A Tijuana Encuentro
As part of the Café Onda soft launch this summer, we asked five authors from different places in the generational map, at different stages of their career, to open their hearts and their minds for us to reflect on their experience at the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders. This is the second post in the series.
For about one hundred of us, the 2014 TCG conference began early Tuesday morning with a bus ride to Tijuana, Mexico. Heading south toward the pre-conferences on International Artistic Collaboration and Diversity & Inclusion, we were given questionnaires written in English on one side, and in Spanish on the other. The border crossing began then, as we flipped the pages back and forth between translations. The questionnaire asked us to consider the experience of crossing the international border into Mexico. What borders were we crossing, exactly?
At the beautiful Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT) we shared our responses: How it was surprisingly easier for the individuals on the bus to cross into Mexico than it was for the bus (which underwent a slow x-ray process not unlike driving through an open-air car wash). How we crossed borders of identity, geography, genres and more, without ever leaving the USA. How we related to others who had crossed borders; some teachers, some family. How forays unto new terrain could make us more sure-footed.
The Borderfesto, written by Daniel Jáquez, was read in Spanish and English by artists Victor Carpinteiro and Herbert Siguenza. “If you want to be a better human being you have to cross borders. It’s the way it has always been.”
We launched with Artist Speed Dating. Those of us in the International Collaboration group were invited to sit at tables to meet Mexican theatermakers for fifteen minutes at a time, including Raymundo Garduño, who champions the emerging professional TYA movement in Mexico; Dora Arreola, who’s launched the only women’s theater company in the country; Claudio Valdés Kuri and Martín Acosta, who’ve worked at festivals and universities around the world. These inspiring encounters only lasted until the bell rang and we moved to another table, to meet someone new.
After lunch, we heard how Mexico supports its artists at home and in international partnerships. Through Federal, State, and university programs, artists can find funding for plane tickets and visa procurement. They need only to be invited.
Then the folks of Tijuana Hace Teatro shared their newest audience-building initiative: Escuela de Espectadores (School for Spectators). Fifteen Tijuana residents from all walks of life are invited to see up to sixty shows during the year. They meet monthly to talk with the artists who’ve created the work about what they’ve seen. At the start, the audience members are somewhat reserved, but by the end, they’re sharing opinions boldly. Now in its fifth year, the program has created a cadre of theater ambassadors, who talk about theater and bring their friends to see shows. One woman said it changed the way she saw life.
From this heady day, we transitioned to experiences of the heart, climbing aboard the buses again for a drive along the border. Three walls separate Tijuana from San Diego; because one is not enough. Heading west along miles and miles of fences eventually led us to the Pacific Ocean. The road stopped at the beach, but the fence kept going, extending into the water far enough to where swimming would be treacherous.
Here, at Friendship Park, the iron bars are tall and the rules are plentiful. Public art is permitted on the Mexican side of the fence. The bars are painted with messages of hope, frustration, and an upside-down US flag. The park is always open on the Mexican side. On the USA side, no markings are allowed on the fence, and the area is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2pm. This is the time when family members who cannot cross the border meet to see each other. They cannot pass notes or gifts or food; such an action is against USA Customs regulations. At best, fingers can reach to touch through spaces in the fencing.
Our journey across the border provided personal encounters, self-reflection, inspiration, challenges, and nourishment.
We take off our shoes and walk west onto the sand to watch Antigona en la Playa, a short work created by Dora Arreola and her company: Mujeres en Ritual Danza-Teatro. The piece bends gender at the border. Antigone starts perched on the fence and ends walking into the ocean in resignation or defiance. Mixed feelings abound at this site.
We climb back onto our buses to downtown Tijuana and onto Pasaje Rodriguez: a reinvigorated alleyway that hosts art galleries, shops, and one small theater that was launched by lawyer-turned-actor-turned-impresario Adolfo Madera. Estación Teatro presents independent theater companies throughout the year, but that night we sit and watch screenings of experimental European films until dinner.
Onward to Caesar’s Restaurant, the home of the original Caesar Salad (1927), with our party of one hundred. The salad was delicious, as were the meals and the conversations around the tables. Too soon, the time came to leave.
Many thanks are due to TCG for their excellent, insightful planning. Our journey across the border provided personal encounters, self-reflection, inspiration, challenges, and nourishment. The return at midnight was slow. This time our passports were inspected as well as the buses. After crossing back, we were asked to walk a few blocks away to be picked up near the Burger King and head back to the Hilton to rest for the journey ahead. The Conference that began the next day would provide still more opportunities to cross borders and boundaries, real and imagined.
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