Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dos Gringas, Bombaros, & Anne Frank

The first clue should have been the deserted tunnel that ran from San Ysidro to Tijuana.

It was seventy degrees on the Sunday early afternoon, a sunny day bookended by severe storms.

Yet no one but my cousin's wife, Genny, and I strolled past the graffitied walls, over the bridge and across Avenida Revolucion to the plaza.

My dad had warned me against going into Mexico. My husband kept his phone on the whole time, waiting for the call of how much they wanted to give me back. Neither of my girlfriends would go with me. But Genny would, so we headed over the border in search of skeletons and tin art.

After picking up a poncho and straw hat for Dave and several eskeletos for the kids, I realized that Genny and I were the only shoppers in the alleys. Most of the metal doors had remained shut, and in the last open store, we asked the furniture vendor at what point in the day they would open.

From under butterfly flags, she explained that the stores weren't opening. That because of bad media and the recession, the sellers had gone for good.

She went on to tell us that we were the only "white people" she'd seen in a week. A week!

There were no tourists. There was no money.

On our way back to the bridge, Genny and I visited the Bomberos, our international family of firefighters. There were more engines there than in any station I've ever seen. Do you sell shirts, I asked them. They said they didn't. But one insisted I take his.

Of course, I didn't want to take the man's uniform. He probably only had a couple, if that, and I suddenly felt selfish and thoughtless.

But when the man brought me to the back of the bay, to a room not unlike Dave's in Oregon, and when he pulled a shirt from his bag and handed it over proudly, I accepted with humility.

I thanked the man and hugged him, and as we crossed Avenida Negrete, I held up the shirt to a passing van of policia, who got a good laugh.

In the vast customs building, I looked over my shoulder. Thousands of border crossers were herded like cattle through metal stalls. And not one of them, not one, was "white."

Maybe it's true that Tijuana isn't perfect. Maybe bad things happen there, maybe even to good people. But on this day, the worst thing that happened was that it was tough finding a Diet Coke (Coca Light).

It reminded me of Anne Frank's famous quote: "...Despite everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."


Shannon O'Donnell said...

Jennie, have I told you lately how much I appreciate your positive attitude? You are like gold to my heart! :-)

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Oh, what a great story. So positive. Thank you for sharing it.

Sharon Mayhew said...

First let me commend you on going after all the warnings. I'm like you I would have expected it to be full of tourists and shops. I'm sorry that the economy there has been affected by the economy here. Hopefully, it will get better soon. :) Lovely touching piece, Jennie.

Jennie Englund said...

Shannon and Carolina, I LOVE you! I've never thought of myself as an optimist. Next time I go, you're in!!!

Yes, Sharon, it HAS to get better down there. And here. All over the world.

Elana Johnson said...

Excellent story. And I believe that quote too.

Shelli said...

i agree with you - expect the best, hopefully we;ll get the best

Suzette Saxton said...

I think for the most part the quote is true. There are a few lemons out there, however. Glad you had a good experience!