By Luis Alonso Pérez
The neighbors of the ejido Maclovio Rojas joyfully sang “The people united will never be defeated”, when the screening of the video Cada uno su granito de arena ended. A documentary made by Elizabeth Bird about the struggle of the members of a community to defend their land, obtain basic services and education.
Hundreds of families from the Ejido (federal concessions of land to agricultural workers) where invited on November 21 to a free screening of the documentary at Tijuana’s cultural center. Children, adults, neighbors, students and social workers filled the Omnimax theatre to see the result of four years of close work with the community.
But the seats weren’t the only thing that got filled; the whole theatre was packed with life. During the screening the neighbors applauded and yelled as the story of their struggles, victories and defeats evolved.
The Ejido Maclovio Rojas is located east of Tijuana, and its home to more than 2000 families. Most of its residents come from other parts of the country, drawn by the hope of crossing to the United States or finding a job in a manufacturing plant better known as “Maquiladora”. Around 60% of the neighbors work in those factories.
The documentary talks about the difficulties which the community faces, like their land property, considered irregular by the government. They also have a fifteen year conflict with the Francisco Villa neighborhood, because they pressure the people from Maclovio Rojas to sell their land, so they can be sold to large companies who turn them into industrial parks.
The story begins with the parent’s concern for their children’s education. A problem solved when the neighbors worked together to build a school in their spare time.
Another big problem appeared when the school got finished. It took them more than a year to get the school properly registered in the Mexican Secretary of Public Education, during that year the teachers didn’t receive a cent from the government.
Without a doubt the main conflict was the lack of basic services. This made the members of Maclovio Rojas take matter into their own hands and work together to suit their needs. They irregularly supply electricity to the community from small power stations, and taking water from the city aqueduct.
The documentary recounts the community member’s frustrated efforts when they asked government authorities to help them solve their problems. In most cases, politicians only made promises they didn’t keep.
On many instances, the members of the community made marches and demonstrations to pressure the government, attracting attention from the media and the Tijuana population.
It wasn’t long before the police intervened and entered Maclovio Rojas to arrest three of the main community leaders, on water theft charges.
Nicolasa Ramos was soon arrested. This political maneuver is considered by the neighbors as a witch hunt carried out by the government, to weaken their leader’s power and pressure them to sell their properties.
Until this day, she is still serving a sentence in the Tijuana penitentiary. This has worn neighbors out and caused fear among the community members.
But not all hope is gone, and the end of the documentary demonstrates it, when it portrays the pride felt by the community members, when they saw the first generation of children graduate from their grade school.
After the screening there was a conference about globalization, urban planning and informal urban development in Tijuana, with the participation of the documentary director, Elizabeth Bird.
“In Tijuana, a city who’s planning and developing serves the interests of global corporations, creating alternatives to centralized urban planning is, in some cases, can become a form of resistance to centralized global capitalism and a way of imagining alternatives to this system” said the filmmaker in her speech.
Leticia Suárez Cárdenas a Maclovio Rojas neighbor also participated in the conference. She explained what’s been happening in the community since April 2004, when the documentary was done recording.
“We are tired that authorities don’t want to recognize our community. We are tired of charges made up by the government to discourage us and weaken our struggle. If we weren’t going trough all of these abuses, the situation in Maclovio Rojas would have progressed. We could now have water, electricity and paved courts”
This event was organized by the InSite project and the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT), as a part of the activities prior to the art exhibitions and urban interventions of Insite 05.