By Beryl Forman
Growing up in the 1970’s in Tijuana, Linda Caballero Sotelo explained that “our mind set was that we had the best of both worlds.” Almost everyone moved freely through the border to accomplish their daily activities. For groceries, people from Tijuana preferred to shop locally for their meat, produce, cheese, and tortillas, but would cross regularly for bread, canned items, ice cream, novelty goods, and to do large loads of laundry. She recalls a childhood activity of going to Bonita on Tuesday nights for $1 movies. This bi-national lifestyle is inherent to many who grew up close to the border.
While it is evident that this way of life is no longer as flexible, Linda believes that San Ysidro, adjacent to the Mexican border, has never greatly benefited from this cross border lifestyle. Linda consults and works for Casa Familiar, a neighborhood based community development, social service agency in San Ysidro. From the perspective of someone who grew up in Tijuana, Linda describes San Ysidro as a pass through area, a place to exchange money, run last minute errands, fill up the car with gasoline, but not a place to spend leisure or otherwise valuable time.
On the same note, Linda believes that there is no reason why it can’t be much more. San Ysidro is the most popular stop of the San Diego trolley line. It is a port of entry for an enormous amount of goods and services coming in and out of Mexico. It serves as an entry to the international airport in Tijuana and is home to many commercial industries that are located adjacent to the border. As fluid as the San Ysidro is when it comes to the exchange of goods and people, Linda believes that the same should be true of arts and culture as well as first-class urban infrastructure.
In line with strategic work of Casa Familiar, Linda believes that projects that support the success of San Ysidro will not come from a master plan conceptualized and developed elsewhere, but from intentional collaborations and concerted leadership from many fronts including community stakeholders. In order to get to where they want to be and create a world class projects like a new library and a Museum of the Americas’, Linda works strategically with the Casa team and others on growing and legitimizing San Ysidro’s economic development and arts and cultural programs.
These efforts began by developing an inventory of San Ysidro’s human and capital assets. Linda and her team accounted for a number of informal practices of arts and culture found throughout the community including forklorico, acting, dancing, music, spoken word, poetry and drawing. She has helped integrate these practices into Casa Familiar’s art spaces, The Front: a Collaborative of Art, Culture, Design and Urbanism, and into Casa’s socials services including youth and senior programs. The results of these efforts have generated funding interest from national foundations such as Ford, Warhol and others.
Linda and the Casa team are focused on developing cross-border collaborations by aligning and convening artists and arts practitioners from both San Ysidro and Tijuana. Linda has also established an international reputation by working in the acclaimed bi-national US/MEXICO public arts residency and exhibition projects inSITE97 and inSITE2000. It was here where she first met local architect and artist Teddy Cruz, a long time collaborator of Casa Familiar, whose work has been exhibited in contemporary museums throughout the country.
Now, with formal programming in place, San Ysidro is gaining public awareness as well as funding to support projects that truly have the potential to drive San Ysidro towards becoming the center of our bi-national border region. Currently on the radar is an opportunity to draw a large pool of HUD (Dept. Housing & Urban Development) monies through NURSA to support projects around micro enterprises, affordable housing, transportation infrastructure and a world class museum that will enable San Ysidro to continue to thrive.
Linda is hopeful that with political will from local elected officials, funding through NURSA, and other types of forward-thinking projects funding, the opportunity to identify matching funds from Mexico to construct collaborative ‘mirror’ projects in Tijuana will become more viable.
Because San Ysidro has always been a “forgotten little town” of sorts, the people who work there have the latitude to explore a great range of options. Starting in 1968, Casa Familiar has taken matters into their own hands to foster community activism and build a thriving bi-national city. Once Andrea Skorepa, the CEO for the last 30+ years, took the helm of the organization, Casa Familiar diversified into affordable housing, quality of life issues via environmental awareness, civic engagement and embracing the arts to foster creative placemaking. The organization’s shift attracted and spurred bi-nationals like Linda Caballero Sotelo, to rediscover this unique and magical community, full of promise and opportunity for both sides of La Frontera.
Beryl Forman is the Marketing Director for the El Cajon Blvd Business Improvement District, which includes North Park and City Heights. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in City Planning at SDSU.