This is the San Ysidro port of entry. “The border” in Tijuana, México.
Unromanticized, hard working, misunderstood.
These pictures depict the men, women and children who work along the U.S.-México border. They stand in the heat, carry heaps of souvenirs, and push the food carts that provide for the wants of those who cross into the United States.
The international border in Tijuana is an interesting study. While some Mexican citizens cross into San Diego to go shopping or have fun, some U.S. Citizens who live in Tijuana cross daily to work or attend private schools on “the other side of the border”.
For me, the border is a true testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Mexican people. Want a drink? Just look around for one of the many men or women pushing carts or coolers with chilled water, sodas, energy drinks, coffee, or even hot chocolate. Hungry? Workers have you covered: tacos, tamales, chips, clamatos, ice cream and fruit plates abound. Need a gift? There’s Mexican heavy woolen blankets, toy guitars, kites, puzzles, and a myriad of other options. Just realized your car needs new whiper blades? They sell those too! Wait, your car broke down in the middle of the long border wait? Yes, you guessed it, there’s a mechanic who will come to you too.
These people work long hours, most often work on commission, and are continuously exposed to the elements (be it heat or cold) to financially support themselves and their families.
They are, quite frankly, a people to be proud of. They are not asking for a handout. They are not holding up a sign that tells you about their sad story and hoping that you will help them. They are working. Men in wheelchairs, amputees, hold out bags to collect your cars trash for a tip. Elderly women walk around and sell candy. Middle aged men offer to clean your car while you wait in line. Young women push fruit or ice cream carts. Children perform balancing acts or juggle three or four balls to entertain you, in the hopes that a good job will result in a few coins. These men, women and children are not sitting around wishing for a better lot in life. They are going out into the world each and every day and working hard to improve their lives, or, in the worst cases, to try to feed themselves that day.
Think of these images the next time the media, or anyone else, tries to tell you lies about México and its people.
This is the San Ysidro point of entry. On this particular day it took me 75 minutes to cross the border.
These two boys were doing a juggling act, one on top of the other, right before I took the picture. Their hope was to collect a few coins from onlookers
The three girls were all juggling to collect spare change from observers
Churros for sale
Ice cream topped with chamoy or chile
Drinks, chips, candy… This man pulls his cart up and down the long lines at the border
Cell phone accessories for sale at the border
A woman walks around the line with Churros ready to be sold. Behind her is the man selling ice cream
The long border line behind me. One of the many things that make me wonder about our collective sanity is that we wait in line for an hour or two or many more to cross into the United States to spend our hard earned money (but I guess that is another story and another post)
This man, with only one leg, walks around with crutches and a bag in each hand, to collect trash from cars. His pay? Whatever coins people give him along when he collects their trash.
Many of the able bodied men who work on the border are selling Mexican wares and/ or souvenirs
Fresh fruit for sale
Another man carrying what he hopes to sell
This seller is cutting up fresh fruit and serving it in disposable plates
The fruit seller took an order and as is always the case, the line moved while he cut up the fruit and served it. This woman took the fruit plate and ran it to the car that placed the order.
An amputee in a wheelchair. This particular man was selling candy.
Woman selling Mexican candy
This little stand has a little bit of everything… Drinks, chips, candy… Even window covers to keep the sunlight from bothering you too much in your car
From ice cream and chips to “la loteria” (a Mexican game much like bingo)
This man walks around the lanes selling the products he is carrying. In return he will receive a commission based on the price he can get for the products he sells
He is not the only seller and competition from other sellers, along with the tradition of bargaining, means that every worker must be alert if he/she hopes to sell a product
Sometimes the sellers are young men, sometimes they are older men
This man sells kites in the shape of colorful birds. He sends them off into the sky in the hopes that children or adults will be mesmerized by the exhibit and purchase one. I often see him walking in all directions chasing after the bird kite he has set off.
Long lines sometimes means mechanical failures. But no problem. Here you can see this van is getting some help from a mechanic ready to come to the border to try to repair the issue. For a small fee the mechanic, or even an industrious border worker, will bring you gasoline as well (yes, people have been known to run out of gas waiting in line to cross).
This older gentleman was carrying a trash bag, hoping that in the last few minutes at the border people will want to get rid of any trash they have in their car and use his services. In return he hopes to collect any tip people are willing to give him.
It is important to note something: these people are workers. They do not own the wares they sell, they are selling them on behalf of their boss. They are out, exposed to heat and cold and rain, in the hopes of selling the products and receiving a percentage of the sale. If they take a day off, it is a day without the possibility of making any money to eat. And while some believe Mexico to be a lawless land, it is not. Each person working on the border (save those who are asking for donations) must have a special permit to do so. The business owners pay for the permits necessary to sell goods at the border. There are costs associated with selling these goods. It is not a free for all as some might wrongly believe. And, yes, businesses pay taxes too. Please remember these details the next time you think a big cup of ice cream is too expensive at $1 USD or that cute souvenier is too much at $20 pesos ($1.11 USD). And that loose change that keeps bugging you in the front cupholder, it can help feed someone who is happy to take it as a donation for helping you get rid of the random trash we all have in our car.