To immigrants, Tijuana marks the frontera, or last stop before entering the United States. To American tourists it’s known as “T.J.,” a place to get inexpensive pharmaceutical drugs, dental work and plastic surgery. If you’re a visitor you become acutely aware of the “safe district” and the “not so safe district,” depending on how you see it. But few visitors venture beyond Tijuana’s main drag known as “Avenida Revolución.”
Tijuana is home to thousands of men and women who work in the maquiladora factories. They earn $8 a day assembling among other things, medical devices, automobile components, Smart phones in state of the art facilities. At the end of the day, these same people go home to feed their hungry children, in homes made of cinder blocks, recycled tires, and discarded garage doors from nearby San Diego, California. It is also the headquarters of the Tijuana Cartel, an organized crime syndicate specializing in drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, human smuggling, and gun running.
Because of it’s diverse immigrant population, Tijuana is well spring of new ideas, hybrids that spring our of the barrios where resourcefulness is essential to survival. One such creation is Torolab an artist collective comprised of architects, artists, musicians, graphic designers, and DJ’s. Raul Cardenas, its founder, named his group after the spirit of el toro (the bull) who “has nothing to lose and everything to win.” Cardenas is a modern day curandero (medicine man) who studies the anatomy of the city through its vascular system. In 2005 Torolab unleashed La región de los pantalones transfronterizos (The Region of the Transborder Trousers) project. Working as a collaborative Torolab designed a pair of pants equipped with a hidden pocket for a passport and Global Positioning System (GPS) transmitters. For five days wearing their especially equipped pantalones they traversed the zone with it’s many barriers and obstacles, between Tijuana and San Diego, recording all their movements including their car’s fuel consumption. All the data was fed into a computer and graphically visualized using Torolab’s programmed software. The results were projected in different colors onto a grid panel of a topographical relief map. Five days were compressed into an eight-minute loop as he or she traveled back and forth across the vast urban landscape. The pantalones are multi-functional and can be worn by American tourist’s visiting Tijuana. They offer plenty of pockets for cameras, souvenirs and medicine bottles.
Torolab’s Transborder Trousers project goes beyond exposing the migratory patterns of Tijaunenses (Tijuana citizens). It reveals the harsh reality that is common to some folks yet foreign and incomprehensible to others. If we care to move beyond the visually stunning imagery, Torolab gives us a lens for examining the world that we’ve created. It’s a world where walls and cameras provide security, where we decide who comes in and who goes out. In a sense, Transborder Trousers is a tool for studying and questioning our own behavior. It frees us to do a self-analysis, check all the data and ask honest questions like: “What is the real price of freedom?” or “Who’s homeland are we protecting?”
Amalfitano, Madelynn. “Bridging the Gap | Metropolis Magazine | October 2001.” Metropolis Magazine. Oct. 2001. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. <http://www.metropolismag.com/html/content_1001/ob/ob07.html>.
Emerling, Susan. “Torolab | There’s Art for Art’s Sake, and There’s ToroLab – Los Angeles Times.” The Los Angeles Times. 19 July 2001. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/2001/jul/19/news/cl-23974>.
Leigh Brown, Patricia. “Young U.S. Citizens in Mexico Brave Risks for American Schools.” The New York Times. 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/us/young-us-citizens-in-mexico-up-early-to-learn-in-the-us.html>.
Takahashi, Corey. “Nortec Collective Crosses Musical, Real Borders : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. 21 Aug. 2009. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112118237>.
“United States-Mexico Border.” Smithsonian Education – Welcome. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. <http://smithsonianeducation.org/migrations/bord/intro.html>.