These are the famous words that a poet from Central America recited to Mexicans at the beginning of the twentieth century and that the dictator Porfirio Diaz turned into a slogan to be used against his northern neighbour; they are as valid today as they were then, be it for Central America or for Mexico.

After establishing its independence from New Spain in 1821, the new country dubbed itself the United States of Mexico. It covered a vast territory, which, from north to south, included the present states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, and extended down to Honduras.


In 1845, a separatist revolt led Mexico losing a territory known as the Republic of Texas, which eventually became part of the United States in 1848. That same year, Mexico lost two million square kilometres of land following a military invasion by the young nation of the United States, as part of its policy of expansion. A hundred and fifty-three years later, the Peninsula of Baja California situated to the north-west of Mexico and to the south of the State of California still maintains strong links with the southern territories of this northern frontier. The deteriorating labour situation both in Mexico’s rural areas and cities on the one hand, and the desire to earn dollars and a better living on the other, drive millions of Mexicans to cross the border. The reasons for this reconciliation are both historical and geographical, since the city with the second largest Mexican population after Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, is Los Angeles.

The last decade of the 20th century was characterised by an anti-immigration policy, which resulted in the illegal trafficking of human beings looking for better oppurtunities in the United States an even hotter political issue. One measure that was denounced and fiercely criticised by international public opinion shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the defeat of the Iraki army was the construction of a steel barrier which stretches across the length of the State of California and eventually runs into a gigantic wall of metal pipes, clashing with the coastal landscape and dividing it artificially.
This absurd barrier stands like a piece of land art symbolising how stingy the United States government can be in its attempts to keep the borders closed despite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. A somewhat ironic detail is that all the metal sheets that make up this wall were initially used to construct runways for NATO planes during operation “Desert Storm”.

In the shadow of the port of San Diego, Tijuana is still one of the country’s most inhospitable towns. The cost of living is one of the highest considering what workers earn in the transnational industries that have moved in all over the region. Like in any other town where people come and go but never stay, the main objective here is to get out as soon as possible – to cross over “to the other side”, either because you have family in the “gabacho” (the United States), or because you have been offered a job there, even if it is illegal. There is a great demand for cheap labour among the gringos. Men, women, young people, whole families, arrive in this town hoping to cross the line, but due to some misfortune or other, there are those who never finish the journey. It can be because they are victims of the famous “polleros” (smugglers), or because they suffer the consequences of a decadent lifestyle.

The young get caught in a vicious circle. Generally they live in holes under the roads or in the streets thinking that one day they will leave Tijuana, but their lives slip from their hands. They survive through prostitution for as long as their bodies are able to attract buyers, then they turn to delinquency and begging... With each passing day they see their lives getting shorter - the journey to the United States is no longer a reality except in their dreams or during the short periods of lucidity between withdrawal symptoms and hunger. Some let 15 years go by before getting help (it has to be said that there is not much on offer) to overcome addiction to drugs and the street. They try to gather the strength needed to carry through the plan that brought them to this place in search of the “dollar dream”.

Very few go on drug rehabilitation programmes. A high percentage of them, male and female, are HIV-positive, having contracted the disease sexually or from heroin needles. How it was transmitted is not really important now. What matters now is that death has crossed their paths. What matters now is for them to receive medical help. Even if this is only at the very end, it is important they know that as human beings they are not alone, and not so far from the United States.

Xolotl Salazar and Xochitl Zepeda

Xolotl Salazar Bonilla

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