Stay Or Go?
Port of Entry / January 20, 2021
Today on “Port of Entry,” we continue our series of cross-border love stories with a former Tijuana booster who grapples with his relationship with the city as it continues to suffer from record-breaking violence and other problems he can no longer ignore. *There is explicit language in this episode.
Connect with Tony: https://www.instagram.com/corazondetortasd/
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Just a quick warning. There is explicit language in this episode. So, if you have kids around or you just don’t want to hear that kind of colorful language, you might wanna sit this one out. Ok, on to the show.
First, you hear the car.
Natsound of cadillac
Then you see it… in all its pepto-bismol-pink glory…..
A bright pink Cadillac stretched into a limousine.
It’s glorious, it really is.
Anthony Bordain Embarrassing Pink Limo
Times like this...staggering out of a bar. Nice buzz. Happy to be in Mexico again. Looking forward to some street meat. It's a powerful kick in the nuts to find a stupefyingly embarrassing pink limousine waiting for you….
Back in 2012, the late, great celebrity chef and food guru Anthony Bourdain visited Tijuana for his “No Reservations” Travel Channel show.
And the limo that showed up to take Bourdain around…That was courtesy of Antonio Ley...a well-known fixer in Tijuana.
Most people who know him call him Tony Tee.
Anthony Bourdain You're IN Tijuana
Who knows what kind of wacky stunts could be panned for me next.I don’t know.
Tony: You’re in Tijuana.
Bordain: And I’m in Tijuana.
Tony: That's scary.
Tony was tapped to take Bourdain to foodie hotspots around Tijuana because he's the guy who knows a guy.
He’s one of the unofficial ambassadors of the city and just a fun person to be around.
For years, Tony was a well-known party promoter here.
For a little over a decade from 2007 to 2018….Tijuana was Tony’s oyster…
He’s someone who could always find pearls everywhere inside the city….no matter how dark things seemed to get.
It’s like...the city just sorta opens up for him…
But…if you keep watching that episode with Tony and Anthony Bordain...you’ll see that the flashy pink limo….
It actually breaks down….
Right in the middle of the street.
I feel like this whole scene is sorta a perfect metaphor for what Tony Tee is going through right now.
Because these days...Tony Tee is feelin’ like Tijuana is…. broken...
Tony Part 1 Maybe I'll Give Up On Tijuana
the river of shit everywhere that dumps into San Diego. I can smell it from here full of pollution everywhere and nobody does a fucking thing about it.
Tony Part 1 Maybe I'll Give Up On Tijuana
This is migrant and refugee in deportee camps, living in squalor, leaving in squalor, visibly, visibly. Next to the neighborhood full of drugs and prostitution. So that's our reality. That's what I cross every day and see. And you know, it's not like….I don't know, man. Maybe I'll give up and go live in Chula Vista and be in East Lake and go to Walmart and whatever. Right. Allen?
Skyrocketing murder rates and other big issues have Tony just totally grappling with his relationship with the city…
So in the metaphor…..Tijuana is the pink cadillac….it’s flashy and looks like a lot of fun.
But….if you take a closer look and open the hood...
Like Anthony Bourdain and Tony did ---
SOUND ANTHONY BOURDAIN CLIP --
Things can look pretty messy.
Anthony Bourdain Breaks Down Clip 2
And right now, it’s that messed up part that Tony Tee can’t unsee or ignore the way he always used to when he was younger.
From KPBS and PRX, and this is Port of Entry. Where we tell cross-border stories...that connect us...
I’m Alan Lilienthal…
Today...We continue our series on cross-border love stories with a tale of two cities...San Diego and Tijuana...and a common existential crisis triggered by living at the border……
So...we wanted to find out why exactly a former Tijuana booster could take such a sharp turn into becoming a Tijuana critic.
Tony Part 1 saying hi for the first time
….. Hola. Como estamos, muy bien, y tu?
We wanted to see what Tony sees every day..
To feel what he feels so we could better understand his love/hate relationship with the city.
So..our sound designer Emily Jankowski, my producer Kinsee Morlan and I….we met up with Tony one morning at his apartment.
Tony Part 1 saying hi for the first time
Alan mucho gusto Hi Kinsey.I'm a hugger I haven't seen you in a long time
This was in the fall of 2019 by the way....hence the hug. It was months before the pandemic was a thing here at the border.
we met up in Tijuana at his place...which is modern and pretty fancy.
Tony Part 1 saying hi for the first time
so this is the pad. nice...
Tony Part 1Nice Place
This is the nicest place I've ever lived in, but it's in T J, so it's not perfect. Well Nothing's perfect….
The apartment is in a nice neighborhood in the hills of Tijuana, so his views were impressive.
Tony Part 1 - Giant Mexican flag
And you have the view of the giant Mexican flag. Oh yeah. We can get, we'll just go to my terrace.
Tony Part 1 - The View From My Balcony
So from my balcony we could see downtown Tijuana . Beautifully. It's iconic and most iconic buildings like the fake arc, like the st Louis one, and the 10 story brothel called Hong Kong, that red one right there, and then there's a, the jai-ili building there, and then there's a big new apartment building. Further in the horizon is downtown San Diego, the Coronado bridge
About two years ago, Tony and his wife had a baby girl.
Her name is Frida...so, full name: Frida Ley
Tony Part 1 Frida Ley
So she's like a potato chip. Ha.
Tony Part 1 Famed Nightlife Promoter Is A Dad Now
Famed a nightlife promoter, Tony T from Tijuana now lives his life of a daddy with toys and goes to sleep at 10:30 and walks his dog at 7:00 AM every day.
Tijuana has been good to Tony.
He’s always loved the city and the city has loved him back.
But his relationship with Tijuana has gotten pretty rocky in recent years.
The city has, for decades, struggled with ebbs and flows of drug-fueled violence as cartels battle for control.
But this latest surge is something else...the murder rates in 2018, 2019 and 2020 are setting records.
And Tony? He just can’t brush it off the way he used to when he was younger.
Soo...let’s just take a quick step back…
And take a look at where Tony’s love story with Tijuana began.
Tony’s parents are from Tijuana, but moved to San Diego to raise their family.
His extended family lived in the city, though….
So, Tony grew up crisscrossing the border a lot.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 3
I say by 15 years old, I was going to Tijuana by myself, rollerblading to like, Because I lived in Chula Vista so I’d rollerblade to, uh, to the nearest trolley station, which was always East street. Graffiti was big then. So we had like big markers on us with our big Jenko pants or rollerblades and we tack and we'd tag up like downtown San Diego, get off the trolley and, you know, go to TJ, get into trouble down there.
Tony Tee Follow Up Clip 2
that's when I really started liking to Tijuana. And why? Because of the. Because of the freedoms that were allotted to us, that weren't in the U S like driving a car when you're 14 years old, like buying cigarettes, like getting into trouble. We'd liked music. We liked a lot of it was the nineties. We liked the rocket Espanol thing. So really every weekend. I just crossed the border, go to school, finish the school, cross the border. And there was always going to be a show. You know, there's going to be a rock show that night, whether it be local or some Spanish or some Argentinian dudes or Mexicans like performing national artists. I find as you've probably heard some of them. So those were my fondest, like. Pre 15 year old memories. I loved it.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 4
I think it's a Rite of passage for upper middle class kids in Tijuana to start going clubbing when they're like 16 and 17 years old, you know? I went to a private high school in San Diego, a Catholic one, and we take girls to the nightclubs and we were 17 or whatever. And they would, we would be seated with like bottle service, like under a cascade and like a waterfall at the baby rock club and the girls would go, no wonder you guys never go to the kegger parties in San Diego. We're like, well, duuuuh.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 3
…..So Tijuana was paradise.
Tony Part 1 Little League Award
Kinsee: We got baby toys. We got a caps little league award.
Back in Tony’s Tijuana apartment….A trophy from his days in Little League in San Diego sat on his kitchen counter.
Tony Part 1 Little league 2
Tony: That was the nineties I was on a team. The sponsor of the fucking tream.
Kinsee: That’s awesome.
On a faded picture glued to the trophy, a tiny Tony Tee smiled from underneath a Padres hat.
It’s a relic of his own fairly well-off childhood spent on the other side of the border with his lawyer dad and stay-at-home mom…
Tony’s life has always straddled the border...
And on that day back in November of 20-19….he showed us exactly how his life stretches across the two countries…by taking us along with him on his daily cross-border commute....which...was...wild.
Tony Part 1 Two Hour Commute
Well, from my house to Chula Vista takes about two hours usually, and it's not because the border is bad. That's because it's a long way, and I take public transportation, but I prefer this way. I haven't crossed in a car in a long time. Why, why do you not take a car? um because I don't like driving there.
Tony Part 1 Let's Get going
Let's get at it. It's a lot of walking over here and we're going to look all funny on the fucking bus
Tony grabbed his keys and we headed downstairs to begin his gnarly cross-border commute.
First...we headed east toward a dead-end street.
Then we followed Tony as he stepped off the asphalt onto a steep, vacant lot filled with broken bottles and all kinds of trash.
Old tires, piles of cigarette butts...a dirty old blanket and other things are scattered across the hill...it looks like someone might be using this patch of dirt as a home.
Tony Part 1 Gets TJ Real Quick
So this gets Tijuana really quick. Uh,
Kinsee: what do you mean by that?
Tony: It's, we're walking down an embankment that's got a little passageway. It's like hiking. It's what like you guys do in like Kohl's mountain. This is what we do here urbanly. It's a, it wasn't finished the road. So it leads to a bigger road from my kind of dead end street. You're going to have to watch out here and. I never wear shoes like that in Tijuana anymore Kinsee wear work shoes always. Yeah, let me know. And it's a big mess. And it's pollution. There's a homeless guy that is over there and uh, you know, it's dirty in the daytime. A lot of workers come by cause a lot of people are building stuff in this neighborhood or housekeepers straight up. But at night it's all tweakers. It's all tweakers. It's dark and they come to try to get. Shit to sell. So you're going to go over here like this. Got it. How TJ did it get real quick? Huh?
STEREO AMBI Ambi
We made it down the hill and eventually hit a sidewalk alongside one of Tijuana’s main roads.
This street has become something like “Death Row.”
It’s lined with funeral homes and crematorios. The city’s morgue is here, too.
And for a city that had record-breaking murder rates in 2018 and 2019…
That means this street stays busy.
We walked by several floral arrangements and families getting out of black cars to attend funerals for their loved ones.
Tony Part 1 It Smells Of Death
my neighborhood is one of the most uppity neighborhoods in town. One of the older ones...Upscale and uh, they want all this outta here. They don't want the Morg here cause it's overflowing with bodies. It doesn't have the capacity to, to fit 10 murders a night, plus normal people that die every day. And, uh, and so they've organized some of the neighbors and, uh, through associations and non government organizations, uh, solicited and even protested on the street to like remove these. Some of them are private businesses, like the funeral partners, but they're burning bodies in the smell of cremation is everywhere. And then in the summer when it's hot, the morgue smells of death. Straight up. You know, you walk like in TJ sometimes and it smells like the gutter, but, uh, this is different. It smells of death.
This reality right here…all the murders and death...
It’s a big part of what’s eating away at Tony...
He’s finding it hard to be an ambassador for the city.
Because he keeps coming face-to-face with the consequences of the city’s violence.
Tony Part 1 One Time Saw Two Dead During Commute
So I was walking down here on Friday and on my journey to San Diego, I encountered two deaths. Uh, one of them was a police officer who was ran over what the S. Yeah. He was ran over her right here. He was walking as a police officer, didn't have a car. I guess he was taking the bus. He was older. He was ran over right here on street and from Dolores. And then of course on my bus ride I pet where we patched by zone on and there's like always a body almost there in the morning.
Kinsee: There's a hearse..,
Tony: yeah, yeah, there's going to be a lot of them.
We’ll get back to our cross-border journey soon…
But first..more about how Tony went from a teenager just having fun in Tijuana to someone whose name became sorta synonymous with the city.
So...after high school, Tony moved to Monterrey Mexico to follow in his dad’s footsteps and study law.
But, he quickly realized that he wanted to blaze his own trail…
And he knew exactly where he wanted to do it.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 10
I started throwing nightclubs stuff in Tijuana... I learned how to throw rave parties. Cause I met these guys from Juarez and from Monterey that were like, they became some of the biggest promoters in Mexico later on, but they kind of like. Godfathered me and helped me do parties in Tijuana. And I started throwing nightclubs stuff in Tijuana,
Getting people to pay to go out in Tijuana came with an extra challenge...
Because...it’s not like the violence the city is seeing now is something totally new.
It was happening back then, too.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 6
in the nineties, uh, in probably in the first couple of years of the two thousands, some of those upper middle-class neighborhoods in decline were some of the worst hit with the violence because. You know, the cartel capos, Felix Ariano cartel made their presence very known in the three or four neighborhoods that I would hang out in Tijuana... I'm seeing kids like young adult 17 to 20 year olds. So, uh, they would go missing or they ended up dead shot. So people that I knew were killed
Tony Tee Follow Clip 8
these were dark times, uh, in Tijuana while we were out there, because we'd hear a lot of stories about people getting shot and stuff like that. And these kids weren't from like the hood, these were private school kids . A lot of them were like dual citizenship guys, like me bilingual. Some of them got involved into the drug head, but some were just bystanders and innocent people that got, you know, messed with or in a crossfire or whatever. And, and those things really started scaring me
Tony Tee Follow Clip 9
…. Tijuana was beginning to show that it could be one of these murder capital of the world.
But back then….Tony and other party kids like him….even though the violence sometimes touched people they knew ...it still felt like something they could mostly ignore.
The fear actually made the parties Tony was throwing feel slightly dangerous and exciting...
And those lucky enough to know where and when the parties were happening...whether it was at a mansion outside of Rosarito or a burned out theater in downtown Tijuana…. They were even more thrilled to go….
Tony and the people going to his parties..it’s like they felt immune…
BEAT FADE TO SILENCE
So...Tony Tee wasn’t just a promoter who brought big concerts to Tijjuana and threw some crazy parties….
He also used to be known for this other thing….
Tijuana Zonkeys Clip
For a few years, Tony was the official voice of the Zonkeys, Tijuana’s basketball team.
He’s actually one of the founders who got the team up and running back in 2010.
So yeah...for a while there...Tony became a pretty high profile public figure in Tijuana.
And that’s how he became the dude who got asked to take Anthony Bordain around.
And look...that episode...it’s hard to overstate its importance and the impact it had on Tijuana back in 2012…
And, really, to this day.
The city was experiencing a lull in drug-fueled violence at the time and was already on its way to becoming a foodie hotspot...but that episode blasted it into the mainstream zeitgeist….
People from San Diego... LA...and really everywhere...were coming to TJ to taste the food that everyone was raving about.
Guys like Tony and other fixers became the way lots of tourists chose to navigate the city.
Like...if you were going to TJ...you needed your fixer….your personal tour guide.
Someone like Tony.
Who knew the ins and outs of what most outsiders perceived as a “dangerous” and mysterious city.
And Tony was super happy to do it…
Untilllll……….. eventually…..he wasn’t…
Tony Part 1 Don't Run Us Over: Movement
Let's make this green light, huh? Don't run us over. Don't run us over…
Tony Part 1 Anything for the Podcast: Movement
Watch out for getting run over while you record your podcast. Anything for the podcast, Kinsey, I love that!
Back on our border trek… We continued past “death row” and headed toward a bus stop.
Tony Part 1 Hard Not To Juxtapose San Diego and Tijuana
We're passing by Tijuana's beautiful post office in downtown. Uh, just like the one in Mexico city, if you've ever been to the one in Mexico city, which is actually called Palacio de Correos... It actually is really beautiful. It's in the Coco movie, but this one is all run down graffitied dirty. And, uh, yeah, that's the post office here.
Kinsee: How does this make me feel?
Tony: This is trash everywhere. Everywhere we go is trash. Tijuana is a place of a lot of crisis, eco crisis and violence crisis and migrant crisis and addiction crises and it makes me feel a bunch of shit every day when I cross and I see this and it's hard not to juxtapose things when I work over there and live over here and I have the whole time. It's hard not to juxtapose it. It's hard not to compare. San Diego isn't the perfect clean city on the Hill, but it's miles away from, uh, from Tijuana. And, uh, it's hard.
Tony Part 1 Bus Is Coming: Movement
Bus is coming. We're gonna walk this way.
Tony Part 1 Why Tijuana First Half
Alan: Why do you live in Tijuana then if you come across all the things that kind of make you feel this way?
Tony:, I ask myself that all the time, Alan, especially now more than I'm 39 and I'm a father. Uh, at the end of the day, I do like the quieter, spanish…...Familia is from Tijuana.
There’s a huge class divide in Tijuana...and really...in most of Mexico.
Money buys you a different version of Tijuana...a much safer, at times maybe even lavish version of the city...
Tony’s somewhat privileged upbringing sheltered his view of the city for a long time...
Tony Part 1 Sheltered View of Tijuana Second Half
And yeah, you see a lot of things when you walk in, TJ, a lot of people just drive and TJ and they don't pay attention to what's going on in their surroundings. I was totally as a child, protected from seeing all the things that you're not supposed to see in Tijuana. And I thought the point, I was just like, Oh, the golf course. Right. And, uh. Well, my friend Rick and those families and NO!, those were the people that knew my parents and...
Tony Part 1 Let Me See If Bus: Movement
Let me see if that's our bus. But, uh, sometimes I questioned it, the economic factors, one of them for sure. No, that’s not it. Linea. Linea. Linea. I was going to be the next one. Actually try. The car's moving.
Tony Part 1 Great Tacos: Movement
Let's walk this way. Those are tacos chewy. Those are great. They smoky as hell. Look at that. Those are great tacos. Tripa and asada.
Tony Part 1 There's Our Bus: Movement
Hey, central Linea, this guy that's ours.
GETTING ON BUS AMBI
Tony Part 1 Existential Crisis Live Here or There
And now were the assholes with a recording system in public transportation in Tijuana.
Kinsee: You’re welcome. Laughs.
OK...we gotta take a quick break. But when we come back…
We hop back on the bus with Tony.
And he tells us more about how, these days, he’s finding himself using his promoter voice to get people to pay attention to Tijuana’s problems rather than its parties.
BEAT FADE OUT
Midroll 2 Ad
So...we were on a city bus going from downtown Tijuana to PedWest..That’s the newest pedestrian crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
And Tony started to take us deeper inside his current existential conundrum…
Tony Part 1 Not As Stoked On City These Days
Alan: Are you still as enthusiastic about Tijuana?
Tony: I want to be, I want to be, I live here, I want the city. It's a cities, you know, we've got such a perfect neighbor with such a pretty house in her house. I'll never be that pretty, but. You can sweep the sidewalk in front of the house, right?
Rather than “sweep the sidewalk,” though...lots of proud Tijuanenses instead tend to sweep the city’s problems under the rug...
But Tony...he started using Facebook as a platform to put the problems on blast...
And instead of posting about cool parties or great food in Tijuana like he used to..
These days, he’s mostly posting about the killings and the chaos.
And some of his friends…
They’re not his friends anymore because of it.
Tony Part 1 Used To Be Ambassador For Tijuana, Not So Much Anymore
now that I criticize local government about violence and insecurity and trash and everything that's criticizable here to make it like the standard of living, be better for everybody and not those people that I knew and grew up with. What are the privilege few of this town? Uh. Well, they didn't like me so much anymore of those people,
Tony Part 2 Doesn't Like People Wanting To Sweep Problems Under the Rug
I’m not trying to tell people, Hey, don't go eat in Tijuana anymore or don't drink craft beer. It's the point of what I'm trying to say is, look what's happening in the city we live that had calmed down. Remember I used to be in Talos. They come down 2010 2011 it chilled out. Yes. It got more. Oh, fast forward six, seven years. The worst numbers in the history of the city. Just so you know, before 2016 the most violent year in Tijuana was 800 murders. 2008 it tripled that last year, brother, there was more than 2,400 murders. What happened? What happened to the city we love and take care of so much? Or is it only for the people that could buy a Caesar salad and a craft beer? Is that what we're really only worried for collectively as a city? We're not worried about the people getting smoked every day. We're going to brush them under the rug. Shit, I have you been to have a heart? I don't like seeing that and I don't like seeing [00:01:00] rich sequences, sons of privileged people going, they're just killing junkies anyway, bro. Oh, fuck you, man. Fuck you, dude. Like, I don't like it, especially when they say it, because they've gotten so much from the city and they're probably saying it from their apartment in North park. You know what I mean? So fuck them two times
The bus drove over a hill and the border crossing popped into view…
Tony Part 1 Check The Line: Movement
Check the border. No line, no line. And look at that. No line on the bridge.
Then the bus drove across a bridge that stretches over the notorious Tijuana River….which is really more of a polluted cement canal filled with makeshift homes for the city’s most destitute.
And Tony...he got triggered.
Because right here in this place, the difference between the two sides of the border just could not be any starker.
Tony Part 1 The River And All Its Problems
We're seeing what I call a microcosm of all the problems in Tijuana, which is the river that the Quanah river and the canal, the channel that was built here, it's separates, Zona Norte, a place of drugs and prostitution from. The outlet center of the H and M is right there visible a place of a crazy capitalism. And I get to see what both cities have to offer every day when I cross the border. This place, if you've read, and you know this is a place of deportees, this is a place of drug use. This is where people land when times are tough. They lived down there under those, and they're living on the bridge on top of there. You can see them there. You see that. Overpass, and you see the homeless people living on that bridge up there. So this is a lot of part where the referee, the deportees come. Some of the refugees came here. The migrant caravan, when they did that rush the bum rush, the border, it was through here.
Tony Part 1 Walking ON Pedestrian Bridge
The wall. The neighbors are friendly. They have a lot of barbwire. And, uh. And then again here, the prostitution, trash, violence, and then H& M in America. So every day, that’s what I see.
Young Tony...he saw this stuff, too, but he didn’t let it bother him.
These days, it bothers him a lot.
Tony Part 1 Arriving At Border: Movement
We get off here. Okay. Sale. passale...tengas un buen dia….
The bus dropped us just a few feet from where we needed to go to cross into the U.S.
Tony Part 1 Become Part of the SD Workforce
We are under a bridge that we just crossed in the bus. This is the ped West crossing and a, it's a pedestrian crossing. We're going to go to the United States like a hundred thousand people do everyday from here and we're going to become the workforce. Of, uh, America's finest city.
Tony Part 1 Asylum Stuff Happens Here
It's shocking here sometimes because there is everything to do with refugee crisis is here, so they give the appointments here to get asylum. Asylum appointments are given here, so there'll be a lot of people here. A lot of them are a Haitian or straight up African, and then not so many central American lately. Now you'll see mostly black people. And occasional central Americans and even Mexicans of course, because people are escaping horrible shit in Mexico too, by the way.
And this was all back BEFORE the entire asylum system essentially shut down during the pandemic...now it’s even worse...
Tony’s walk through “death row…”
His bus ride over the poverty-filled river…
His walk through the heart of the migrant crisis…
It makes sense that he’s feeling the way he feels...struggling to love Tijuana the way he used to when he was younger.
Ambi Moment To Think
Next...we hustled to get ourselves into the border line before it got any longer..
Tony Part 1 Now I'm Border Walking: Movement
Now I'm border walking. Ain't no time. Ain't no time for podcast. See, we need to beat the crowds. Look at that. They're coming.
Right before we stepped into the line, though...we passed a news stand.
Tony stopped to buy a copy of the newspaper, Zeta.
And the headline that day was about 15 people killed in the city the night before.
And I saw it... disappointment and deep sadness wash across Tony’s face…
I could see exactly how defeated he was feeling.
Tony Part 1 Violence Doesn't Get Enough Attention
It's crazy, but I don't think that violence in Tijuana gets enough press or sympathy from anyone because it's happening to groups of people that are marginalized.
Tony Part 1 Maybe I'll Give Up On Tijuana
I think that for things to change, there has to be. Public outcry and I don't see the public outcry. Why aren't people upset about this? Why are people upset about this? I don't know, man.
Once we crossed through the Port of Entry, into the U.S., we headed east toward the trolley stop nearby.
The trolley pulled up and we joined dozens of other people just like Tony…
People who had just crossed through the border by foot so they could take the trolley to work.
And like Tony, a lot of people on the trolley have dual citizenship. Maybe they were born in the U.S. but their family lives in Mexico...maybe they were born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. only to return to live in Mexico...that’s what I did.
Having that citizenship status in both countries…
It’s a huge privilege.
And the economic benefits it provides are one of the main reasons Tony wasn’t quite ready to break up with Tijuana.
In San Diego, Tony says he doesn’t make enough money to call himself middle class…
In Tijuana though, he’s solidly upper middle class.
Tony Part 2: Monologue About Crossing Classes and the privilege of being pocho
I changed a social status as soon as I crossed the border. And that happens to almost everybody here. We're lucky to be able to make dollars and go back to Mexico, a poor place and live large with that. And I feel that we're super lucky and privileged to be able to be part of both cultures and live both cities and experience with cities and learn from both cities. And that makes me a richer man than any payday because I thoroughly enjoy being a dual citizen. And I thoroughly enjoy not just being binational, but being by border man, being by cultural , cause I, I grew up in white schools, private white schools, but I also went to Mexican schools and, and, and I know both cultures. You know, I vote the American and I'm both Mexican American and I'm also Mexican, Mexican. You know what I mean? I think that sets me aside a little bit from the average pocho.
Pocho, by the way, is a term used to describe Mexicans who aren’t considered mexican enough.
Alan riffs on his experience being called a pocho…I remember…. Called you gringo, made you feel lesser than..
So, historically the term has definitely been derogatory…but here at the border, it’s become a point of pride...to speak spanglish, move and dance between two languages
LIke...Tony...he’s totally fine calling himself a “pocho.”
And ….he’s got lots of thoughts and opinions about how Pochos like him and me make the Tijuana world go round.
Tony Part 2 Pocho Monologue
basically in Tijuana, a city where something like 80,000 people at least cross to work every day. I don't know. That's a lot of money coming back. That's a lot of dollars coming back. We've become pochos I'm speaking for Mexican Americans that live in . It's because of pochos that the resurgence. In, uh, the gastro scene is happening. It's because of pochos that valle de guadalupe exists, it's pocho money. It's because of porches that there's all these apartments in Tijuana going up and all these, uh, how do you say a high rise apartments? The skyline is changing because of pocho money, the bars. Hey, the shady shit, the prostitution, that iexists because of pochos, too. It's true. So it's both a curse and a blessing
Tony Part 2: Movement Arriving in Chula Vista at Bus Stop
We're getting off here.
We got off the trolley and then got on a bus to downtown Chula Vista..a suburb of San Diego that’s close to the border.
It was a quick ride to Third Avenue...the city’s main commercial street.
Once we got there, we walked down an alley behind Third...to where Tony’s food truck was parked….
OK...so...this food truck actually takes us back to that meetup between Tony and Anthony Bourdain back in 2012.
Because after that happened….
Tony capitalized on his 15 minutes of international fame.
He scored a gig writing about food for Vice.
Then he eventually decided to open his own food truck…in San Diego instead of in Tijuana since he can charge more and make more money in the U.S. while also taking advantage of the cheap lifestyle in TJ.
He’s very intelligently riding that “Bourdain bump” as looooong as he can.
And… it’s totally working.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 22
I'm making more money than I ever did in this food truck….shit, I paid for a $10,000 wedding s in Vegas last week on $5 tacos, baby. So, so So this being on the side has helped my business a lot, a lot.
So...that’s where we were headed on our big cross-border commute that day in 20-19…..to Tony’s food truck… “Corazon de Torta.”
At the end of the alley, we got to a VFW, a members-only bar for war vets.
Tony sometimes keeps his food truck there, parked behind the bar.
Tony Part 3 Tony Sees His Food Truck
So here she is. She's beautiful.
Tony Part 3 Describing Menu Changes
This change. All this menu changes all the time . Right here it said the meatball Chipotle, a sub as seen on the cooking channels, the best thing I ever ate, which is where we were recently featured on a show. Let's go inside.
Tony Part 3 Good Nat/Ambi/MOvement Sound of Walking Into Food Truck
don't step on that one guys. Okay. For the further one, the one that is broke, it's broke. Just like the owner. He's broke but not broken.Ha.
So, on a normal day when a podcast crew isn’t following his every move, Tony would go in and use the kitchen at the vet bar to prep some food for the day.
AMBI FROM INSIDE KITCHEN
Then he’d drive to a brewery in San Diego or some other spot where he'd catch a crowd.
AMBI FROM DAY AT FOOD TRUCK?
He’d work in the food truck all day, then...after a long day’s work...Tony would start on his reverse cross-border trek.
He would get home pretty late most nights...then sleep, wake up and do the whole cross-border commute over again.
It’s a hard life, but....living in Tijuana and working in San Diego means Tony gets to live in that fancy apartment on the hill.
And back when we talked to him, it was a life he wasn’t quite ready to give up….
But then….he did.
Tony…..he ultimately made up his mind about Tijuana...
See..not long after we shadowed him that day in 2019…. There was a carjacking in his neighborhood.
It happened right down the street from where he was living...
The woman in the car resisted and was shot to death….right in front of her own children who were in the car.
And that was it. That was the last straw…Tony has a family to raise...and this time the violence had hit way too close to home.
A few days later, Tony posted on Facebook, and announced to the world that he was leaving Tijuana….for good.
Tony Tee Clip 15
I mean, I love TJ. It's a great place. It's very permissive. And, uh, and I have fond memories of family and friends there right now. It's not the place that I should be because I have work and other situations in the family, but, uh, its uniqueness and its wackiness is something that I love so much
Tony Tee Follow Clip 17
I live in the suburbs of Chula Vista. Now there's a park and there's a swimming pool. And like, my daughter loves it, but it's quiet. It’s very quiet.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 18
I did move because of my daughter. I didn't want her to grow up in Tijuana to be quite honest, done it feel it was the kind of place to raise a family. That being said, I don't want her to be like, Oblivious to what's going on in the world and I'm going to teach her things and I'm going to take her places when she gets older and in different situations with different people of different socioeconomic status is just like a normal child should, you know? And, uh, and I, I want to take her that ensure that but it's just easier moving over here.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 19
…... I mean, TJ is a vibrant, fun town. We all know that it's a great place to have fun.But Tijuana is going to keep bein Tijuana forever.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 11
I learned that reputations, you have to earn them. And, uh, the city of Tijuana for good or for bad has a reputation. And I saw with my own eyes. How that reputation was earned.
Tony Tee Follow Clip 23
So I did miss. Tijuana, you know, accessibility as far as in affordability, but some things you pay the price and time is money. So I honestly, and I'm going to say this on the radio or wherever this comes out. I do not miss living in Tijuana, not as a 40 year old man with a daughter and his herniated disc. Laughs. Next episode teaser
Next time on “Port of Entry…”
Some people think if you get married, you automatically get citizenship.
Michael Clip 7
Yeah, I thought it was going to be a walk in the park and boy was I surprised. Laughs.
We talk to two families separated by deportation about how their love keeps them connected despite the border wall running through their lives. Show credits
Port of Entry is written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is the director of sound design. Curtis Fox and Alisa Barba edited this episode. And hey, if you’re listening on NPR One right now...take a minute and click on the “Port of Entry” logo, then hit the plus button and tap “follow this show.” I’m Alan Lilienthal, thanks for listening.
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. Rooted in San Diego with tendrils reaching into Tijuana. Hosted by Alan Lilienthal, produced by Kinsee Morlan and sound design by Emily Jankowski.