A Love Letter to Tijuana

PHOTO: On a recent evening at La Mija de la Mezcalera in Tijuana.

Remember the first time we met? It was in the late '90s, back when Revolucion avenue was still packed with Americans in Tommy Hilfiger rags. Baby, your fame was legendary: "a place where you can buy anything, do anything, regret nothing" is how my first tour guide used to sell you. Of course, those were pre-9/11 days; back then, on my second visit, I didn't even take my American passport with me because when it came to crossing "la linea" (getting back to the States), I'd simply yell "American citizen!" to the immigration official who would quickly allow me back to California.

Ah, those where the days. But then, sometime in the last decade, drug cartel violence turned your fame into notoriety. Would-be tourists were no longer titillated by your offerings but, instead, were outright scared of your existence. Just like that, the "Revo" went from being a permanent Mardi Gras celebration -- what the drunken frat boys and their counterparts loved about you -- to a two peso quinceañera party. Don't worry, I'm not one of those stereotypical naysayers that's always reducing you to a tourist deathtrap.

In fact, I think you're one of the most misunderstood places in all of Latin America. Even if other Mexicans are wary of you -- ask any Chilango about Tijuana to witness a quick shock -- I find you fascinating. I mean, where else, besides La Estrella can I watch a Chinese man dance cumbias and norteñas better than my own life-long, wedding-trained sister? All of it normal to you, of course, because you have one of the most diverse demographics on this side of the hemisphere.

But, TJ, let's face it: places like La Estrella, as awesome as they are, are old hat. Which is why last weekend, three years after my last visit, I was thrilled to hang out at La Mija, the newest addition to the already popular Mezcalera. On my way there, I was glad the infamous Porky's, a club popular with teenage indie rockers were Indio "caguamas" [40ozers] are sold cheaply and proudly, sat just half a block away. And while gawking at the giant metal pig that hangs off the alternative disco, my chaperone pointed to a venue across the street and said "That's Black Box. Peaches, Alex Anwandter, and Crystal Castles have all played there." Other newcomers, such as El Tinieblo, La Tasca, Santa Leyenda, and Moustache Bar, were boasted, too. And even certain restaurants, like La Corriente Cevicheria Nais,Pizza Al Volo, and the re-inauguratedCaesar's -- where the world-famous Caesar salad was invented -- were pointed out.

I'd heard that after the "Revo" scene practically died, a new wave of hip hangouts had been inaugurated all over, or near, 6th street. This was my first time seeing any of them and it was exciting. Exciting because, unlike the first time we met, it no longer felt like I was walking through a 4th of July parade. Now your downtown was filled with young, trendy local pedestrians. All of them smiling, having a great time.

Clearly, "Tijuas," you've changed. But, as far as I can tell, it's for the best. Interesting how, at least culturally, losing all that American tourism turned out to be good for you, eh?

Marcelo C. Baez is a Mexican-born music enthusiast based out of NYC. He recently wrote about his encounter with Anna Wintour.

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