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Border Voices: Paulina

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Photo by Arlene Mejorado

Bienvendidos to our first-ever bonus episode. Our new “Border Voices” series will feature shorter episodes spotlighting people who identify as transborder, fronterizx or simply have a story to tell about their relationship with the U.S.-Mexico border. First up: Paulina Olvera Cáñez, founder of Espacio Migrante, a migrant shelter in Tijuana.

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Hey, I’m Alan Lilenthal and you’re listening to “Port of Entry,” where we tell cross-border stories that connect us.

Today’s show kicks off a recurring series called “Border Voices. These are shorter bonus episodes spotlighting people who identify as transborder, fronterizx or simply have something interesting or different to say about their relationship with the U.S.-Mexico border.

In this first one, we’re lifting the curtain on our production process and introducing you to someone who helped us on our past episode about how the Black Lives Matter movement crossed the border.

Ok....let’s get to it.

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Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 3 Grew Up At The Border
…...I'm fronteriza. I grew up here in the border.

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Paulina Olvera Canez is the director and one of the founders of Espacio Migrante.

That's a migrant shelter and nonprofit in Tijuana.

Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 4
I have always been interested in the issue of migration because when I was younger, my me and my family moved to California. When I was in sixth grade, then we moved back to Mexico. Um, I studied international relations, but since I started living in Tijuana and actually crossing every day, I started, um, wanting to get more involved in migration.

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Right now, Paulina is working on getting her masters degree in Latin American Studies in San Diego and running Espacio Migrante in Tijuana.

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So...Paulina helped connect us with the Black migrants we talked to in our episode about how Black Lives Matter protests got going in Tijuana. Alongside the Black migrants, Paulina is one of the driving forces behind the growing racial justice movement there.

BLACK LIVES MATTERS TIJUANA Protest clip

Over the past few years, Black migrants from Haiti, Cameroon and other places hit by economic, environmental and political turmoil started showing up at our border, looking to claim asylum in the U.S.

But new policies from the Trump administration have made it harder and harder for anyone to make a successful asylum claim, so lots of migrants got stuck in Tijuana.

And Paulina found herself right in the middle of an unexpected humanitarian crisis…., helping the city’s new migrant population stay safe.

Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 5
…. it took us by surprise in Tijuana. I think the city, uh, even, um, people that have been involved in migration for a long time, didn't expect, um, hundreds of people coming and with different challenges because, um, it was the first time that we had complete families arriving to Tijuana. And also for us, it was also the first time that we had migrants from, from Haiti or even black migrants. It's the first time that we had a different population in Tijuana and I think that’s what got us 100 percent involved.

So..before this large wave of Haitians arrived in Tijuana in 2016, there were just 8 migrant shelters in the city. Paulina says that number more than tripled in just a few short months.

Paulina’s Espacio Migrante shelter is one of those newer ones that popped up to help provide homes for the city’s newest arrivals.

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Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 36
we just saw a big need in general. Like we saw a lot of shelters opening up, but that didn't have the basic things. So we were just trying to support those shelters. And, and when we actually got our own place, some of the challenges were of course funding, but also discrimination from, from neighbors and from other people in the city because, Basically, we even lost our previous space because of that, because then neighbors said that, um, they didn't feel comfortable with all these people or all these families in their neighborhood that they were troublemakers. Um, in the following months, we actually looked for a space. We originally wanted a house, uh, where we could have like a backyard and have a little shelter. And, uh, but most people wouldn't rent to us because the moment we would say it's for migrants, they would say no. we don't, we don't want to rent it to you.

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Recently, Paulina’s been recording in-depth interviews with migrants in Tijuana for her grad school thesis…

She says she’s heard story after story of the racism and discrimination they’ve had to face here.

She Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 34
from the conversations we've been having, they've encountered a lot of racism, too, a lot of struggles.
Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 15
….. it's like a more hidden racism. But that's why sometimes it's even harder to point it out because, uh, for example, we've seen that, uh, like nobody's openly saying racist things against Haitians, but at the same time they are racially targeted by inami and the police and wariness, or they, they are discriminated by companies in Tijuana...even when they have [00:01:00] documents, they don't get hired or I've even talked to some of them that say, um, People don't even want to rent, rent, uh, an apartment to them or, or a house. And, um, so they, they feel racism. But, um, I think the difference is that the U S of course has the history of slavery and Jim Crow, but at least it's a conversation.

Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 11
it's really sad because like, one of the threats for us has been the municipal police. And that's because they usually harass migrants that are in Centro. So we've had people from our shelter that are trying to go out to work or to buy something from the store and then they get stopped and harassed by the police.
Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 29
They were targeting migrants in general. But of course, if they saw a black person, that person would get stopped and harassed first. So I think all of them have suffered…..have experienced racism in, in different ways.

Back in June, activists in Tijuana and Mexico City reached out to Paulina and asked her if she wanted to help get the Black Lives Matter movement going in Tijuana….

And Paulina didn’t blink.

Even with grad school, being a mom to a young son...and running a full time shelter, she said yes to taking on the extra load of organizing a protest.

In part, because of a recent event at the shelter that shook Paulina….to her core….

Stay with me.

MIDROLL 1 BREAKBlack Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 13
…..the police was chasing after a vehicle and they decided to open fire in front of the shelter.…..

Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 13
So there was a bullet that entered our office and, uh, right next to our office is a clinic. And there was some mom with her children from the shelter there. And then upstairs in the second floor was everybody from the shelter. So we have surveillance, uh, video cameras and we saw, and it was just really, really sad to see the video because the. When they heard the gunshots, they automatically grabbed their kids, threw themselves on the floor. So we weren't they're in person, luckily, but it was just really hard to see that.

If the police had been in front of a school….or a fancy hotel...or basically any other type of business aside from a shelter for migrants, Paulina says she doesn’t think the police would have been so quick to open fire.

The shooting also came in the wake of the death of a Black migrant in police custody in Tijuana back in January.

Paulina felt like it was time to do something...so...she reached out to Black migrants who’ve become leaders in the community and asked if they’d be willing to take a stand.

Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 1
It's been really interesting and also a challenge because in the group there's people that speak. Only Spanish, only English or only French and Creole.
Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 14
We started having conversations with them and most of them were like very supportive of black lives matter, but, um, they were also kind of scared to go, go out and protest for different reasons. One was, of course, was the Coronavirus. So that's why we try to organize a small protest and say, uh, we're gonna make sure that we socially distance and that we don't put anybody at risk. But the second reason was also documents because, um, a lot of them don't have documents in Mexico or even if they do, uh, we know that, um, they can easily get stopped and then turn over to inami.

Inami..by the way...is basically the ICE of Mexico...they handle immigration enforcement and deportations.

So, there was a lot of interest. Um, a lot of people that like are in support of what's happening in the U S but um, some of them just, I didn't not to go out into the streets and protest for those reasons.

But others overlooked those risks and did it….They helped organize a protest.

And at noon on Saturday June 14, Paulina and about 50 other people showed up to the city’s first ever Black Lives Matter protest.

Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 21
Some of them were black leaders from Haiti, Cameroon, and Ghana, and others were. People from and from Espacio Migrante and other organizations like Haitian bridge Alliance, Al Otro Lado... and, uh, we also had artists from Tijuana, uh, that joined the protest and it was really cool because they helped us to do a lot of signs that were very beautiful and it had the, the message. In Spanish, English, and also in Creole because of Haitians.
Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 23
So we, uh, we focus on the testimonies. And then after that we started chanting and we had a speaker and we started putting music and dancing.
Black Lives Matter Nat Sound
“Black lives matter...black lives matter….” sound of music and dancing….
Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 23
I think that's something that I've really liked too, about some of the events and things that we have done. We have a phrase that we like, which is resiste gracando it's like, Resist….
joyfully...
Black Lives Matter Nat Sound FADE out

Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 35
The intention was that to visibilze it and to try to continue building like that connection between immigrants rights and racial justice moment. We were also of course, inspired by black lives matter in San Diego. And, um, One of the organizers from black lives matter in San Diego is a board member of Espacio Migrane and her name is Christina Griffin. And ever since she joined our board, she has been trying to make that connection and say, immigration is also a black issue. So, uh, she's been really like great at doing that. And we were just kind of inspired by, by what they are doing in San Diego, too.
Black Lives Matter Nat Sound FADE out

In October, Paulina and others helped organize another protest at the border...actually on both sides of the border fence in both Tijuana and San Diego.

OCTOBER ASYLUM PROTEST AUDIO

The protesters called on the U.S. federal government to reopen the asylum system, which grinded to a near halt back in March when the pandemic hit….leaving lots of very vulnerable people stuck in Tijuana and depending on Paulina’s shelter and other migrant shelters for their survival.

OCTOBER ASYLUM PROTEST AUDIO 2

Black Lives Matter TJ Paulina Clip 18
…... the reality is that thousands of black migrants that are in Tijuana are actually trying to be asylum seekers in the U S like they're trying to seek asylum in the U S but the Trump administration has been creating all these policies, um, uh, that have made the asylum system not work at all..and especially right now because since march the us mexico border has been partially shut down to non essential travel and that includes asylum seekers. So the US government didn’t even consider asylum to be an essential matter.

OCTOBER ASYLUM PROTEST AUDIO FADE OUT

To connect with the Black Lives Matters movement in Tijuana, reach out to Paulina and Espacio Migrante at espaciomigrante dot org.

And if you want to share your border story, we’d love to hear it. Call (619) 452-0228‬, and leave a quick voicemail telling us who you are, where you live and how the U.S.-Mexico border has changed your life.

Find more “Port of Entry” episodes online at port of entry pod dot org. I’m Alan Lililianthal. Thanks for listening.

Port of Entry podcast branding

Port of Entry

These are cross-border stories that connect us. Border people often inhabit this in-between place. From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells personal stories from this place — stories of love, hope, struggle and survival from border crossers, fronterizxs and other people whose lives are shaped by the wall. Hosted by Alan Lilienthal, produced by Kinsee Morlan and sound design by Emily Jankowski.