People, people, people...
AGES BEFORE, as the Earth emerged from her latest ice age, the first humans came and settled here. It appears that all these Indian peoples, the earliest and all those who came after until now, followed a nomadic, semi-migratory lifestyle, from the valleys by the sea for the winter, then up into the mountains during summer. They followed ancient pathways where some of our modern roads now go.
One of our writer's brothers followed these trails on foot twenty-five years ago from the coast over the mountains and down from Jacume to the desert (on the U.S. side, not Rumorosa). This was during the day before, and night of, absolute total lunar eclipse. He slept near a hot spring, then awoke at midnight to witness a small black circle in the otherwise star-spangled sky... until the Moon returned in a crack of light. We are a... an intense family. Just so you know where coming from here... to there.
Often, the ancient ones went even farther, beyond the mountains, into the deserts, across the barren flats toward their Yuma cousins on the great river, with whom they shared sister-language. Sometimes the Yuma came over the mountains to the coast to find and take things they did not have in the desert. We moderns call this war.
The surviving descendants of these peoples of our coast call themselves Ipai and Paipai and Kumiai (Kumeyay), and they still live in the mountains and hills on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, from Ensenada to Escondido. Florence Shipek has written extensively about them around here. We recommend her you read.
Some anthropololingists say the Kumiai/Kumeyay speak a tongue that came here from Arizona, perhaps during the great droughts that struck the pueblo cultures of greater New Mexico (Cibola) during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries A.D. The Kumiai made pottery and baskets, and they and/or their predecesors left carvings on the rocks and used stone circles and sun-solstice observatories to measure the year. Some of these remain in a park at Vallecitos, east of Tecate.
(Much farther south, 500 kilometers into the peninsula of Baja California, an even more ancient sequence of cultures created the great cave paintings -- las pinturas rupestres.) These people were trapped in the peninsula and never got out alive.
New neighbors, new neighbors...
Then the New World changed. California came invasion, colonization, and conquest by a new way of life. Cattle, horse, donkeys, swine and sheep arrived with the missionaries, Mexican ranchers and farmers. The newcomers settled in, built adobe and wood cabins, killed the Indians with measles, smallpox and syphillis, turned the survivors into servants and ranch hands, and brought European culture to this end of the continent. Many of the Indians refused to submit, and withdrew into the mountains and deserts, abandoning the coastal strip to the Mexican Californians.
The age of ranchos began, when herds of vacas y caballos were driven to pasture in the valleys and mesas all around here.
The Yankees and their Southern brethren soon arrived in ships full of good things to sell. They bought up cattle hides by the thousand and brought them back next year as new shoes. Their merchant vessels sailed from Massachusetts to China and California - they were the first floating shopping centers, and the Californios rowed out in little boats to shop on San Diego Bay.
Then the Yankees (and others, but especially the USAmericans) began to leave agents and representatives here (as well as in other California locations like Santa Barbara and Monterey), men who took up residence in the Mexican province, conveniently married the ranchers' daughters, even converted to Roman Catholicism, while of course raising the obvious suspicions that they wanted to take over this fertile land for their own peoples.
In 1846, the United States invaded and conquered Mexico, and forced President Santa Ana to surrender (excuse me, to "sell" or secede at point of cannon) almost half of his country. Alta California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. The U.S. drew the new international line just south of San Diego Bay (still a very strategic harbor). The influence of American culture and investment did not stop at the line, however: it stretched further south into Baja California, especially during the Baja gold rush of the 1880s, when Ensenada boomed, filled up with Mexicans and foreigners, and became the first real city - as well as the new capital - of the territory. (Mexicali is the capital now.)
Back in the Tijuana river valley, the earliest Mexican customs office was opened by the border, and the old ranch houses might (no guarantees on this information) have become an important stop for stagecoaches on the road between San Diego and Ensenada. This also might (no guarantees on this information) have been the time when the "myth" of "tia Juana" began to gain credence among Anglo-Americans. Supposedly "aunt Juana" was an old ranch woman who took care of travelers, providing them with good food (and, once upon a time 120 years later, people still come here to eat).
This "tia Juana" myth is pervasive and widespread. Many Tijuanenses have told us it is absolutely true, while others scream and yell and accuse us of being stupid pendejo idiots for even trying to understand why people still talk about her. To us the reason is obvious: everyone likes to eat and "Juana" is a very common name. It does appear, however, that this city, and the rancho from which it grew, were NOT named after anyone named Jane. The most likely explanation is... [transmission interrupted]
Modern times, and "sin city"...
DURING THE 1880s, the hot springs of Agua Caliente (haunted like many places of weird water on this world) also became a tourist attraction for travelers - often called excursionists - who came seeking "the cure" (a tradition still prevalent over a century later in Tijuana, what with inexpensive and alternative doctors, dentists and pharmacies here). Later this sacred spot became the site of the luxurious casino (since destroyed), as well as a golf course (now the Tijuana country club) and a second TJ race track (aka Caliente). FYI: the first Tijuana race track, further down the valley, and closer to the border gate, was repeatedly destroyed by the flooding river. It was located roughly across the (present-day) street from (present-day) Pueblo Amigo. Remember that when it rains and you happen to be down there drinking at Señor Frog's... croak croak.
These early decades of the 20th century were the years when U.S. residents - especially the Hollywood crowd - helped create the "golden age of tourism" which actually was the second "boom" in Baja California history - the 1880s gold rush had been the first (and we are currently [1980-2040] experiencing the 3rd [maquiladora] boom). Back in 1900-1930, Californians began to use (and abuse) Baja California as a playground for drinking, gambling, and other "sinful" tourism. Downtown Tijuana found herself transformed from old west town to a rowdy strip of gambling salons (both fancy & seedy) and drinking saloons (with some well-dressed clubs).
How did this explosion happen? Well, from the 1890s to 1919, reformers over in the States passed laws against vice, namely prostitution, gambling, horse-racing and finally "recreational" (to use a postmodern word) alcohol. This process - developing Tijuana as a "sin" city of dark legend - la leyenda negra - was already underway, but it became especially strong when prohibition made alcohol illegal in the States; that one change "threw the house out of the window" (a Mexican saying).
What goes up, must come down (a Newtonian saying), and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. During the "golden age," enterprising gringos came to Tijuana to make money from other gringos by providing legally what was illegal "on the other side" - first with bullfights, gambling, horse-racing and prostitution, and then, in 1919, the holy grail was delivered and the true "golden age" began with "la ley seca" - "the dry law" - the really big enchilada - alcohol prohibition in the United States. Overnight, thousands upon thousands of Californians were suddenly driving down from Los Angeles for a beer, or three, or ten.
The San Diego Historical Society's Journal of San Diego History has published an informative study on this process and its development, an article which at times (when they are up and running) can be found on line at http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/2002-3/frontier.htm that address.
One curious fact noted in that study is that early on in that process (in 1910), when the filibustering Magonist rebels (a high number of which were reputedly leftist gringo activist sympathizers and mercenaries) invaded and briefly occupied Tijuana and northern Baja California (just before the revolution), they made sure to take their cut from the gambling halls and saloons already in action. Eventually they were defeated and chased out of town by a coalition of federales and locals (there remains ENORMOUS controversy To This Day about these events and you should NOT Believe Anything We Say Here).
Fresh military governors were appointed by Mexico City, and they came north to "take their cuts" as it were from the Yankee criminals, excuse me, "businessmen" of vice, until the reformist president Lazaro Cardenas shut down the casinos in 1938, effectively ending the golden age and finally plunging Tijuana into the great depression. There are still old families in Tijuana who whisper that Cardenas was bribed by Las Vegas mobsters, but... well, this, we honestly believe, is something even less probable than the existence of "Aunt Jane" because in 1938 Las Vegas was still nothing in the middle of nowhere, not yet even a gleam in Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo Eye. Back then, the U.S. mobsters were betting on Cuba, far, far away. Or maybe, once again, WE Are Wrong How the worm doth turn, eh? Howsomeever it may be, we CAN see here how myth is more important than the facts. But Again, you should not trust us: we admire Cardenas in spite of all. Must be the PuritanAbolitionistProgressive streak squeaking in us little mice at the keyboards yes.
But, returning to our subject of vice, well, broad and straight is the path which leads to destruction, and the tradition of partying in TJ was reawakened and carried on into mid-century by American soldiers and sailors during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, who seemed to enjoy having w#ore$ sit on their faces, and thus left their marks upon the history, geography, bars and women of Tijuana in what is sometimes called the "silver age" of tourism. Too many of them (even one would have been too many) were killed and maimed in the wars and so, ever gringo, we drink to them in gratitude for our freedom to write whatever the hail we want - except for respelling words so the censorrobots won't so easily snatch us up quite. *Sigh* every silver cloud has a dark lining it seems... yes....
All the while, behind the glitz and glitter of gold and silver, millions of Mexican workers have continued crossing north - both with and without legal documents - into the U.S., looking for work. But many have stayed here, in Tijuana, either by choice or deportation, to work in the postmodern mass sprawl of maquiladora factories, and fill the ex-rancho valleys and hills with houses and shacks, creating a border megalopolis where "one world becomes another" and sociologists trumpet their discovery of the future. Applause, please. We're almost done with this ancient history....
The environment where this all began, meanwhile, is very typical California geography & ecology. A variable river, wet in winter, then half-dry in summer, reaches toward the sea. Life comes from rain that flows down jagged canyons from the mountains to the ocean seeking valleys of the coast. Here, in that valley, our modern human powers draw a line in sand: the border.