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You can’t have a border discussion in Carlsbad.
That’s why Wednesday night’s installment of Meeting of the Minds, our popular arts and culture event highlighting San Diego’s creative world, was held as close to the border as we could get.
The event at The Front in San Ysidro marked the first time VOSD culture contributor and self-proclaimed “child of the border” Alex Zaragoza hosted.
The event highlighted some of the most exciting cultural developments happening just across the border. And the timing, frankly, couldn’t be better.
Our border is having a moment. Following years of stalled tourism due to the violent drug wars, locals took matters into their own hands, and, in a way, created a new Tijuana – reimagining boarded-up spaces and turning them into creative zones to showcase arts and culture in Mexico’s fifth largest city.
“When the New York Times is coming down to Tijuana to experience what’s going on and publications and media outlets all over the world are excited and trying to get on the Tijuana train, you know that you’re experiencing something special,” Zaragoza said.
Here are some of the highlights:
Derrick Chinn, a gringo from Ohio, kicked things off. He started a not-your-average tourism company that began with some authentic trips for his friends who were too afraid to visit him in his adopted city. Soon, he was showing strangers around too, and that’s how Turista Libre was born. Chinn said Tijuana represents the “champion of image problems” – a city that’s widely misunderstood and whose vast cultural offerings go unnoticed by many people in San Diego. He highlighted new spaces built out of the recent revitalization of the city, as well as spaces he believes are opportunities to be repurposed.
Monica Arreola of 206 Arte Contemporaneo, a gallery she co-directs in the heart of Tijuana, highlighted a few of the alternative art spaces that have sprouted from unused commercial spaces. Many of the spots that were once used to sell giant sombreros and other tourist souvenirs are now showcasing the work of local artists at bookstores, art galleries and bars.
Karla Navarro grew up in the seaside town of Ensenada and studied culinary arts in Tijuana, where she now works as a chef (check out her drool-worthy food pics). Drawing comparisons to the way the French experience the culinary offerings of the land and sea, she highlighted Tijuana’s emergence on the food and wine scene. European wine-makers have even brought their grapes to make award-winning wines in a Baja valley that is quickly becoming the Napa of Mexico.
Zully Martinez from the Opera de Tijuana, a nonprofit dedicated to sharing the arts with Tijuana residents and their kids, showcased the unique way the group incorporates the community into their work. Every summer it hosts Opera en la Calle, taking performances to the streets.
Martinez had some help for her presentation – two Opera de Tijuana performers emerged from the audience for a surprise performance.
Bennett Peji, a Filipino immigrant who crosses the border multiple times every week, highlighted the changes made to San Ysidro, the busiest land border crossing in the world. He also shared an app developed by UCSD students that uses user-reported data to reveal border wait times in real time.