A sculpture in a min-park built over a former municipal jail in downtown Tijuana. It was torn down years ago to make way for a park.
A sculpture in a min-park built over a former municipal jail in downtown Tijuana. It was torn down years ago to make way for a park. / Photo by Estefany Maya for Tijuana Design Week

Summertime brings out the cultural crowds in Tijuana, and this weekend  promises an exceptional range of offerings, with open-air opera performances, a literary fair and a series of events featuring the city’s design scene.

That they are taking place at all seem acts of sheer will. Organizers have struggled with scarce funding. They are pulling through because of private sponsors, donations,volunteers, and varying degrees of support from the city, state and federal governments.

If you want to get a feel for the city’s cultural vibes, here are three events with numerous activities that are a short taxi or uber ride from the U.S. border. They are sure to bring out local crowds – and offer a window into a city where artists, writers and musicians continue to strive and create, no matter what the challenges.

Tijuana Design Week

An abandoned beachside scene in Playas de Tijuana.
An abandoned beachside scene in Playas de Tijuana. / Photo by Estefany Maya/Tijuana Design Week

Members of the region’s design community are preparing for the city’s first design week – packed into two days – that celebrates the region’s offerings.

Tijuana Design Week takes place Saturday and Sunday in a variety of venues in or near the downtown area. It includes 10 talks, an exhibit showcasing pieces by 24 designers, a tour of downtown Tijuana, a networking lunch and a dance event.

Graphic designer Katalina Silva, one of the lead organizers and co-founder of the Tijuana firm Enigma Creative, hopes the event will build dialogues and raise public awareness in the city about the importance of design. 

“It’s a showcase of how design can approach and solve things we don’t think about,” said Silva.

Kicking off activities Saturday with a Creative Mornings talk is Marcela Guadiana, a graphic designer with the INSITE arts initiative. Other speakers will include social anthropologist Max Matus of the Colegio de la Frontera Norte; Don Norman, founding member of the Design Lab at University of California San Diego; Franko Rosas, a Tijuana designer based in Amsterdam. The San Diego-Tijuana chapter of the American Institute for Graphic Arts is one of the event’s supporters, and several San Diego designers are scheduled to speak.

Tijuana Design Week comes just months before the launch of the year-long World Design Capital 2024 activities, which will celebrate the relationship between Tijuana and San Diego and the role of design in the two cities. 

The talks are predominantly in Spanish, with simultaneous translation into English. Most events are free, but with limited space and seating, registration is required through links on the website.

Tijuana Book Fair

After a three-year hiatus, the Tijuana book fair is back. One of the city’s major cultural events, Feria del Libro Tijuana runs from Friday to July 16 at the Tijuana Cultural Center (Cecut). This year’s edition honors the 19th century French author Jules Verne, known for books such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days. 

Organizers expect some 60,000 people to attend this year’s event, which is spearheaded by Tijuana’s Union de Libreros, the  booksellers association, with federal, state and municipal support. The fair was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and then again last year due to lack of funding. 

The schedule offers a rich and diverse range of subjects and writers, both national and regional, with a handful of participants from San Diego.

Among the well-established Mexican writers are author Enrique Cerna, fiction writer Cristina Rivera Garza, Alejandro Almazan, a three-time winner of Mexico National Journalism Prize. Another writer and political commentator, Hector de Mauleon, will be on panel with a former Tijuana police chief, Alberto Capella. 

The  festival also features a new generation of Mexican writers, who are making their voices heard, said Leobardo Sarabia, the festival’s literary director. Also featured will be local writer Daniel Salinas, a journalist and author.

The cross-border region is a running theme. 

“This region is a fundamental part of the fair,” Sarabia said. “There are plays, narratives, reviews of the effect of the pandemic on the lives or writers, where San Diego inevitably appears.”

The book fair will include an extensive artistic program, with dance, theater, concerts, oral narratives. Featured performers include Los Moonlights, Contracuerpo, Ballet Folklorico Yolihuani and Rapero Dream Eater.

Opera Festival

Soprano Carla Portillo performs at Opera en la Calle last year in the opera I Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo. Photo courtesy of Opera de Tijuana

As Tijuana’s Opera en la Calle celebrates its 20th year, thousands are expected for a day-long musical celebration in Colonia Libertad on Saturday, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods perched above the U.S. border near the San Ysidro border crossing.

The music starts at 2 p.m. and runs until midnight on Calle Quinta, or Fifth Street just off Avenida Aquiles Serdan. The event typically draws a broad audience, including some opera lovers from San Diego, who converge on this residential street. This year, organizers have been painting the facades of several houses to create a festive air.

Opera en la Calle opens with a parade of drummers, stilt walkers, and living statues. 

The grand finale, scheduled for 10 p.m., will be a performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera Elixir of Love directed by the Italian conductor Alfredo Sorichetti with the Tijuana Opera’s Jose Medina as stage director and tenor Mario Canela in the lead role of Nemorino. 

In between will be a range of events – children’s choruses and youth orchestras from some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods to accomplished performers, including local singers who grew up attending Opera en la Calle.

The festival was first held in 2004 and has returned to Colonia Libertad annually, except for 2020 and 2021, when it was held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Opera has become less and less foreign to people, we’ve created audiences,” said Maria Teresa Rique, founder and director of Opera de Tijuana. “There are many children and young people who have been inspired by the festival to study music, to learn an instrument or take voice lessons.”

Full programming will be posted this week on the Tijuana Opera’s Facebook page.

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1 Comment

  1. Tijuana is the “city” where the mayor has to live on an army base because of death threats right? Where they find vans full of corpses? You think we should go there?

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