June 24, 2005

Tijuana is Trouble for Teenagers

By Tom Turpel

To a young eighteen-year-old male who craves wild, reckless, adventure, Tijuana, Mexico has been a haven from conservative American law. The legal drinking age is eighteen. Between each club and bar, a pharmacy sells everything from Vicatin to Viagra over the counter. Cock fights and donkey shows is popular theater, safe from the cry of animal rights activists.

Anyone in San Diego will tell you it is a bigger trap than Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island.

“My friends were in jail for a month because of a fight,” said 20 year old Josh Dean of San Diego State of what happened to his friends on their last trip south of the border. “Partying in Mexico is not worth the risk.”

When I picture Mexico in my head, I see a white sand beach with the ocean clear and blue like in the Corona beer commercials. The United States-Mexico border looks like a prison. One hundred foot walls surround Tijuana and large spotlights brighten the three mile buffer from the wall and the United States. The clank of the large gates shutting as you pass into Mexico give the feeling like you just walked into a prison or maybe we’re holding the people of Mexico prisoner.

Little children were pulling at my pockets trying to sell me necklaces in my first few seconds in Tijuana. Revolution Street, the strip of Tijuana looked like a war zone. There was no such thing as a crosswalk. You darted across the street hoping a car would not hit you. Some guy came out of an alley offering his sister for twenty bucks.

There are two groups of police in Tijuana, and both make saints out of the LAPD. The local Tijuana police are mellower than the federal police otherwise known as the federalis. If you look at either force the wrong way, that is enough for them to put you in jail.

Most American youth don’t think of Tijuana as another country with different laws and customs. When foreigners disrespect their customs or an officer feels like his country is being mistreated, then that gives them the right to put that visitor in their place. It reminds me of another country I’m familiar with.

I had a friend who got really sick and threw up on the street downtown. The only way to avoid Mexican jail was slipping the officer twenty dollars.

Nineteen year old Carmello Gonzalez is a second year freshman at San Diego State, and comes from a family of Ecuador immigrants. On his last trip to Tijuana, he walked out of the infamous Club Safari to see a large brawl happening on the sidewalk. Without hesitation, the federalis came in and broke up the fight. Everyone involved in the brawl was thrown in a paddy wagon and Carmello was taken in by mistake. The federalis would not listen to his plea of innocence. They saw his California driver’s license and just kept it.

A riot broke out shortly after. The lock on the paddy wagon broke and everyone fled for their life. Carmello escaped, but without his license or any form of identification, there was no way of making it back to United States safely. The only way was scaling the hundred-foot wall and falling into a California sewage pit known as the Tijuana River. Then he had to sprint across the well-lit buffer zone without the border patrol catching him. Halfway through, an unknown man tackled him and stole his shoes.

By eight the next morning, a barefoot Carmello Gonzalez walked back onto the San Diego state campus smelling like a bathroom at a bus station. For three days he did not leave his room. Carmello swears he will not leave the United States unless it’s for family after that.

Reprinted from Sprawl Magazine (http://www.sprawlmagazine.com/)

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