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About Tijuana, Baja California

The Gateway to Baja and much more...  
 By: Slade Ogletree

Us Mexico BorderIn the 1800’s Tijuana and the surrounding area was the home of the Mixtecs. The Mixtecs were from the area in the south of Mexico where they had built one of many rich cultures that flourished during the time of the Aztec rule. Drought and disease claimed the Mixtecs rich culture and the people to began to scatter. Some filtered through the Mainland mixing with other groups while others found a refuge in Baja. A group of Mixtecs who had migrated north formed, in 1860, the Colonia Obrera or Worker’s Neighborhood on a group of hills overlooking San Diego Bay. Many Mixtecs still work the farms in the hills surrounding the city of Tijuana.

Tijuana Museo de ArtTijuana trinket shoppingThere are different views on the origin of the name for the town. One belief is that it came from an ancient Indian word, "Tiguan", meaning "close to the water." Another view holds that the name came from a ranch, Tia Juana’s (Aunt Jane’s) Ranch, owned by the Allegro Family. Nobody really knows for sure, but the question can still spark a lively debate in many of the city’s “cantinas” today.

Tijuana remained a dusty, sleepy, and isolated village for many years. In 1891 a flood wiped out what there was of a town, but things were about to change. The remaining buildings were moved to higher ground. The building of a railroad, from 1906 to 1919, to connect the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego to the east led to a great jump in the tourism and recreation industry of Tijuana. With many of the construction camps and the terminus of the line actually south of the border, local merchants were quick to see huge profits to be made from the railroad workers “blowing off a little steam.”

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Street vendors in TJWith the completion of the railroad, tourists were quick to move into Tijuana as the rail workers moved on. With cheap liquor, native crafts, and an “anything goes” attitude this once ramshackle town was fast becoming a thriving Mecca for the fun-seeking crowds of tourists from Southern California. Soon, racetracks and casinos sprung up. Prohibition, which began in 1920, caused thousands of thirsty tourists to swarm the still legal bars “south of the border”.

World War II brought two new military bases to San Diego and thousands of troops passed through them on their way to war. Tijuana instantly became the place of choice for them to go in their off hours. The war years also brought tremendous growth to the area and soon Tijuana was known as the new place to get somewhere in Mexican life. While many were content working in the Tijuana area, others had different goals. Numerous Mexicans from the south came looking to find jobs in the U.S. agricultural industry in the southwestern states of Arizona, California and Texas. These jobs provided cheap labor for the ranchers and the opportunity for many Mexicans to make a better life for themselves. Tijuana was the way for them to get out of the country.

Over the years border crossing regulations and the methods of their subsequent enforcement have changed, and today the subject remains a hot political topic on both sides of the border. In the early 1960’s, in an attempt to stem the northward flow of able-bodied workers, the Mexican Government instituted two new programs, PRONAF, Programa Nacional Frontiero, and BIP, the Border Industrialization Program. These programs were designed to spur the growth of business in the TJ restaurantBorder Area. From the BIP, a new industry began. Maquiladoras, assembly plants, were a direct result of the BIP. This effort to entice industrial and commercial business to the border was led by Fairchild Industries who built the first of these plants.

Today there are thousands of Maquiladoras in the border area, and business is booming. Cheap labor is a large reason for the boom. Labor in Tijuana’s maquiladoras simply costs much less than that of labor in the United States or Japan. Many United States and foreign companies such as Sanyo, Ford, General Electric, and thousands more have invested large segments of their business in Mexico’s maquiladoras industry.

The history of Tijuana may be short, but over the years the city has had the unique advantage of forming and molding its own little niche in the world. The tourism and recreation business was only the beginning in Tijuana’s industrial future. Today, Tijuana plays a major role in both the U.S and Mexican economic picture. It is the capital of Baja California and the primary portal for all of Baja’s Imports and Exports. The San Diego/Tijuana border is the busiest in the world with 72.9 million people crossing in 2007.