April 29, 2005

A dark Día del Niño in Tijuana

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Manuelito doesn’t live on the streets, although he does spend most of the time outside his house. And it’s not because he’s in school studying his ABC’s or in the park playing with the other children.

Manuelito is a boy who very early everyday, leaves his house to go sale newspapers among the cars that drive around the streets of Tijuana. The ironic part is that Manuelito, who is 7, doesn’t know how to read any of the pages inside the newspapers he sells.

“No, I don’t go to school,” the boy said. “I work here on this corner and I also go near Plaza Río. Since last year they took me out of school because I had to help out my mom.”

Manuelito is short, his hair covering his ears, and his skin is very dark, in part due to the time he spends under the sun, but in most part due to his Indigenous heritage. He said that his parents also sell newspapers, but at another part of the city, several blocks from where he works. Although he said he likes his job, he added he rather be in school with other children.

“I like notebooks a lot,” Manuelito said. “I see other children going to elementary school and I feel like going with them. When I used to go to school I had many friends and I was more or less smart. Yes, I do like school.”

Manuelito’s story repeats itself in many children in Tijuana. Every time one drives around the city, one can remember the lyrics from the song “Un gran circo” (A Great Circus), played by rock band Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del 5to. Patio: “On the streets it’s very easy for you to see a kid who works without smiling, throwing balls to live. Also without wanting you can see a stange thin man, a great fakir, that lives and lives without eating, spitting fire. Great circus is this city.”

And trully, sometimes Tijuana resembles a circus where the amin attractions are all children.

During a walk through the city, from the international border to Downtown, one can find a series of children that struggle to survive: A 10 year old kid gets on the bus with a small hat and small guitar, and he starts playing a song; at the end, he asks for a cooperation: A few people give him money.

On the bridge that goes over Río Tijuana there are children, very dark skin, selling gum, or the younger ones, asking for money with a cup in hand. On the corners, children selling today’s newspaper. Between the cars, breathing smog all day, the little clowns with three colorful balls, performing tricks. And, once in a while, an 11 or 12 year old, spitting fire, with gasoline and everything.

As long as children like Manuelito continue to be denied the right to go to school and have a better future, Día del Niño will continue to be a simple celebration where only those who have the most can have a better childhood.

Nevertheless, Día del Niño must be a reminder or a call to action: There are children in Tijuana that are missing a future. It’s time to do something and to demand authorities to start support groups for these children. It’s time to give them a better opportunity and denounce all of those who exploit children. It’s time to fight for the right of children, not only of Tijuana, but from throughout the world, who are suffering.

Manuelito is just an example of what’s going on. And it’s really worthless to congratulate children this April 30. It’s very likely that the children who work on the streets, will never know what it is to celebrate Día del Niño.

Worst of all, they’ll never be able to read this.

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