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The Throwbacks of Tijuana

Shunned by the country they were raised in, shunned by the country of their birth

By John Edward Rangel
Published on LatinoLA: March 28, 2012


The Throwbacks of Tijuana


'Tijuana is much to violent to visit these days'. At least that was an article I'd read in a local San Diego newspaper, the day I was set to return from NorthPark in SD to my palatial wooden shack in eastern Tijuana. The majority of this violence is gang feuding. It's remarkably similar to what I grew up in during the 70's and 80's in East LA.

Back then we fought for control of territory and more importantly the lucrative black market businesses that operated in those territories. Much of that warfare got squashed when la eme was formed. It eventually molded the street gangs into a corporate, profit generating entity. 'One of their first edicts was that gang banging is bad for business.'

I think that LA politicians and law enforcement are still taking credit for calming down LA's Latino gangs but I believe that two equally influential reasons were la eme and the work of great men like Father Gregory Boyle. The irony in that last statement is that the former does so for that root of all evil (money) and the latter for the good of man. Opposite motives having the same positive effect. In the short term at least.

There is even a connection between LA gangs and TJ gangs. And I'm not just talking in a business sense but socio/culturally. They are the ones that my cousin, another Chicano then living in Tijuana, dubbed "the throwbacks."

They are the Latinos who came to the US when they were children and grew up in the Chicano culture of the American southwest. In their thinking and mannerisms they are 100% Mexican-American. Many don't even speak Spanish. Some are deported because of serious crimes committed but others have their world turned upside down for infractions that wouldn't normally cause individuals to be so uprooted.

Since the targeting of undocumented immigrants as economic scapegoats began(again) a few years back, an enormous amount of throwbacks have accumulated on the edge of two countries and on the edge of two cultures. They are seeds of the third culture. That Mexican-American hybrid called Chicanismo.

A recent article in the Tijuana daily, La Frontera, quoted sources who assist with undocumented workers being repatriated to Mexico. "Traditionally, the majority of those seeking our help were people who were waiting to cross north into the US. Now it's just the opposite. There are far more people here who've recently been tossed back into Mexico."

Many of them have lived in the USA for decades. It is all they know. Now, many just sit idle without proper documentation or prospects of employment. It is a huge burden on Tijuana and other undeserving border cities where this occurs.

Shunned by the country they were raised in for not being 'legal Americans' and shunned by the country of their birth for having been 'raised American', their assimilation into the mainstream is a difficult road indeed. These people become victims of racism at both ends.

Those who speak English and Spanish can try to get a job serving tourists.

Unfortunately tourism dried up in Tijuana long ago and only now is resurfacing. The American media likes to say that American fear of cartel violence keeps tourists away. Maybe they don't want to admit that Americans these days just don't have as much disposable income as before. Or it could be a combination?

Female throwbacks often have it worse. Especially those who only speak English. They pay a horrible price for not being bilingual. If they have no family members willing to support them from either side of 'The Wall of Shame', they don't last long. One of the most gut-wrenching sights I ever saw in Tijuana was a woman who lay cowering and shaking on a downtown street as I rushed to work. In perfect English she said, "Hey, Homeboy, can you help me please...?" All I could do for her was give her all my change, some cigarettes and write this story.

The throwbacks who lived working class lives in the USA usually try to do the same thing here in Tijuana. These are the people who were deported for minor infractions like getting caught in Escondido's notorious raza traps. They seem to constitute a substantial portion of the deportees and also pay the highest cost in terms of emotional duress. Most led stable, 9 to 5 lives that have been changed forever. These are the broken families that cause innocents to suffer.

The more stereotypical throwback is the tattooed, drug dealing gang member, and Tijuana has been the recipient of many. Their faces are the ones you see used in right wing extremist propaganda. It is their actions north of the border that Americans use to justify their mistreatment and murder of men like Rigoberto. Does anybody remember that story?

Ironically enough, the tattooed, drug dealing gang member throwbacks often have it easiest. That is in part due to the narco economy that exists on both sides of the US-Mexico border. The recent weakening of the Arellano-Felix cartel has created a vacuum for ambitious wannabee drug lords. And if you know how to rise thru the ranks of an East LA street gang then a Tijuana narco cell is just like transferring from a community college to a four year school. Past experience has taught me that the two groups can use interchangeable parts.

These are the guys that will give the US and Mexico fits in the years to come. They know the system and how to work it. They know the American psyche and how to manipulate it. And most importantly they hold a grudge against the country that evicted them. These are the guys who might do business with international terrorists. Because as the old saying goes, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

In casting the wide net that ICE did, the US government deported people who probably didn't deserve it and others who did deserve it but probably should have been kept around where they could be watched more closely. "Keep your friends close by and your enemies even closer." Sometimes the oldest sayings make the most sense.

Obviously economics (greed) was the driving factor in all of these ill-conceived American acts but by not curtailing government waste and mismanagement, you force these other negative actions that in the long run will add to ones own destabilization.

Sometimes when you think you might be fixing something what you're really doing is making a whole new problem. In my opinion, the throwbacks of Tijuana are becoming one such raza tragedy.

About John Edward Rangel:
Born and raised in East LA. Educated in journalism at ELAC and CSULA. Author of two self published novels "A Chicano in Aztlan" & "The Chicanas of Aztlan." Freelance journalist and all around gadfly.
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