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>When the sun goes down in Tijuana

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Article by Rex Wockner
A new flowering of art and nightlife has taken hold in adowntown that once filled with partiers from north of the border.  Whenthe sun goes down in Tijuana,a revitalized club scene heats up.
Americans pretty much have stopped visiting the city, putoff at first by long lines at the border after 9/11, then stopped in theirtracks by a new requirement to have a passport to hop back and forth between San Diego and Tijuana,and now scared by crime reports.
The city’s famed Revolution Avenue — where booming discos,cheap booze, a drinking age of 18 and uncountable souvenir shops hadattracted hordes of Americans for decades — fell on hard times.
But then something remarkable happened. Trendy clubsstarted opening on Sixth Street, on either sideof Revolution, a little over two years ago. Stylish and fashionable, some ofthem feel like an Almodóvar movie, like Buenos Aires, maybe Barcelona.
These hotspots are devoid of American visitors, filled with Baja California trendsters.Yes, Tijuana has gone andgotten groovy.
Jason Fritz, 33, is an American grad student in LatinAmerican Studies at San Diego State University. He lives in Tijuana because he finds it much more interesting than San Diego.“A lot of edgy, young hipsters had been hanging out here on La Sexta (Sixth Street) before therewas any of the new cool bars here — at the Dandy del Sur and La Estrella –but in January of 2009, the Mezcalera opened up and that’s when things justreally took off,” he said. “You started to see a whole new hip sceneemerging in Tijuana.”
“If people are open-minded to discover what’shappening here, they will really be impressed,” Fritz said. “I wouldsay it’s one of the great cultural centers on the West Coast, but the thing is,most people aren’t in on the secret.”
The coolest clubs play “amazing new cutting-edge” local music, he said,referring to internationally known Tijuana creations thatblend regional and folk genres with the latest electronic music.
Fritz is not alone in gushing over this big border citythat many foreigners consider gritty at best.  Derrik Chinn, 29, is anAmerican journalist who has lived in Tijuana for four yearsand has organized “atypical” outings in the city for friends on both sidesof the fence. Recent adventures have included a professional soccer game, the Tijuana Fair and a rollerskating night.
Tijuanais”organized chaos taking an aesthetic form,” Chinn said. “Youhave hundreds of different little worlds existing right next to each other inone city block. It’s amazing.”
“So many spaces have been left empty because of thelack of tourism and finally local businesses started opening up that werefinally catering to locals,” he said. “If you come here from theoutside and you observe what’s going on here — how people dress, the musicthey’re listening to, their overall style — it really does feel like a hipsterscene. Despite everything, Tijuana keeps moving…it keeps living.”
Sergio Gonzalez, 34, is one of the owners of La Mezcalera, which started it all, as wellas an owner of retro-cool Pop Diner at6th and Revolution.
“People were afraid to go out at night two yearsago,” Gonzalez said. “The city was really messed up [so] peoplestarted to come downtown because they weren’t [as] afraid [here]. When weopened La Mezcalera, we tried to do the mix of everything: Come here, it’s notgoing to be a pretentious space, you can be around all kinds of people. And Ithink that was the formula to start to develop this phenomenon and, after that,30 bars opened in the same street!”
“The street is about seeing people,” Gonzalezsaid. “It’s really exciting to see people walking around and to see thecity alive. That, and the fact that you can go from bar to bar and each bar hasa different concept. The people who have opened these bars are young people whotravel and have been in Europe or Mexico City. … I was inspired byPedro Almodóvar. [My] bar is one of the scenes in the movie ‘Volver.’ Theplaces look kind of stylish even though they are really simple.”
OK, we hear you. Sounds great. You’d love to check it out.But isn’t Tijuana too”messed up”? Let’s crunch some numbers and see what we can learn. Tijuana,population 1.6 million, had 818 homicides last year. That’s a lot. It’s not asafe city like San Diego,population 1.3 million, which saw 29 homicides last year. But consider this:New Orleans’ homicide rate is roughly the same as Tijuana’s, and St. Louis,Detroit and Baltimore saw homicide rates last year more than two-thirds as highas Tijuana’s. Beyond that, most of the violence in Tijuana
is not random.
“The violence that we live here is not fortourists,” said Gonzalez, a Tijuana native.”It’s a war between the police and the narcos. It’s nothing to do with thecommon citizen or the tourist.”
Fritz once lived in Baltimore and said it’s “a muchmore frightening town than Tijuana.  “I’ve never really felt threatened here.”
Chinn said humans tend to “identify with whatever weread in the newspaper: ‘That could happen to me.’ The trick is that, no, itprobably won’t happen to you. It really doesn’t affect our lives like peoplewould think.”
That certainly feels true on the downtown club scene. Toget to the action, head down Revolution to Sixth, turn right or left and startbarhopping. Check out trendy Don Loope, Callejón de la Sexta, La Mezcalera, La Chupitería, Zebra and Tasca.Iconic cantinas on the street include Dandy del Sur (said to be a favorite of movie starsDiego Luna and Gael García Bernal of “Y Tu Mamá También” fame) andTropic’s Bar. The blue-collar dancehall La Estrella also is a classic. Beer is$2. Absolut vodka goes for a bit over $4.  Fritz suggests starting with dinnerat Caesar’s, 8190 Revolución at Fifth Street.
Something else new and cool to explore is Pasaje Rodríguez, along passageway between Revolución and Constitución avenues that’s accessiblefrom Revolución between Third and Fourth streets.
“It’s all these independent galleries and shops,”Chinn said. “Most of the owners are under 30. They’re selling vintageclothing, accessories, housewares stuff. There’s cafes and bookstores.”
And although there are shuttered storefronts on Revolution,the old tourist drag is far from dead. On a recent Saturday evening, theremaining clubs, along with surviving and new restaurants, were busy. And thereare even a couple of nice new hotels with rooms for around $30 a night. Thesidewalks were hopping — 100 percent Mexican, a remarkable change for SouthernCalifornians who remember when trying to entice Tijuana friends toRevolution Avenue elicited howls of horror.
In a phrase, it seems this ain’t your daddy’s Tijuana no more.
Written for MSN Local Edition
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>Two-day Pride Festival in Tijuana

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FIRST-EVER, TWO-DAY, OUTDOOR PRIDE FESTIVAL DOWNTOWN JUNE 19 & 20

by Rex Wockner

Tijuana’s 15th gay/lesbian pride march hits the streets Saturday, June 19, at 5 p.m.

Participants will gather in front of the community-based Alliance Against AIDS (ACOSIDA) Clinic at 7648 Calle 1ra, five blocks west of Avenida Revolución between Avenida E (Mutualismo) and Avenida F (5 de Mayo). (Some street signs refer to Calle 1ra as Calle Artículo 123.)

To get there: Walk across the international border at San Ysidro. Exit the southern pedestrian turnstiles (not the western ones). Turn right and follow the tourists across Avenida Amistad, through the Viva Tijuana open-air mall, and across the big Tijuana River pedestrian bridge. Continue walking straight west about three blocks and cross under the huge St. Louis-style arch on Avenida Revolución.

Enter Calle 1ra/Artículo 123 — do not veer slightly left into the slanted Plaza Santa Cecilia pedestrian mall — and proceed to number 7648. (For extra fun, some buildings are marked in both old and new street-numbering systems. Pay attention only to numbers above 7000.)

To get to the border, take the San Diego Trolley or drive and park in a secure, paid lot on the U.S. side. You can ignore bus and taxi drivers on both sides of the fence who insist it’s a long walk to downtown Tijuana, because it isn’t.

FIRST PRIDE FESTIVAL – DOWNTOWN, OUTDOORS, TWO DAYS

Other pride events this year include a first-ever, two-day, outdoor pride festival smack in the center of downtown, stretching east, west and south from the arch. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. both Saturday, June 19, and Sunday, June 20. Entrance is free. Festival Map

According to the organizers: “Come and celebrate together with 10,000 other people the First Annual Tijuana Gay Festival in a three-block area of the center of the city. Discover the latest in gay art, culture and music, experience a variety of diverse food and drink options, and then take over the streets with thousands of friends for a massive hip street party Tijuana-style. Residents and community leaders, with support of the local police, invite you to discover the gay side of Tijuana.”

Last year’s Tijuana pride parade was nearly three times bigger — and twice as long — as in any other year.

The turnout was all the more amazing because the city had been hit with a serious crime wave as drug cartels and dealers battled for dominance. The situation has improved notably since last summer.

In contrast with previous years, almost no gays and lesbians from Southern California crossed the border to join last year’s festivities — it was a purely local and home-grown affair. Many people from San Diego, which is just 15 miles away, have stopped going to Tijuana because of the violence.

Yet the gay parade was bigger, better, longer, more colorful and more spirited than ever. At least 1,000 people marched or rode in the parade itself — which stretched along seven blocks of Avenida Revolución, the main drag of the city of 2 million people. More than 10,000 people watched the spectacle pass.

Then, when the parade got to its endpoint, it took an unscheduled right turn, then another right turn, and headed all the way back to the north end of downtown, traversing Avenida Constitución. Police, who up to that point had made an effort to keep vehicles moving through the heavily congested downtown, gave up at that juncture and resigned themselves to a traffic jam.

“It’s been the best march that’s taken place in the city of Tijuana … the biggest and the most participants,” said organizer Lorenzo Herrera. “People have decided to come out, people no longer want to hide their sexual preference. We all have equality.”

One large official banner carried in the parade read: “Tijuana-Ensenada GLBT Pride. 500,000 pink votes also count. We all have the same rights.”

Another large official banner said: “Homophobia must end. Live your pride with dignity. Homosexuality is not a problem, homophobia is.”

A third one read: “Homophobia is intolerance of homosexuality. Equality begins when we recognize that we all have the right to be different.”

Spectators cheered the parade and smiled broadly. A single protester with a hand-held PA system, stationed at the parade lineup location, asserted repeatedly, “The price of sin is death, according to the Bible.”

Everyone ignored him.

View photos from the 2009 Parade by clicking this link: WOCKNER

>Tijuana Pride Parade was a success

>The weather in Tijuana was not very good and there was a threat of rain but the crowds showed up to cheer on the marchers at the 14th Tijuana Pride Parade.

Check out some great photos on the blog by Rex Wockner: WOCKNER

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