Tijuana Colonias

Convivencia Ciudadana lifts up Tijuana’s neighborhoods with art and engagement

Gabriela Posada del Real and Camino Verde community leader Alma Teresa Carrillo

Gabriela Posada del Real and Camino Verde community leader Alma Teresa Carrillo

Slide show and discussion on Saturday, October 11 at 7:00 PM in San Diego’s Art Produce Gallery, on University Avenue in North Park

Tijuana is thriving. And you see this mostly in Tijuana’s neighborhoods, its rows of new master-planned communities decorating the landscape, “For Sale” signs on every corner.

An event coming up this weekend, Saturday night October 11, at Art Produce Gallery in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood will engage with this scramble for land, streets and sidewalks, and roof overhead.

It’s part of a six-week binational art installation, performance and lecture series called The Fence/La Barda curated by San Diego’s Feminist Image Group and Tijuana’s Distrito 10 gallery.

On Saturday night, October 11, beginning at 7 pm, Gabriela Posada del Real will present a talk and slide show  “Art as a Public Safety Intervention in Border Communities.” With a three-year grant from US-AID, Posada del Real has been managing a host of community projects in Tijuana’s neighborhoods of Mariano Matamoros, Granjas Familiares and Camino Verde. The program is grounded in the urban development method of CPTED, a strategy for crime prevention that relies on urban studies expert Jane Jacobs’ concept of “eyes on the street.”

Good urban development should encourage city-dwellers to get out and walk around, Jacobs argued. People need to be able to occupy their streets and parks and sidewalks. When local community members get involved and get to know each other, their very presence in the street drives away crime and violence. Slowly people can start making positive changes in their own space.


Tijuana artist Ariana Escudero paints a family portrait mural on the side of the family’s home

Under the guidance of Gabriela Posada del Real, Tijuana’s local architects, urban planners and artists have worked since 2012 to organize people like Alma Teresa Carrillo and her neighbors in Camino Verde.  Camino Verde is an enormous neighborhood in central Tijuana, with a population of 42,000.  It was settled by “paracaidistas” or “parachuters” –a form of settlement common in many Tijuana colonias. New factory jobs and explosive population growth left hundreds of families–newly arrived from Michoacán, Durango, Guerrero and other southern Mexican states–with nowhere to live.  Local political and labor leaders would organize families into a movement, and together they would “invade” an area of the city, rapidly building dozens of simple dwellings.

Camino Verde was founded in 1984 as “Grupo Mexico” by PRI leader Alejandro Herrera Bejarano, his wife Roxana Soto Agüero who continues as the current political leader of the delegation.  Working closely with the PRI (the ruling political party), Bejarano and Soto offered protection to the new settler families. Rather than being kicked out by the police, the people were able to put down roots, and these leaders earned the veneration and gratitude of the new neighbors in Camino Verde.


Camino Verde, central Tijuana neighborhood

But this form of personal leadership came with a price. The neighborhood soon earned a reputation for harboring criminals. Because the people feared that the police would come to push them out of the neighborhood, the police were never allowed to enter.  And so criminals sought out Camino Verde as an ideal spot to disappear and escape prosecution.

Political leadership based on personal protection has made the people very passive and conformist, according to neighborhood leader Alma Teresa Carrillo, who migrated from Durango, and moved to Camino Verde with her family when she was teenager in the 1980s. “All the streets were named after the members of the Bejarano family: my mother lived on Roxana Soto Street and I lived on Ziria Roxana and the next street was called Alejandro Soto.”

Carrillo remembers her mother warning her to keep her opinions to herself: “These people have ears everywhere, this is not a game. You don’t want them to hear you complain.”

And decades of living with basic instability and fear of dislocation has created a culture of conformity that has been hard to change, says Carrillo.  “The people in general are very conformist when it comes to the economy. As long as they have enough to eat, they just say, “God will provide for tomorrow.”

After years of pushing, things are beginning to change, but there is a lot left to do, notes Carrillo. There are elementary and secondary schools in the neighborhood, but not a single high school for a population of 42,000 people.

In 2011, with funding from the local and state governments, Camino Verde’s built environment began to change. A program to put cement floors into people’s homes was funded by the Department of Urban Development.

Gabriela Posada del Real and her partner artist Garzón Masabó developed a project to paint homes and murals, and succeeded in painting 1000 homes in the neighborhood.  This project gave rise to the current initiative, helping to build capacity and mobilize the people to help themselves.

Under Posada del Real’s leadership, the program Convivencia Ciudadana is working to help people map and evaluate their own neighborhood.

Julia Cerrud (center) presenting the Camino Verde project at the Festival Entijuanarte at CECUT, Oct 2014

Julia Cerrud (center) presenting the Camino Verde project at the Festival Entijuanarte at CECUT, Oct 2014

In Camino Verde, the architecture firm Amorphica and it’s non-profit branch Comunidades Emergentes (Emergent Communities) under the leadership of Julia Cerrud has worked to help organize community projects since 2013. People begin by doing surveys and making maps of their own streets. Then they identify problems in the built environment–like abandoned lot, broken street lights, or spots with no sidewalks.

Through genuine long-term commitment and engaged local participation, the program has helped build cohesion and empower community members to take actions to improve their neighborhood on their own.

Art interventions like mural painting help mobilize young people and build community pride.  When people see the neighborhood transformed, they get more involved, and the work continues.

Join us this Saturday, October 11, to learn more about these ongoing projects in Tijuana.

THIS WEEK October 11, 2104 at 7:00 PM: “Art as a Public Safety Intervention in Border Communities” by Gabriela Posada del Real, Tijuana

October 18, 2014 at 7:00 PM: “Occidente Nuevo: Recycled Tijuana” by Minnesotan photographers Laura Migliorino and Anthony Marchetti


Located in North Park at

3139 University Ave

San Diego, CA 92116

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Historical Sources:

“Camino Verde” Red de Coaliciones Comunitarias. <http://www.coaliciones.org/camino-verde/es>

Carrillo, Alma Teresa. Personal Interview. July 4, 2014.

Hillyard, William and Guillermo Arias. “City of Castoffs” Earth Island Journal. Spring 2010. <http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/city_of_cast_offs/>

“Noticias Estatales” El Mexicano.  June 11, 2014 <http://www.el-mexicano.com.mx/informacion/noticias/1/3/estatal/2014/06/11/761247/politica-y-politicos>

Simon, Joel. “The Last of the Caciques.” Santa Fe Reporter.  May 2, 1990. <http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/7743200/>

One Comment

  1. Edith Frampton says:

    Another great post, Jill!

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