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The neighborhood of Colonia Nueva Esperanza, along the dirt roads of Cañón del Padre, once a farming area in Tijuana, Mexico, is now home to a warehouse owned by one of the wealthiest companies in the world, Amazon. Its presence has invoked controversy and questions over what it means for a multinational company to set itself in an area that is vastly underdeveloped, marginalized and historically ignored.
Box-like structured homes surround the new Amazon warehouse, which is the company’s second location in Northern Mexico, as it competes against other online companies like Argentina’s Mercado Libre (Latin America’s answer to Amazon and the region’s booming e-commerce trade).
As Amazon aims to expand further into Mexico to capture the middle class, its Tijuana warehouse is just a half-hour drive from its San Diego fulfilment center in Otay Mesa, which is currently hiring 1,500 workers at $15 an hour.
For many residents living near the Amazon Tijuana warehouse, it’s seen as both an opportunity for locals to make higher wages, but also a warning sign. Many of the residents worry that they’ll eventually be displaced, their dignity sacrificed in the name of progress, while others expressed a sense of cautious optimism.
I was recently able to photograph and speak to three people in the surrounding area who now must live in the shadow of Amazon’s new warehouse.
Lidia Davalos, 38, originally from Sinaloa, Mexico, lives in Tijuana with her husband and children. One of her kids, Jorge, works as a custodian cleaning the Amazon warehouse. Davalos thinks the company is a “good thing for the community” and gives residents the chance to find stable work.
“My son was lucky to get a job in Amazon,” she said. “It’s difficult to find work here, especially when you have to cross the river here in Tijuana that is not connected to the colonia.”
Davalos, who is a stay-at-home mom and sells homemade food, feels Amazon may make the neighborhood a place where people can improve themselves and renew their area.
However, Davalos said she did feel bad for the people living on these dirt roads because many do not hold any rights to their properties and may be removed if the company expands further into their colonia.
“Many don’t have the basics like running water, a sewage system or electricity, like we do. I just hope that Amazon does not remove people from their homes,” Davalos said. “That would be very sad.”
Pedro Arana Mesa, 67, has lived in Tijuana for almost his entire life. Before Amazon built its warehouse in the neighborhood, it was a farm area owned by the Garcia family, called Rancho los Garcia, where Mesa lived and worked as a farmer.
He lived and worked for 35 years at the ranch, where the Garcia family would allow him and other select workers inside their property. The ranch was known as an area that stabled horses and farm equipment, and grew crops like cilantro, radishes and other vegetables that would be sold domestically in Mexico.
“For a long time, I had a home and a place to work at the ranch, until the owner sold the land and then I had to go,” he said. “They took me out of the area but did pay me something for my troubles, $2,000 dollars to live off … and to move. Most people that worked with me did not end up as fortunate and got nothing to move out of the property.”
But even with the money meant for his removal, Mesa can’t afford to buy his own home. Instead, he rents out a small place nearby, where he lives and works as a cheesemaker. His son also lives in the area.
While Mesa is wary of the changes happening to the colonia, he is optimistic that this is a good development for people living in Nueva Esperanza. He’s even hopeful, like the name of his neighborhood implies.
“Hopefully there will be more work for us here and opportunity for a colonia that is of modest means and in need of a leg up,” he said. “I just thank the owner of Amazon for bringing us jobs. A man as rich as him (Jeff Bezos) could have invested his money anywhere but he decided to do it here and for that we are thankful.”
Claudia Patrica Torres, 35, grew up watching her father work on the fields of Rancho los Garcia, where he took care of the horses in the stables and tended to the land.
“My father’s life was the ranch, he worked every day on those fields until he retired. Now I take care of him along with my two daughters,” Torres said.
Torres, who is a stay-at-home mom and caretaker for her father, lives above what now is Amazon Tijuana’s ever expanding property that goes beyond just Colonia Nueva Esperanza. The company is also moving into a neighborhood with five holdover bare homes, whose tenants, Torres said, have clung to their lands in the face of eviction threats.
As she looked out from her family home to a straight-on view of the new Amazon warehouse, Torres said she worries that her family would be forced out of her home because of the new developments by the company.
“They have not threatened us directly with eviction but we have seen how other houses in the neighborhood have been sidelined to move or worse have destroyed their homes because they want to develop the land. I just don’t want that to happen to us, “ she said.
Even with the fear of not knowing if they could be possibly evicted from their home, Torres said it would be a welcome change to have jobs in the area and if she had the chance to work for the company she would.
“For us, it would be good to have jobs again here, especially after the Garcias left and sold the ranch. There have been no stable jobs that are close by for people. If I could, I would apply to work at Amazon.”
As I closed my notebook and was beginning to leave Torres’ home, her father mentioned that if Amazon did want to remove them from the property, he would only be happy to do so if they paid his family to relocate into a home, where they can live decently after years of work.
Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment by Voice of San Diego via e-mail to their public relations department, but the company has said in a statement released to BBC News that it’s working toward the development of Mexico and the communities surrounding where its company operates.
“Since our arrival in Mexico we have generated more than 15,000 jobs in the country and now we are adding 250 in Tijuana, creating job opportunities with competitive salaries and benefits for all our employees,” the statement reads.
According to data provided by Amazon, the new warehouse in Tijuana is one of 11 completed distribution centers in Mexico.
Still, it is far from certain how these families’ lives will be impacted as this towering ecommerce juggernaut keeps expanding.
For the residents of Colonia Nueva Esperanza, in the meantime, the new warehouse is a mixed blessing where only time will tell if it’s actually helping one of Tijuana’s most impoverished areas and the workers inside, or the company’s bottomline.