Regreso a lo Mismo


Words :

Marinthia Gutierrez-Velasco

Photos:

Marinthia Gutierrez-Velasco

Approximately 154 miles away from UCLA’s campus, two and a half hours away (without traffic), I find myself home in a different city, Tijuana, and, a different country: Mexico. Living in a ciudad fronteriza, a border city, for most of my life, it is normal for me to go back and forth between two countries. If I were writing this story back home, people would wonder what’s novel about this story. Living between Mexico and the United States is an essential part of their daily routines. My home has become unaware of the cultural shifts, we have grown used to it. Yet I am not here to write or create images about borders or crossing them. For those in Los Angeles that have come far from home, geographically, culturally, or politically, you understand that celebrating home can happen in the smallest ways. Going back and observing my everyday sights after living here, a new appreciation of home flourished. I discovered stories that were right under my nose. Now when I go back, I am the spectator of the events of the past. This is an ode to the bittersweet feeling of returning home to a contrasting landscape.

MARCH 11, 2017

I pick up one of my best friends at her house to go out. I used to live in the same neighborhood as her when we were growing up, Chapultepec, or “La Chapu” for short. Sometimes it scares me how much time has passed. It seems like not too long ago we were still having sleepovers in middle school at each other’s houses and now I pick her up late to hang at bars. When we talk about things we have done, telling remember-whens we’ve shared, we realize that those things had happened six, or seven years ago and we stare at each other in complete shock.
A night before taking this picture, I had gone to a Café Tacvba concert in Anaheim. In one of the many conversations I had with my friend while we drove down the I-5, we laughed how we had gone to O.C. to a concert for a Mexican band that we could’ve seen back home (at Parque Morelos, but the sound is terrible there). We talked about how much the dollar had been going up, and how we remembered when a 10 pesos coin was the equivalent to a dollar—now it’s the double of that amount. Around the city, neon signs shine into several corners of the blocks where drivers can easily spot them. Currency exchange stores here are as common as any convenience stores. The last couple of months have provided distress in the economy, affecting border cities like Tijuana. Since the U.S. election last November, we have seen the U.S. Dollar fluctuating from 17 to 22 pesos, and feel relieved when we see the dollar settling at 18, high in comparison to what it used to be. It’s a conversation we remember our parents used to have. It didn’t concern us as kids.

Much later that night, after a couple of beers and early-2000s-hymns playing at the bar, me and my friends were approached by a group of three Americans wearing jergas (Mexican-styled sweatshirts). They danced with us for a while and introduced themselves to us. They asked us where we were from. The guy who had asked the question was too surprised to validate our responses as true. My friend looked at him confused, but he insisted how her “English was really good.” I saw her rolling her eyes to him. It isn’t the first time that this has happened to us—we have both lived the same shallow-minded conversations together, apart. What bothered us wasn’t the question itself, but how they ask it, the sense of entitlement we sometimes see with white men, especially when they are in a place that they are unfamiliar with. We decided to leave them for another place and other conversations. Cherubs tinted in glass served as décor and veladoras defined the ambiance of the space. For us, it was normal to take these objects for granted. We didn’t bat an eye at their sacrilegious uses, Catholicism and its associated articles now more cultural than religious. I still found sanctity in them, the ethereal awe they produced in the dimmed lights of the crammed joint where craft beer was being served besides an altar. My friends grabbed me by the hand and we made our way to another place in this eternal bar crawl.

Traditional club lights and cartoon murals are what make this place the most popular spot for the youths back home.
Last call before the night was over. Past midnight me and my best friend still managed a way to get to the dance floor and dance to Selena. This was the place where you saw all of your ex-classmates from grade school but you persevered anyways. We’re at Fresco—popular this year because of  the theme parties they host every Thursday night. From Rebelde to High School Musical, you could go once a week to get plastered and sing to the songs of your childhood. The bar attracted all 90s kids, designed with Nickelodeon murals and Britney Spears posters on its walls. A strange nostalgia hit, but it was new way to associate an old iconography through new and adult spaces. Me and my friend were tired of getting pushed by 18 year olds and decided to say our goodbyes. It would be the last time to go out and see my friends in a while before coming back again. As I saw these pictures on my way home, I became aware of the irony of making a story that has mainly taken place at bars in Tijuana, while I am always advocating that my hometown is more than a place to get drunk.

APRIL 9, 2017

I finally went to meet with a friend that I hadn’t seen in at least two years. The place was Cine Tonalá, a new art cinema/café/restaurant/bar that opened at the end of last year. I frequent this space because the film selections they screen are good; and the café was the perfect excuse to hang around after the showing. My sister and I noticed that we tended to go there while it rained; the open doorways and tall ceilings gave it magnitude, exposing the view of La Revu blending with the seasonal storms from January to March. This is the only place in the city where I felt a connection with film. Of course there are commercial movie theatres, but there is no sense of community. There was curation of  interaction before or after a screening. It made me very happy seeing that a space for people to enjoy films as much as I do. The new, cultural space in the heart of the city, Avenida Revolución, globally infamous for engaging vices, inspired hope for the younger generations. Perhaps this cultural and artistic shift will take on the streets little by little in the future.

What I love about Tonalá the most is that it does not look like a movie theatre. The stairs heading down from the restaurant’s terrace to café area lead to an alley before entering the theatre’s lobby. The diffused yellow light on the right is a neon sign that reads in Spanish: “The place where the Sun comes out.”

Me and my friend go to the terrace to catch up on the time that has

passed since we started college. It’s exciting seeing old friends in new places, it made me think of how much Tijuana is changing but stays the same. Dusk shifted to night, and it was almost time for me to head back to LA. I romanticize this particular time of day and the view photographed here can’t do justice to the actual landscape. It is not the prettiest view, but a very interesting one. Downtown and Revolución started back in the early 19th century as a center for tourism, then adult entertainment, followed by commerce, and then it died down a bit, until it gave way to an amalgamation of everything. My family has lived close to it since my great-grandmother and grandfather arrived in the city. My great-grandfather had several cabarets in el centro and decades later his daughter, my grandmother, opened up a boutique shop when my mom was a teenager. In someway there is a family history of mine with the area that I have been trying to reconnect with. The city is constantly emerging, trying to reinvent itself.

APRIL 10, 2017

It all started at home. I said goodbye to my house before heading back to school. The earliest memories of my life took place in this house, which was once my grandparents and is now mine. I feel a little sad every time I leave because I feel that I also leaving a part of myself. But at least I have something to go back to.