Driving Through an Empty Tijuana in the Midst of the Swine Flu
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The patriarchal home, like Tijuana itself, has been self-built in increments that faithfully graph the family's economic history. The 1990s boom years, when ERRE was a well-paid carpenter in California, are represented by an impressive faux-Victorian wing with dormers, bays, and gables.
I wisecrack about his hallucinatory "gingerbread casa de sueños ."
He smiles, then scolds: "You know this is the Tijuana dream, my parents' dream. We never stop building. We're always making room for more people. When I was a kid, do you have any idea of how many cousins and compadres from my father's pueblo stayed here until they could cross to jobs in California? Hey, amigo, this is Ellis Island."
To underscore the point, brother Omar shows me the key prop in the video he has recently completed about the Ramirez family's neighborhood: the "Lady of Libertad."
Omar says it is based on one of French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi's original sketches for the Statue of Liberty -- the famous lady with the lamp standing on the pedestal of an Aztec pyramid. A local artisan has made copies to sell to the tourists, if they ever return.
Since 9/11, irrational fear and toxic bigotry have imposed an informal blockade on Baja California's non- maquiladora economy. Now nativists in San Diego are clamoring for the complete closure of the border.
It would be a catastrophe. A Siamese twin might as well saw away the flesh connecting himself to his brother. Both would die in the end.
After teasing ERRE one more time, I head off for dinner with Omar and his wife. The weather is still delightful and we find a cozy Italian restaurant crowded with nonchalant and fearless diners. For a quiet evening, at least, the mask of the red death slips off the face of Tijuana.