Saludos from Tijuana, Mexico!
I would like to say from "sunny Tijuana, Mexico, but we haven't had a lot of sun lately.In fact, Tijuana and Southern California have had more rain this year then they have had in decades and more is forecast for this week.We needed more rain than we have received in the last several years, but not this much.It is taking a high toll on the roads and the houses as their foundations wash away.You have probably seen the pictures of homes in San Diego and Los Angeles that are collapsing down hillsides and into sinkholes. It is a tragedy for these families, and although insurance might replace much of the cost of their homes, it can not replace any of the things that are lost which are dearer to hearts than property.
What you have not seen have been the images of loss and danger from the other side of the border.
We have not lost too many mansions in Tijuana but there have been many houses destroyed, and many more are sitting precariously on the edge of hillsides that are falling away beneath them.Hundreds of them are at risk of collapse.
As the best land in Tijuana is disappearing, the poorest people tend to build their homes wherever they can find space, usually in the hillsides and canyons.They take whatever land is available and just begin building their shacks without adhering to any building codes or passing any inspections.It is a much simpler system.
We in the US, when we want to buy a house, have to save enough for a down payment, maintain credit to be able to afford to get a loan, and go through an exhausting search for the right property.In Tijuana, for the poorest people, it is nothing like this at all. They buy a piece of land, which may or may not have a legal title, or, if they have no money at all, find a space where they are unlikely to be kicked off any time soon.Rather then save to buy a house all at once, they do it on the installment plan.Starting with cardboard or plywood, they put up four walls (if they're lucky) and a roof (also if they're lucky).Then comes the installment plan. They buy blocks one or two at a time until they have enough for a wall, and then they put up a wall.Repeat process for the next wall, and the next.Houses here are never finished, but always seem to be in a process of expansion and improvement.If you've been to Tijuana, you'll see that almost every block wall has some rebar sticking out of the top, so that one day they can add the next story.
The older neighborhoods have more houses which are solid block.As the government catches up with the new developments, they bring in water, sewage, paved roads and electricity.The newest neighborhoods are almost all cardboard and plywood, without any city services.
Although the poverty of the newly arrived is so great, one has to admire the resourcefulness of the people.The system works fairly well until...the rain.The dirt roads become impassible. Raw sewage floods into the canyons.Schools are cancelled as it is impossible to walk into these neighborhoods without being covered in mud.Most houses of either wood or block, terraced on hillsides, were not built with much foundation.Retaining walls are often improvised systems of old tires stacked together and often are supporting the weight of the houses.
We have seen that even the best built mansions in the US can't survive when the rain erodes the earth beneath them away.And so it is that many homes in Tijuana have been lost.The fear is that entire hillsides may be falling down, displacing not one family or two, but dozens, and perhaps hundreds.Unlike homeowners in the US, the people here have no insurance policies and few other places to go.They can't even count on police or public safety officers to evaluate the danger and evacuate them if need arises.What may be worse, as much as the stories are barely covered in the local news, is that no one knows or cares.
I share this with you because I think it's important that you know.We are expecting more rain this week, and as you may see images from Los Angeles or San Diego on the news, please remember in your prayers your brothers and sisters on the Mexican side of the fence who might be facing similar losses, but outside the world's attention.
Ray Schellinger and Adalia Gutiérrez