The things I've seen—and done—in Tijuana, Mexico would make your blood run cold. Growing up along both sides of the border you see a lot of heavy shit, and a good bulk of that is showcased in Here is Tijuana!, a beautifully designed photo book by Fiamma Montezemolo, Rene Peralta, and Heriberto Yepez.

Support The Portland Mercury

We see shots of young prostitutes in the Coahuila sex district, La Peni (the state prison), strip bars, and all sorts and manners of decadence, dangerous fun, and lethal good/bad times. But to focus on the seedy Tijuana, the Tijuana we get in latently racist American movies and gringo horror stories, is to stereotype a place rich in history, art, and a culture once raped into existence, now pulling itself out from under the shade of poverty and corruption. ("Tijuana is barely getting started," say the authors.) Here is Tijuana! gives it all, from lucha wrestlers to beautiful architecture to churches, murals, street vendors, passed-out drunks, homeless kids, dance clubs, and classy old black 'n' white photos of mariachi bands and the Agua Caliente racetrack. Like any frontier town, TJ can be dangerous (I've seen as many brutally slain bodies there as you'll get in an American action film), but if you leave the tourist region, there are long, rolling hills, peaceful and shady parks, and placid beaches.

In the book's intro the authors collectively write, "Tijuana subverts the identity of the Mexican city. Since its origin in the 19th century, Tijuana was a transnational transaction; a mishmash of Mexican identity, a negotiation of interests and identities." Along with the photos, evidence of the city's indefinable nature comes in literary quotes, interviews, census data, statistics, financial breakdowns ("Boy giving the client oral sex $50... Vaginal sex with a 'Cherry Girl' [virgin] $500"), and email conversations. By book's end, you're left with an enormous pile of images and information, less an attempt to codify or compartmentalize the place than a document of its counter-force jockeying and schizophrenic beauty. Like the old folk saying goes, "Mexico lindo y podrido"—Mexico beautiful and rotten.

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30