, still exists.  The older Tijuana track up by the border gate, however, did have one further role to play in local history: when the U.S. deported many thousands of Mexicans during the great depression, some of them settled in Tijuana and founded the colonia (neighborhood) known as Libertad, immediately uphill of the old race track.  Some of their first homes were constructed in the abandoned stables and other buildings of the track, which buildings being on the foot of the hills, had escaped the river's floods.

The racetrack greatly contributed to the growth of the dark legend - la leyenda negra - was, by 1916, already well underway.  This reputation would advance to the next level three years later, in 1919-20, when prohibition made alcohol illegal in the States; a constitutional amendment, nothing less, that took effect on January 1, 1920.  For Tijuana, that one change "threw the house out of the window" (a Mexican saying).

The Golden Age of Prohibition - la ley seca (the dry law)

What goes up, must come down (a Newtonian saying), and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction (ditto).  By the time prohibition took effect in 1920, enterprising gringos had been coming "down" to Tijuana to get together with other enterprising Mexicans in order to make money off of other gringos who more and more were coming to Tijuana not as "excursionists" looking for Mexican culture, but as extraterritorial sinners who wanted to buy, legally, what was illegal "on the other side" - a process which had begun with bullfights and gambling, then advanced into horse-racing and prostitution.

But then the holy grail was delivered into these "illegal" businessmen's hands.  The "golden age" of Tijuana sin-tourism began in earnest with "la ley seca" - "the dry law" - the really big enchilada - alcohol prohibition in the United States. 

Overnight, thousands upon thousands of Californians were suddenly driving down from Los Angeles for a beer, or three, or ten.

This period coincided almost perfectly with the "Roaring Twenties", but dragged on into the middle thirties.  Although alcoholic beverages became legal once again in the United States in 1933, Tijuana was somewhat insulated against the great depression by the continuing gambling and horse-racing activities.  At least until 1938, when casinos were banned by Presidential decree.  Between these two bookend years, the beginning of the dry law in the States in 1920, and the ending of "legal" gambling in Tijuana in 1938, this little border city experienced its "golden age."

We kid you not: it was, or at least is now spoken of as being, "the golden age of Tijuana tourism."  Like most golden ages, wild and fantastic tales are told of its wonderful days.  It was in those days that all the gifts of modern civilization rained down on Tijuana like manna from heaven.  Or at least, that is the popular legend.  Paved streets, beautiful schools and hospitals, street lights, telephones, electricity, running water, needle & thread, bread and butter, ice cubes, automobiles and trucks and lions and tigers and bears oh my, all the great and goodly gifts of god Mammon progress came sprinkling down from the heaven of Hollywood like sacred blood from the hands of some feathered priest painted on a wall down in Teotihuacan.  But we exagerrate just to show you how insidious is the story of legend and myth, especially since there are still people alive who remember those days.  Some of them were even one or two years old at the time!  There are also books written by some who were older and wiser, and they, too, echo with paeans of praise for the golden age.

It is also true that in those years a special relationship was forged between the new Tijuana and another new world city (or state of mind): Hollywood.  With the sudden development of the film industry in the sunny climes of southern California, an imaginary heaven called Hollywood became a new center of money and more money and still more money, and here, "at Tia Juana in olde Mexico," the filmmakers found one of their favorite and most convenient playgrounds wherein to spend their nouveau riches dollars.  That was why the string of casino hotels was built in Agua Caliente, Rosarito, Ensenada and Mexicali (you can still visit their old refurbished ruins in Rosarito and Ensenada).  Go ahead.  Have some fun.  And shed a tear for the destruction of Agua Caliente.

Tijuana's main street in 1923.

In the Roaring Twenties the little old west frontier town suddenly and explosively boomed into a much more happening and jumping place.  In a word, it grew.  And so did its image.  Already, in this photograph from 1923, you can see that the old west town has almost disappeared.  Even bigger changes were in the works.

The old Bank Building on the northwest corner of 2nd and Revolution.

Physically, the changes wrought in the years from 1920-1938 were nothing short of monumental.  All up and down the main street new buildings were raised, some of which can still be admired today.  This "main street" is now called Revolution Avenue - Avenida Revolución, but in the late 1920s it was named Obregon, and it has always had another simpler name, "A Avenue".

Yes, nowhere was this change from old west town to 20th century city more obvious than along the main street.  Here, for example, on this card from the late 1930s, shooting west from the corner of 2nd and Revolution, you can see the very corner where "The Big Store" used to stand.  In its place has been raised a beautiful arched bank building (it is now [2005] HSBC Bank).  Diagonally across the intersection is the old Hotel Commercial where the Cafe Caesar originally was housed, before moving up the avenue to the corner of 5th and turning into its own hotel. The Hotel Commercial building (still standing, and now neatly giving access to a huge supermarket tucked behind it) was next door to the world's longest bar (you can see it in the old postcard, but it is no longer there).

The old Commercial Building the southeast corner of 2nd and Revolution.

Downtown Tijuana thus found herself transformed from old west town to a strip of business blocks, gambling salons (both fancy & seedy) and drinking saloons (with some well-dressed clubs).  But one thing remained the same: you still had to cross the river from the border gate in order to get into town.  Except that by now the first bridge had been built, and visitors were more and more driving their own cars across the border, over the bumpy wooden bridge across the river, and up the little hill into town.

The road up from the river bridge to the corner of First and A.

The choices of where to spend your money were truly splendiferous and multitudinous.  You could just stop at the Mexicali Beer Garden there on the corner after coming up from the river.  You could go another block up the street and hang out at the world's longest bar: the original Ballena, seen here inside, its reallllyyyyy long barrrrr stretching off toward infinity.  Or you could go another two blocks up the street to the realllyyyy swanky Foreign Club (no Negroes or Mexicans allowed!)

For, lest we forget, this "golden age" also marked the rising (sinking) to a new, exponentially radioactive level in the development of Tijuana's world-renowned legend - the dark legend - la leyenda negra - its rePUTAtion as a center of drinking and gambling and prostitution.  We speak of nothing less here than the indentity/image with which the very name, Tijuana, of this suddenly exploded metropolis, was branded and still is still is still is branded - but now in the 21st century with drugs and murder and kidnapping (see the movie "Traffic" for the latest vision and revision before the taking of a toast and tea).  What's the matter, can't you see the great good business going on around this place?

From 1910 onward, this reputation became paramount, triumphing completely over the earlier vision of "olde Mexico on the frontier" - and military governors were appointed by Mexico City who came north to "take their cuts" as it were from the Yankee criminals, excuse me, "businessmen" of vice, until the reformist president Lazaro Cardenas shut down the casinos in 1938, effectively ending the golden age and finally plunging Tijuana into the great depression - (from which it had been trying to hide for almost nine years already).  There are still old families in Tijuana who whisper that Cardenas was bribed by Las Vegas mobsters, but... well, everyone and his bastard brother, it seems, has a conspiracy theory - just like every city has its legends of underground tunnels.  (Here they are under the school that was built on top of the ruins of the casino.  Danial has talked with former students who swear they have actually been in them.  Some legends are true.)

Nevertheless, we honestly believe this Las Vegas bribery theory is even less probable than the existence of "Aunt Jane," because, (we believe, but what do we know, eh?) in 1938 Las Vegas was still nothing but a town next to a great big dam on the Colorado River, out there in the middle of nowhere, not yet even a gleam in Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo Eye.  Back then, the U.S. mobsters were betting on Cuba, far, far away.  Or maybe, once again, WE Are Wrong How the worm doth turn, eh?  We been wrong before in the game of "ASSUME" assume making an a$$ outa yew & me, and one of our most admired fellow writers here (we stabbed each other in the back and exiled ourselves forever until hell freezes over [but it already is, according to Dante] ahemoron) once swore that a certain horse was running at Agua Caliente two years before he was even born!  So excuse us if we question our own "common wisdom everyone knows bull$h|t" ahem moron.

Howsomeever it may be, we CAN see, AGAIN, here how myth is MORE important than the facts.  But Again, you should not trust us: we admire Cardenas in spite of all.  Must be the PuritanAbolitionistProgressive streak squeaking in us little mice at the keyboards yes.

But, returning to our subject of vice, well, broad and straight is the path which leads to destruction, and the tradition of partying in TJ was reawakened and carried on into mid-century by American soldiers and sailors during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, who seemed to enjoy having w#ore$ sit on their faces, and thus left their marks upon the history, geography, bars and women of Tijuana in what is sometimes called the "silver age" of tourism.  Too many of them (even one would have been too many) were killed and maimed in the wars and so, ever gringo, we drink to them in gratitude for our freedom to write whatever the hail we want - except for respelling words so the censorrobots won't so easily snatch us up quite.  *Sigh* every silver cloud has a dark lining it seems... yes....

All the while, behind the glitz and glitter of gold and silver, millions of Mexican workers have continued crossing north - both with and without legal documents - into the U.S., looking for work.  But many have stayed here, in Tijuana, either by choice or deportation, to work in the postmodern mass sprawl of maquiladora factories, and fill the ex-rancho valleys and hills with houses and shacks, creating a border megalopolis where "one world becomes another" and sociologists trumpet their discovery of the future.  Applause, please.  We're almost done with this ancient history....

The environment where this all began, meanwhile, is very typical California geography & ecology.  A variable river, wet in winter, then half-dry in summer, reaches toward the sea.  Life comes from rain that flows down jagged canyons from the mountains to the ocean seeking valleys of the coast.  Here, in that valley, our modern human powers draw a line in sand: the border.

south San Diego on the left, Tijuana on the right

This is the place where the old rancho in the valley has grown from open land into giant city.  Two million souls live here now (to the right of the border on the picture above).  But that is new.  Very new.  A hundred years ago there were many, many fewer people.

Along the modern border, where the peninsula of Baja California is breaking loose from her continent America, the onetime Kumiai universe is presented in the picture from space above.  You can thus get an idea of how wild the "back country" is -- a mix of flat places, steep peaks, and jagged canyon gorges.  That is the world where immigrants risk their lives to get around the new Berlin wall built by the United States in the name of fear, freedom, and cheap labor.  Perhaps we better not go there.

Part Two of TJ Maptext -- The River

gringo tijuanense


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Tijuana Mapatext
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un meandro historico y geografico

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