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Courtesy of Victor Lebowski
An illustration of a "sad robot" by Tijuana artist Victor Lebowski (aka Tijuanauta) is shown in this undated image.

Port of Entry Season 4: Border artists and musicians turning pain into power

To say that the U.S.-Mexico border has inspired countless works of art and music isn't exactly right. Maybe "provokes" is a better word to describe what the border wall can do to some creative types.

In our latest season of "Port of Entry," a podcast about our lives here at the Western Hemisphere's busiest border crossing, we talked to artists and musicians whose cross-border lives have influenced who they are and what they make.

All of the border artists and musicians we talked to in this season have been through a lot to get where they are today. From struggles with addiction and mental health, to choosing family over fame, these artists from both sides of the border — San Diego and Tijuana — have turned their struggles and pain into their power.

  • You know what they say about one man’s trash becoming another’s treasure, right? At the border, the journey from trash to treasure often involves an actual trip from San Diego to Tijuana, where things like furniture, appliances and other used or discarded objects find a second life. But, of course, those objects don’t move themselves. The whole cross-border, second-hand world involves people like Seth Sullivan, aka “Art Pusher,” one of the best-known “pickers” in the borderlands. Seth is a fireball who’s been through a lot in his cross-border life. But his struggles have only fueled him to keep going and growing.Today’s story kicks off a new season of "Port of Entry" focused on artists and musicians who’ve turned pain into superpowers.Follow Art Pusher on Instagram. ***“Port of Entry'' is written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is the co-producer and director of sound design. Alisa Barba is our editor. Lisa Morrisette-Zapp is operations manager and John Decker is the interim associate general manager of content.This program is made possible, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.
  • Mexican musician Javier Bátiz could very likely have been world famous had he headed north of the border with his good friend and bandmate Carlos Santana back in the 1960s.But instead, Javier went south to Mexico City, where he built a successful career in the country he loves.In a new episode of “Port of Entry,” we look into how Javier’s life, decisions and decades-long musical career have brought him internal peace and fulfillment he says is far more important to him than reaching the high-level fame his friend Carlos found.Today’s story continues our new season of "Port of Entry" focused on artists and musicians who’ve turned pain into superpowers.
  • Victor Lebowski, better known as the artist Tijuanauta, captures the beauty of the borderlands in his art. His detailed ink drawings are often a mishmash of U.S.-Mexico icons, like Star Wars characters and taco carts, or astronauts eating carne asada. But for a long time, Tijuanauta refused to sell his art or make art his day job. Instead, he hid behind the safety of his office job and stayed inside a cubicle for a decade. But recently, Tijuanauta took the plunge. He became a full-time artist and had his first-ever art show in Tijuana over the summer.The artist is gaining traction fast, but his biggest battle is inside his own brain. A mix of lifelong anxiety and self-doubt has long stopped Tijuanauta from being the artist he's destined to be. But he’s finally fighting back.
  • Big news: we have a new cohost! In our recurring “Tour Guide” bonus episodes, we ask transborder people to take us on a tour of a special place in the borderlands: a place that means a lot to them. Today, our new fronteriza cohost Natalie Gonzalez, along with our longtime fronterizo host Alan Lilienthal, take us on a tour of two of their favorite places in Tijuana and tell us more about their life on la línea.Today’s episode continues our new season of "Port of Entry" focused on crossborder artists and musicians who’ve turned pain into superpowers.
  • Border artist Michelle Guerrero struggled with addiction for years, but a surprise pregnancy helped her straighten out her life. Eventually, she taught herself how to paint large-scale murals, in part, by painting murals on the actual border fence. These days, she goes by Mr B Baby, and she travels the West Coast and Mexico, painting huge Mexican-inspired murals in a style that is her own.
  • When COVID-19 rules prevented certain people from crossing the border, “Port of Entry” cohost Alan Lilienthal’s binational, bilingual band Tulengua got separated by the wall.

Kinsee Morlan
Kinsee Morlan is an award-winning journalist who's covered arts and culture in San Diego and Tijuana since 2005. She produces KPBS' "Port of Entry" podcast and manages the rest of the station's podcasts.
Emily Jankowski is the technical producer for the KPBS podcast department and the director of sound design for the KPBS podcast Only Here. Before podcasting, she was technical director for KPBS Morning Edition and KPBS Midday Edition. She holds a M.F.A. in sound design for theatre from the University of California San Diego.
Alan Lilienthal is a musician and the co-host of “Port of Entry,” a KPBS podcast about cross-border culture and the people who shape it. His life’s mission is to melt borders and celebrate our shared humanity through art.
Natalie Gonzalez is the co-host of ‘’Port of Entry” — a KPBS podcast. The podcast covers stories about cross-border people whose lives have been shaped by Tijuana and San Diego. Natalie has been working in news as an automated production control for NBC7 and Telemundo 20 for the past three years. She studied at Universidad Iberoamericana in Tijuana where she graduated from Communications and Media School. She is passionate about art and theater.