On Wednesday we headed to the Tijuana Cultural Center which is called The Casa de la Cultura Tijuana where we met Alfredo. The Cultural Center was an old university building that had been converted to an arts center where locals can take classes in everything from dancing to painting. It also contained a library where Oscar stepped in to snap a photo and met Alfredo. Alfredo was the librarian and was happy to tell us about the history of Tijuana. He flipped through a large book, showing us old photographs and told us of the history of the city. The pride he felt for his city was apparent. It was clear to us that Alfredo would be an excellent person to interview about the community.
He wanted to stress upon us the benefits of having a multicultural history. He discussed the various waves of migrations from the indigenous people to the Spaniards, the cattle ranchers to the Chinese, Russians and Americans. He was proud of the history of Tijuana. It’s much more than just a border town, but a cultural stomping grounds that many have influenced throughout the centuries and left a lasting impression on the people, culture, architecture and food.
The area of modern Tijuana was originally inhabited by the Kumeyaay, a tribe of Yuman-speaking hunter-gatherers. The largely inhospitable region lead to a simple lifestyle of the native populations, with little of the cultural, trade, and city development found in mainland Mexico at the time. Though mapped by various explorers between the mid 1500s to 1700s, European settlement didn’t take off until the end of the Mission Era of Mexico, when governor of Baja and Alta California, José María de Echeandía, awarded a land grant for cattle ranching to Santiago Arguello, in 1829. The 100 square km cattle ranch was named Rancho Tia Juana, where the modern city derives its name
At the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848, Alta California was annexed by the United States, cutting it off from Baja California and creating a border right through the large cattle ranch Rancho Tia Juana. Most Hispanic families of Alta California remained in their homes, which was now part of the United States. Other Hispanic families moved south to the new Mexico-USA border, and development of a new city began, and Tijuana officially became a city in 1889. Around this time, migration from China began when President Porfirio Diaz allowed increased migration to help develop the northern states and build railroads. In the early 1900s, Spiritual Christian Pryguny (colloquially known as Molokans) immigrated from Russia to establish a colony in Baja, as well as many Russian ethnic Jews into Tijuana and the surrounding areas.
The new city quickly became of destination for “excursionist” tourism, trade and entertainment during the California land boom. One early point of contentious history in the city was in 1911, during the Mexican Revolution. Revolutionaries loyal to Ricardo Flores Magón took over the city for a month before Mexican Federal troops and local resistance routed them from the city. From there, Tijuana continued to grow unabated, and with the eventual prohibition of alcohol in the USA in the 1920s helping expand tourism, even Al Capone made regular visits across the border here.
Tijuana is now the largest city on the Baja peninsula in Mexico, with over 1.7 million people in population. The close proximity to San Diego has spurred development from numerous multinational companies and made Tijuana the medical device manufacturing capital of North America. As it shares a 15 mile border with its sister city San Diego, it is the most visited border city in the world, with the San Ysidro Port of Entry being the busiest land border crossing in the world, with as many as 300,000 daily crossings.
After leaving the Casa de la Cultura Tijuana we went to the Centro Estatal de las Artes Tijuana (CEART) where we went through an exhibit detailing the history of the Californias. We also viewed another exhibit that highlighted the history of the city of Tijuana. The museum contained mostly replicas and photographs, and was not particularly well curated or appealing.
One of the captivating details that Alfredo pointed out to us in the history book was the Tower of Agua Caliente, what he called the most iconic building in Tijuana. He said “Just show any Mexican this building and they’ll know it’s Tijuana”. It was reminiscent of an “Arch de Triumph” on a smaller scale, and was the heart of the Agua Cliente Touristic Complex, opened in 1928. The Complex included a hotel, spa, golf course, private airport, gambling casino, horse and dog race tracks. Though only open eight years, it was one of the most famous destinations in North America, attracting Hollywood stars and gangsters alike, and was where a young Rita Hayworth was discovered. The Tower of Agua Caliente burned down in 1950s and was recently rebuilt by the city’s Lion’s Club. Interestingly, the second floor contains the Sports Hall of Fame for Baja (it was unfortunately closed when we visited)
We also took a stroll down Calle Independencia through the tourist and nightlife district. We happened by Hotel Caesar’s, home of Caesar’s Restaurant and allegedly the birthplace of the Caesar’s Salad. The story goes that on July 4th, 1924, Caesar was short on supplies and did not want to disappoint a group of musicians dining that evening. With no prepared salad dressing, he whipped up a dressing of garlic, raw eggs, parmesan cheese, olive oil, vinegar, and black pepper, on a bed of Romain lettuce, croutons and anchovies. The salad was a hit and the rest is history, love it or hate it.
We stopped by Mamut, a local micro brewery and bar built in an old church (8158 Calle Carrillo Puerto, still in the tourist and nightlife area). The bar was spacious and beautiful, and rife with hipster vibes, delicious micro brews, and pizzas in a wood burning and propane fed brick oven shaped like a mammoth’s head. Mamut is named after the mammoth (mamut in Spanish), an homage to one of the first prehistoric residents of Baha California, according to the bar owner. We wrapped up our night in Tijuana with some friends and beers at the Telefonica Gastro Park, a food court made of food trucks that caters to the hipster palate. We tried some of the local beverages, sampled elaborate hot dogs and ramen. We had a really nice evening with our gracious hosts that put us up for a few days. We are grateful to them fitting our travels into their busy schedule.