Tijuana Innovadora 2010, Oct. 7-21

It’s here. The event you’ve all been waiting for. You know; the one that’s supposed to change your mind about the city of Tijuana and maybe — just maybe — Mexico in general.

Tijuana Innovadora.

Last week, while I was in Tijuana for Entijuanaarte, construction workers were busy building a giant “T” and “i” in front of CECUT, Tijuana’s cultural center. The event is seriously a big deal, and so far, the media coverage of it has been shiny and happy. From the Associated Press:

If Tijuana is safe enough for Al Gore, three Nobel laureates and a founder of Twitter, isn’t it safe enough for anyone? The long-denigrated city is hosting a gathering of big names to get that message across.A two-week festival kicked off Thursday to showcase the border city’s economic prowess and cultural riches — and aims to demonstrate that Tijuana is no longer in the grip of warring drug traffickers.

That is exactly the kind of press organizers of Tijuana Innovadora were hoping for. Felicidades or kudos to them for achieving the positive headlines the country so desperately needs these days.

But, I have to admit, I’m a little skeptical of the whole thing. So. Much. Money.  It cost millions to put on this event. Couldn’t they have spent at least some of that money on basic necessities of the city? Water pipes need to be replaced. The entire city trash system needs an overhaul. Homeless people are everywhere. Look around.

Even more worrisome is the overall goal of the event, which seems to be to convince business owners to move their operations to Tijuana. I’ve been following the Tijuana Innovadora Twitter feed, and so far, it’s been disturbingly heavy on the proud “we are home to maquiladoras (foreign-owned factories)” Tweets.

Yes, I know the people of Tijuana need jobs. And yes, I know not all maquilas are bad, but the truth of the matter is that most factories set up in Mexico for a reason. They want to pay shit wages, they want to take advantage of weak environmental-law enforcement and they want to put their own products over the quality of life of people.

There’s just something gross about this whole thing. Maybe I’ll jump on the TI bandwagon after seeing things like the Pa’ Bailar Tijuana or maybe the Art, Culture and Digital Commerce discussion will help change my mind. For now, though, I’m keeping a healthy dose of skepticism in my pocket, and I wish the mainstream press would do the same.


About Kinsee Morlan

Arts and web editor at San Diego CityBeat. Interested in art and the Tijuana/San Diego border.
This entry was posted in Art & culture, Events and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Tijuana Innovadora 2010, Oct. 7-21

  1. @3dgar says:

    They get lots of points for at least trying. Tijuana is a culturally rich city that has been kidnapped by the violence and druglords, and it has yet to fall on it’s knees. I applaud their every effort to change the image of the city and recognize that much more is needed to redeem it in the eyes of the world. They have to start somewhere.

  2. Yes, what we’re seeing with Tijuana Innovadora is the Mexican version of trickle-down economics. And the guest list is kind of creepy, like maybe they’d invite Mother Teresa if they could … wait a minute, they did! (She’s appearing in spirit with the holy stent.) But at least TI gives the media an excuse to let up on all their blood and thunder for a week.

    The media have never portrayed Tijuana as it truly is. Not likely they ever will.

  3. crossbordergroup says:

    Well, I must admit the Twitter feed in English is being run by our staff, so…given our focus on economics, I hope we can be forgiven.

    I do disagree with the assumption that all maquiladora jobs are “shit wages” – most of the middle- and upper-income, university educated engineers and business managers in Tijuana are employed at such companies; and the idea that quality of life for employees isn’t a goal is both dated (at least for the majority of larger, more globally-connect companies), as well as misplace (it’s often many of the smaller, less global companies in Mexico that have more “traditional”, old-style HR policies and management – not the companies that frankly have things like ISO accreditation, or have been ranked some of the “best places to work in Mexico” like several companies in Tijuana’s maquiladora industry). Do they pay lower than the US – yes, although many (most) Mexican domestic (non-maquila) companies pay less and have fewer career opportunities (especially given a workforce where a majority of the working population has a Jr. High School or less level of education).

    On the environmental side of the ledger, I think it’s easy to assume that’s a significant motivator, but when much of the regulation of environmental laws in Mexico is focused on foreign industry (maquilas), and many of these companies frankly do not want to hurt their brand when cost-wise it’s not that much to not only comply but typically exceed environmental rules in Mexico…then I think the argument is a bit untrue, too. There are always bad apples (everyone still likes to point to the nearly two-decade old situation of a corrupt battery recycler, for instance) but we can see such instances of bad apples in many US communities as well….

    Long comment when really I wanted to say “welcome back” — and come on down to Tijuana Innovadora. I’d be happy to try to arrange some visits for City Beat if you guys can make it.

    Oh…and the goal IS to try to get some of the good word out about Tijuana, since most US media hasn’t really been open to covering anything but the violence. If it helps by mentioning some companies that they know, well…that’s try to get them to pay some attention….

    • You make some good points, but I guess I’ve run into more of your so-called “bad apples” than the companies you speak of. I’ve spent the day with workers at CITTAC and they’ve told me about poor working conditions and even poorer wages. I’ve been to a worker’s strike at a furniture-making factory where the hundreds of employees were left without their last few month’s pay. I’ve seen the recycled car battery grounds you speak of (owned by a San Diego man) and, even more importantly, I’ve spent time in the community below that hill where the factory continues to pollute the ground. I dragged a chemist out to the site and had him test the water that was draining down the hill where many maquilas sit in Otay. Try telling the people (lots of kids) living in those communities that maquilas are a good thing. Maquilas have provided them with some pretty nice, dirt-floor shanties, huh? They have some beautiful skin rashes from maquilas, too.

      I’ve also spent time with people in the dumps of Tijuana who say they make much, much more money wading thigh-deep in trash then they do at any of the foreign-owned factories in town. Maybe they were just applying at all the wrong spots…

      You’re a fantastic researcher; I don’t doubt that. But have you spent any time in the Tijuana trenches? If so, who is your guide? You have to break away from the safe tours and do some investigating on your own. I hired a homeless guy who took me to maquilas around town. I’ve seen the terrible working conditions. A few lucky people work their way up to management, but not enough to matter. And most who reach that level are not the indigenous people who are typically taken advantage in the factory setting. NAFTA destroyed their way of life and you’re right, a factory may be “the best place to work in Mexico” but only because it is truly their only option. You ask the people of Mexico how they feel about maquilas and most will tell you they’re conflicted. They know they need it for economic reasons but they also now the majority of foreign companies — or any company for that matter — is driven by the bottom line. That bottom line is the cause of the low wages and poor treatment of environmental laws and regulations.

      And I still say the $5 million could be much, much better used in that city. I think most people in Tijuana would agree with that. And I hate to bring this up, but the dead bodies hanging on the bridge in Tijuana this morning…why do you think those were there? Could it be a response to Tijuana Innovadora and the President’s claim that he’s succeeding in the war against drugs? Who didn’t see this one coming?

    • If you’re going to represent Tijuana, we’d better set your nomenclature straight. The “maquila” is the miller’s portion of the grain he mills for the farmer. The “industria maquiladora” was Mexico’s way of skirting pre-NAFTA Customs duties by taking U.S. raw materials, finishing them, returning them to the U.S. companies, and keeping a portion of the added value.

      The maquiladora industry (or “maquiladoras” for short) was largely responsible for the rampant, uncontrolled urban growth of circa 1975–1995 along with the chemical contamination of the binational wetlands. “Twin-plant” is a more current term. “Maquila” only marks you as someone who does not respect our language.

      The good wages in these factories are earned by a very small minority of workers, all of whom practice dark neoliberal arts like quality control, human resources, and cost accounting. The great majority of the employees are paid wages, as Kinsee mentioned, too low to cover their daily needs. Basic workers’ rights are not observed and attempts at unionization are met with violence.

      There are many reliable studies available that back up what Kinsee has said. For example, the PDF at http://www.jussemper.org/Resources/Corporate%20Activity/Resources/Mexico-Hell_is_the_Tijuana_assembly_line.pdf

      For Tijuana to innovate its businesses, every factory must respect its obligations to the law and to the community. Until such time, our innovation will exist only as a disheartening stream of meaningless slogans (¡vivir mejor!) and P.R. hypocrisy. Tijuana deserves better.

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