Members of the Minerva Tapia Dance Group performing “Danza indocumentada” at the Joyce Theatre in Manhattan in 2009. / Photo by Juan Cedeño.

Since she was a little girl growing up in Tijuana’s Colonia Cacho, dance and the border have been constants in Minervia Tapia’s life. They form the foundation of her decades-long career as a contemporary dancer and choreographer.  

Now they are the subject of her book, “Danzas y frontera, or Dances and the Border, published in Spanish by the Centro Cultural Tijuana. The book is based on her 2014 Ph.D. thesis at University of California Riverside. It looks at her own choreography work, and of others in the region.

Crossing Is a Way of Life

Born in Tijuana, Tapia is a lifelong transfronteriza – someone for whom crossing the border is a way of life.

She prefers the term “regular border crosser” to describe herself, part of the community of tens of thousands of people who routinely cross back and forth between Tijuana and San Diego. In “Danzas y frontera,” Tapia focuses on a tiny minority of this population – contemporary dancers who cross the border – and how this experience is reflected in the dances they create and perform. 

I listened to her speak about this phenomenon last week in Tijuana at Colegio de la Frontera Norte, where she joined a panel of border scholars on Thursday to discuss her book. When the discussion ended, three young dancers rose from the audience, exploding into movement as they performed two of Tapia’s pieces.

The next morning, I met Tapia over coffee in a Chula Vista bookstore. We alternated between English and Spanish. We talked about danzas fronterizas. But also about her life, growing up as the daughter of dancer Margarita Robles, who in 1963 founded Tijuana’s first dance school, Escuela de Danza Gloria Campobello.

Tapia’s earliest memories of crossing the border involved driving to downtown San Diego with her mother to buy dancewear at the Capezio store. Or to a La Jolla movie theater, where they watched films about dance. Or to Los Angeles, to rent costumes for a performance of Swan Lake.

Tapia’s dance education took place in Tijuana, California and Havana, where she lived for seven years and trained with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. After returning to Tijuana, she formed her own company, Minerva Tapia Dance Group, focusing on border dances.  

The Border Stories

Since 1995, Tapia and her dancers have tackled some sensitive subjects. They have told the stories of women who work in maquiladoras, the journey of immigrants without legal documentation and victims of drug violence known as encobijados, because their corpses are found wrapped in blankets.

“One of the things about dance is that it’s for everyone,” she said. “Even if you don’t know about techniques, and you don’t know about modern dance or contemporary dance, you get something – the feeling, the emotion or the understanding of a problem.”

One of her choreographies, Globótica, addresses the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009, contrasting U.S. and Mexican policies.

 “My inspiration came when the Mexican government declared that all Mexicans should wear masks to control the spread of the epidemic, so people in Tijuana had to wear masks, but not those in San Diego,” she writes in “Danzas y frontera.” “The situation at the border was bizarre: people wearing masks in Tijuana shed them as soon as they crossed the border. This experience highlights the incongruity of border politics, where a region is cut in two.” 

The border continues to hold her interest. But these days, she has become engrossed in a different subject: women’s professional soccer. She and her husband, Juan Cedeño, hold season tickets to San Diego Wave games. “I’m doing field studies, going to games, watching them, understanding the game, the culture of the game,” she said. “I haven’t started the choreography, I’m at the learning stage.”

In Other News 

  • Otay Mesa East: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is calling on U.S. authorities to hurry up and finish their side of the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry, a toll crossing for cargo and passengers being planned jointly with Mexico. During a news conference on Friday in Tijuana, the president complained that the U.S. side is “very late” on the project, while Mexico expects to complete its side before Lopez Obrador’s term ends in December 2024. “From Tijuana, I am making a call to U.S. authorities to follow suit,” he said. Caltrans describes the project  as a “joint venture between the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and Caltrans, in collaboration with state and federal partners in the U.S. and Mexico.” The most current estimates project a 2026 completion date on the U.S. side. 
  • Southbound border wait: Also Friday, the Mexican president said that the problem of hours-long waits to cross from San Diego to Tijuana at Mexico’s El Chaparral Port of Entry would be resolved by the end of the year.  The following day, Mexico’s top Customs official announced some immediate measures, including the removal of obsolete X-Ray machinery to create three additional lanes. The agency also re-established the use of plumes that lower after each vehicle, and on Saturday morning could be seen soldiers posted at the lanes instructing drivers on the entry procedure. The issue of lengthy southbound waits has been festering in recent weeks, with drivers complaining of waits routinely taking more than two hours to enter Mexico from San Ysidro. Though applauding the changes, many drivers fear the lines are likely to continue as construction projects and traffic conditions in Tijuana lead to backups at the busy port.
  • Little Amal comes to Tijuana: The 12-foot-tall puppet known as Little Amal crossed the border into Tijuana on Nov. 6, bringing a message of tolerance at solidarity toward refugees. She was received by Baja California Gov. Marina del Pilar Avila, Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero, and dozens of migrant children. During her two-day visit to the city, the puppet made several stops, including the U.S. border fence, the Tijuana Cultural Center and the Embajadores de Jesus migrant shelter.
  • Tijuana bans drug ballads: The Tijuana City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a ban on drug ballads performing or playing drug ballads that celebrate the exploits of drug traffickers. 
  • Record migrant apprehensions: With migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border at an all time high in Fiscal Year 2023, large numbers of migrants remain in Tijuana, waiting for asylum interviews, NPR reports. 
  • Mexican families flee violence: The number of Mexican migrants arriving in family units at the U.S.-Mexico border through San Diego County tripled in Fiscal Year 2023 over the previous fiscal year. Many are fleeing violence, inewsource reports. 
  • Migrant funding: A San Diego County center that welcomes migrants and offers warm meals expects to run out of funding before the end of the year, KPBS reports.

Are there topics you’d like to hear about in the Border Report? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at this email. 

Correction: This story has been updated to correct that the Gloria Campobello school opened in 1963.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. So Obrador is impatient about the new border crossing. What are his thoughts on the sewage flowing across the border. Perhaps he and SANDAG should take care of that first.

Leave a comment
We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.