I grew up along the border in the 1950s and early 1960s. The two most important events in my adolescence were joining the civil rights movement (Congress of Racial Equality) in San Diego when I was sixteen (1962) and—intimately related—discovering a new world across the border. San Diego in this period was a segregated, reactionary city with a stifling civic culture dominated by the San Diego Union, and zero tolerance for leftish unorthodox ideas. Rebellious, incipiently radical kids like me hung out at a few 'beatnik' coffee houses or in the basement of Wahrenbrocks' Bookstore downtown. But we only really felt free when we had crossed the border. Tijuana was our portal to an entire universe of forbidden and wonderful ideas. My first exposure, for example, to the immense heritage of European Marxism and critical theory was at the old El Dia bookstore off Revolución. In Tijuana we met Spanish Republicans, listened to lore from elderly Villistas, and debated politics with sophisticated college students. It was in Tijuana that I first began to appreciate the impact of the Cuban Revolution and was first able to see the U.S. civil rights struggle in a larger perspective. Tijuana also kindled the desire to keep going southward, toward that great other America we learned nothing about in schools. Most San Diego high school kids in this era, of course, crossed the border to drink, insult locals, and leave behind a trail of vomit and bad manners. We hated that. Tijuana for us was a little bit of Paris, our personal Left Bank, and my fondness for the city and the cultural freedom it represented has never waned.
Mike Davis is the author of City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear.
Printed with permission of Mike Davis.