In two pasajes (passageways) partially camouflaged by the chaos of Avenida Revolucion in downtown Tijuana, 116 independent publishers gathered to trade and sell their hand bound, stapled and Xeroxed manuscripts. Once filled with curio shops catering to debaucherous American tourists, the two mural-lined pasajes became the setting for the second annual Tijuana Zine fest. Zine makers from both sides of the border (some from places as far away as Chicago and Mexico City), came together under the yellow hue of the corrugated plastic ceilings, their energetic cacophony a reflection of the unfettered bilingual dialogue not limited by the mainstream media.
This event might not have been possible ten years ago when the Mexican drug wars left these pasajes nearly empty. Fortunately, the space was reclaimed by local artists and culture makers who opened up galleries, bookstores and coffee shops in the aftermath of violence. Their efforts transformed the desolate corridors into a lively cultural hub for locals: an appropriate venue for the largest celebration of self-publishing to happen in this ever-evolving border city.
In the last decade, there’s been a resurgence in self-publishing as part of a craft renaissance and these festivals are popping up in urban centers and small cities alike. The Long Beach Zine Fest celebrates their third year in August, there’s an Inland Empire Zine Fest, and even a San Fernando Valley festival, all drawing those with a penchant for the offbeat and DIY.
The founders of the Tijuana Zine Fest, Luisa Martinez and David Peña, grew up existing on both sides of the border for school and work. Martinez organized independent music shows in Tijuana where she met Peña and found a shared interest in zines. They noticed the city lacked an event where local zinesters could network and present their work. Looking to fill that gap, they started the TJ Zine Fest.
It's important for them to create an environment of collaboration and understanding for participants and attendees by making zines from the Tijuana available in the U.S. and vice versa. “A lot of our Tijuana vendors can’t go to the States. We are a platform, so we table at the L.A., San Diego, Puerto Rico and New York zine fests and through this tabling we can bring Tijuana content to other places where the artists themselves might not be able to go. Self-publishing is a way of crossing that border,” explains Martinez.
Xicx, a Latinx zine collective from Chicago, decided to bypass other U.S. zine fests and instead invested in attending Tijuana’s. They wanted to share the stories of U.S. members who may not be able to cross the border into Mexico. “A lot of our contributors in the U.S. are undocumented and the significance of this being a border town and sending their stories across the border means a lot,” describes Chrissy Puga, one of the co-founders of the collective.
Take a look inside "The Realness: Being an Unapologetic Xigonx" by Xicx Zine Collective
“Having so many zinesters [from the U.S. and Mexico] wanting to participate shows that bi-nationality, where people think it’s relevant to bring that stuff to TJ and vice versa. The exchange of information goes both ways,” explains Sarah Bennett, a journalist and volunteer organizer for the Long Beach Zine Fest who’s attended the TJ Zine Fest both years.
From anarchist zines and pamphlets teaching Spanish to English-speaking herbalists, to border comics and poetry about being ni de qui ni de alla (neither from here nor from there), there was a clear interest in generating a transnational conversation where diverse perspectives could find an audience.
Take a look inside "Border Cliche Zine" by Urbano Mata
Influences spanning parts of Mexico, Latin America, the U.S., China, and now, even Haiti exist within the boundaries of Tijuana. Whether their intention is to stay or cross the border into the U.S., people from all over the world constantly stream into the city, their cultures rubbing up against each other. As a result, Tijuana’s identity continues to be in flux, always questioned and building upon itself as information is transferred. Zines can be a way to express these identities that don’t fit neatly into a box.
One of Xicx Collective’s zines, “Cuentos from Gringolandia,” does just that. Full of poetry and collages the publication describes what it’s like to go back to Mexico for a Chicana or what losing the Spanish language feels like to a second generation Latina. “A lot of our content talks about what it's like being in the middle of two cultures. ‘Cuentos from Gringolandia’ talks about how we adapt and how we manage that divide of being in a grey area,” explains Puga.
Take a look inside "Cuentos de Gringolandia" by Xicx Zine Collective
As the day progressed, attendees and creators traded their handmade goods, forged new connections, and exchanged ideas, personal stories, political manifestos, and art. Workshops empowered people to explore their city with a camera, make self-portraits, and interpret sounds into visual works of art. Surf rock sounds by San Diego band “Los Shadows” and the experimental synth beats of TJ based project “Tony Gallardo II,” drew the crowd together for a dance party in the middle of the pasajes.
It was a celebration about taking your story, your words, your creativity into your own hands and not asking for permission or having to wait for mainstream media to catch up.
Tijuana is a city of dialogue whether forced or voluntary. And despite the constant presence of a militarized border, it was empowering to know that what can cross a border is paper. In this case, paper carrying the diverse self-published stories of more than 116 people.
Top Image: Tijuana Zine Fest on Pasaje Rodriguez | Samanta Helou Hernandez