Women Have the Moral Authority

Marisol Rosa-Shapiro writes about the situation on the ground in Tijuana. The 2019 Tijuana tour was unlike any CWB – USA has ever done. The team performed at the border, as families waited in line to learn who would be granted interviews. 

Marisol Rosa-Shapiro

Samuel’s Introduction to the Migratory Landscape in Tijuana

Having absorbed a few clownish detours and delays, Derrick and I finally arrive in Tijuana on Wednesday afternoon, from San Diego and Seattle, respectively.  We orient ourselves to the house, eat some snacks that Molly has prepared, and sit down for an orientation talk with Samuel, our local contact and “fixer” for the dual Clowns Without Borders/Hearts of The World project.

Samuel brought the world’s most delicious guava cheesecake (yes, clowns love dessert before dinner!), and takes time to provide us with a detailed account of the recent history of migration in Tijuana. He starts by noting that Tijuana is currently ranked as one of the top five most violent cities in the world, primarily due to a high homicide rate linked to drug trafficking. Into this dangerous situation, he explains, vulnerable migrants from southern Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, Haiti, and even some Middle Eastern countries, arrive on their way to seek refuge, asylum, or opportunity in the United States. Simultaneously, Tijuana receives deportees from north of the border.

In the chaos and desperation of the migrant or deportee experience—including poverty, violence, seemingly interminable wait times, and seemingly insurmountable odds—many migrants may die at the hands of traffickers, become addicted to drugs, or otherwise “disappear or disperse” into the local population.  Samuel explains that the city’s mayor, as well as some other officials and local residents disparage the vulnerable migrants despite the fact that Tijuana “is, and always has been, a migrant city.”

Since several migrant caravans have arrived in Tijuana in recent months (most notably in October/November of 2018), a huge number of non-profit organizations have spring up to provide services that the government is not providing to these new arrivals, including shelter, food and water, safety and security, medical care, psychological counseling, and legal and spiritual support. Ninety percent of these NGOs, he notes, are religious institutions that have opened their doors and converted themselves into shelters.  “In the midst of the darkness we have seen light,” Samuel tells us. “The people with the least give the most…And the women are absolutely leading the charge—they have the moral authority in this town.”

Meanwhile, additional service organizations have appeared to help coordinate the shelters and services that already exist.  That’s where Samuel’s Borderlands and Global Immersion Project come in. These organizations advise both the service providers and volunteers about how to most effectively connect for efficient, mutual support. Recent efforts include researching and implementing innovations towards sustainable solutions for supporting migrants in precarious shelter situations—innovations like solar power and harvesting rain water. “The funny thing is, there are plenty of U.S. citizens living here, illegally, too,” Samuel says. “But they are ‘snowbirds,’ while Central American migrants are criminalized.” At the end of his charla, Samuel reminds us of the long game: the therapeutic impact of our arts-based, resiliency-building work will not be seen immediately, but will reveal itself overtime. He compares it to the value of a cocoon to a butterfly’s transformation.

The following morning, we begin building our clown show on the roof of our lodging, as hundreds of migrating butterflies flew north, seemingly dancing to our ukulele strains.

Songs and Sounds, Strings and Strains of CWB

I’d wanted to purchase and learn to play the ukulele for several months, and finally got my hands on one just days before our Tijuana project began. I love the way that live music can support a clown performance. Even something as simple as a few ukulele strums can really give breath, life, playfulness and a special kind of aliveness to an act. My plan was to learn up to three chords that I could play comfortably enough to accompany some of the nonverbal acts in the show. So far, I’ve only used one: good, old reliable C major. Using just one strong little chord on four willing little strings, I can play my way through acts in each of our parades and performances.

If you want to hear more songs that are essential to the CWB Tijuana tour, check out “Somos Migrantes” by Polache and Nilo Espinal, “Viajera” by Luis Arcaraz, “I Like to Cha-Cha” by DRAM…and, of course, listen for some laughter.

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