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Pura Vida: A Case for the Tijuana Dream

 May 17, 2023 at 6:15 PM PDT

S1: Not.

S2: A couple of years ago.

S1: And I saw him last weekend and it prompted me to see the documentary again. I saw it last week and I got the old hamster wheel rolling.


S2: Turkeys. I'm interested.

S1: Well , the basic thesis of the short is that Tijuana and arguably the whole region over the last decades has transformed itself from being a city for people in transition , moving through to actually being folks final destination. This is due in part because different people from all walks of life have added to the cultural fabric of Tijuana and made it so people want to come visit or stay and live here. That's in spite of the city still trying to transform its well known drawbacks.

S4: Wow , you're so wise. You're starting to sound like Julio.

S1: I mean , he.

S5: Did write this.

S4: Wait , so is this you thinking this or is it he.

S5: Oh , my God. I don't.

S1: Mean are my thoughts even my.

S5: Own ? I don't know. I don't either.

S1: Anyways , I asked myself after watching the short doc , Why is the Tijuana dream so compelling ? And what does it say about the American dream ? Hm.

S4: Sounds good. That idea is something that came up a lot in our interview recently with Ruby and her , a cheerful Central American couple that moved to Tijuana in 2019. But together they own and operate Pura Vida , a food truck that delivers the best pupusas. And Gallo Pinto in town.

S6: La Pupusa. Okay. You got it ? Yeah. Can we be an otro lado ? Yes. Entonces con la pupusa. Oh , yeah. Central Americana. Consuming local gallo Pinto , Como se llama. Costa Rica.

S4: Nicaragua and Rubi both welcomed us into their lives and share stories about how they met.

S1: About what fans , the flames of love after love.

S4: Each raising a family of their own independently of each other. And.

S2: And.

S4: Their reflections and feelings about the American dream.

S1: Spoiler They think it's long gone.

S6: Whereas free has a kick and no sense. Yesterday Pero Como me and Americano.

S1: So interesting that they didn't buy into it , but their stuff is face again.

S2: What do you think ? Typical.

S5: Of course you did.

S4: You don't want to miss this one , so stay tuned.

S1: From KPBS and PRX. This is Port of Entry.

S4: Where we tell crossborder stories that connect us.

S1: I'm Alan Lilienthal.

S4: And I'm Natalie Gonzalez.

S1: You are listening to KPBS , Port of Entry.

S7: These migrants marching across Mexico say they're determined to stop only once they reach the United States.

S8: A seemingly endless stream of people making their way on foot towards the United States.

S1: When you turn on the news or look at any significant piece of media that talks about the border region , it's usually about the tens of thousands of people trying to get across the border into the US.

S4: Chasing the American dream.

S1: But Javier and Ruby's life is a case for an alternative dream , one built only here. Shout out Kinzie.

UU: I don't know. No one's there. Oh , no.


S1: The part of Tijuana that meets the sea.

S4: Towards the southern hillsides in the neighborhood of Formosa. There's a bright green food truck that parks in front of Playas State High School from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sunday.

UU: No way for you.

S1: The food truck is covered with overly pixelated posters of different Latin American dishes , some from El Salvador.

S2: Like Pupusas.

S5: And others.

S1: From Costa Rica.

S4: Like Gallo Pinto or Frio.

S1: In a yellow curve font that's outlined in red. You can read the phrase Pura Vida , a Costa Rican expression that literally translates into pure life or just life.

S4: But it means much more than that.

S9: Significa todo lo. No. Because he is no significa. Pura Vida is more traditional Costa Rica international. Como pura vida. And as part of.

S4: That was a 64 year old Costa Rican transplant from San Jose Costa Rica's capital city.

S1: Pura Vida is a Costa Rican expression , a greeting and a farewell. Think of aloha for the Hawaiians or chow for the Italians.

S4: But to Ticos.

S1: That's a nickname for Costa Ricans.

S4: Pura Vida is about counting your blessings , expressing gratitude or satisfaction.

S1: A way of seeing the world and living in the moment. Joy and enthusiasm.

S9: Segun la historia de la palabra pura vida de la pelicula de este caso se pura vida. Costa Rica. A promotional e as nosotros Los coastal businesses El Pura vida Nuestra.

S1: Javier is a short , stocky gentleman who usually sports an English beret. He knows a lot about economic history and international politics. That makes sense. Since he was involved in Costa Rica's Communist Party back when he was younger and led a number of political collectives.

S4: But now don't play second fiddle to the mastermind of the operation Dona Ruby , the apple of Javier's eyes and the talent behind the pen. She's always in the background cooking , directing , correcting , and making fun of her beer.

S1: She's a jovial , age defying powerhouse of a woman originally from Cincinnati in El Salvador.

S4: We tagged along for the supply run at the Mercado Bastos.

S5: A central.

S1: Market in Tijuana.

S4: And they bought all sorts of ingredients for their dishes.

S1: Masa , flour , cabbages , beans , carrots , cilantro , tomatoes , cucumbers , among other things.

S4: Ruby talked about growing up in El Salvador , but as she told us these stories , some unexpected memories begin to surface.

S6: Under and behind us. But I knew that I wasn't the same El tiempo I was.

S1: Ruby grew up poor in the rural area of Cincinnati. She worked to help her family survive and avoid hunger.

S10: I see.

S6: Pero si la vida porque no la vida de the era I get you get the pecans.

S4: Ruby didn't want to share much about her childhood. We got a sense that it might have been rough. And after a few more questions , her small eyes turned into pockets of tears.

S1: And although she tried , it was hard for her to hold her tears back.

S6: La Anita cuando You know economicamente.

S4: When we asked what was the reason she left El Salvador for Costa Rica. It was hard for us to take in the little that she did share with us.

S6: But that is where she confessed.

S4: She'd rather not remember her early years. Her upbringing was at the hands of two very strict parents.

S1: They were abusive and cruel. She would get yelled at for the smallest of mistakes , like not knowing how to knead masa.

S6: And dress tres Castillo The ideal minimum. Roberta la Castillo The aunties.

S1: She would get punished severely for the littlest of things , beaten mercilessly like they used to do in the old days , she says.

S4: At least three times a day.

S6: During practice times. I guess I can record that , but I.

S11: Think I could experience some things.

S6: Come on , come on , come on. Capital best. Como una libertad. The lived in.

S1: To escape the abuse she left on Sunday at the first chance she got when her sister passed on an opportunity to be a housemaid in Costa Rica.

S4: An opportunity that Russo's way out of her hell.

S6: I continue on Costa Rica. Sola Casas , S.A. , Necesita Mystica.

S12: Costa Rica. This is.

S4: When she got to Costa Rica at the age of 17 by. Herself.

S2: Herself.

S1: It seemed that the hell that lurked in her home set itself loose around the country. Things got really terrible back in El Salvador.

S4: El Salvador during the late 70s and early 80s was an extremely dangerous place to be a young girl.

UU: Thank God. Have you.

S13: This is what the note left with the bodies reads , Don't come back because we know about your actions and what has happened to these people will happen to you. And it's signed m n , which is an extreme right wing paramilitary group. This kind , an unburied corpse , lies ignored by the roadside , brutal evidence of the civil War to which the United States is now committing weapons and advisers.

S6: What do you mean ? When do you get. Costa Rica. No. Tanto. No , no. No. No. Estaba. Mucho , mucho , mucho , mucho. Yes. Are you in Costa Rica ? Yes. Soul Total estaba Muertos por todo Los.

S1: The conflict erupted before she left , but while she was in Costa Rica , it got much worse in El Salvador.

S4: She intended to leave for a year , but not having anything to go back to. She ended up staying away for 40 years.

S1: The Salvadorian Civil War eventually left a total of 75,000 dead , mostly civilians , a half million internally displaced people , and another half million refugees that fled to other countries. See.

S11: See.

S6: See ? Hey , you see ? You know.

S11: You visited or not.

S6: You're cooking.

S1: She never considered going back. Both her country and her home were a living hell , and that sentiment still lingers.

S6: In the rest of the year. Yeah , it's one of is the hardest be.

S4: Donna Ruby did leave El Salvador with some tools. After all , from.

S1: An early age , she knew how to work.

S4: And to cook because she had to.

S6: Experiencia echo the essence of those proposals. This is. Like pupusas preparations in La Casa de Molino.

S1: Publico Ruiz mother had a small business selling pupusas.

S14: In El Salvador.

S1: Rubi sister cooked the.

S14: Pupusas , while Rubi.

S4: At the tender age of 10 or 11.

S1: Helped prepare ingredients at home.

S4: Rui was never actually taught how to make them , she just observed. Until one day her mother commanded.

S1: Now it's your turn to make them.

S6: I must make. Yeah. Me Pupusa Quadra. I to. Who is to say if. Lady Bonita.

S1: Her first few attempts were unsuccessful and she was scolded for it. But eventually she got really good at making pupusas and cooking other dishes in general.

S2: So good that.

S4: According to Don Javier , she was well known in San Jose for her cooking. Having Ruby met each other in Costa Rica in the latter years of their life after they both had married other people and both had raised three children of their own.

S1: They met years after they both separated from their partners. Back then , Javier was operating a taxi cab and helping lead the taxi union in San Jose.

S4: We should mention Javier impressed us with all the different things he did for a job. If you can imagine a profession , Javier has most likely done it.

S2: At one point of his life.

S1: But this story is not about Javier. Is Jack of all trades like nature. It's about the impact of Ruby.

S14: In Javier's life.

S9: And doing the hands on the taxi contract era. Destino.

S2: According to Javier.

S4: He and Ruby had dated each other.

S2: At some point earlier in their life.

S4: But had gone their separate. Ways.

S2: Ways.

S4: Until they unexpectedly ran into each other while he was.

S2: Working as a taxi driver.

S1: He was in a line of taxis to pick up employees of a business where Ruby worked , and that is where they started seeing each other again. Cabrera offered to give her a ride , and they started spending more and more time together. Eventually , Ruby declared her feelings for Javier.


S9: There you go. Come on.

S16: No , no , no , no , no , no. No.

S9: No.

S1: And shortly after this declaration of love , they moved in together and started their lives as a couple. Each with kids of their own. Just like a tropical Brady Bunch.

S4: Until one of the kids in the bunch.

S2: Just like her mom.

S4: Decided to skip town and leave. For.

S2: For. Wait for it. Drumroll.

S17: Drumroll. Boom. Tijuana.

S18: Yes , I got involved. So originally I Costa Rica was Joe. Then he was in California. He was not in the Cerca de Lado.

S2: That is correct.

S4: Ravi's eldest daughter , she.

S2: Got a bit of wild love and followed.

S4: A young guy from California she met in Costa Rica. They settled in Tijuana to be together , and two years later they split up. But she stayed in Tijuana , and she has been in Tijuana for over 15 years.

S1: During those same 15.

S14: Years , Javier and Rubi were.

S1: Still love.

S14: Nesting in Costa Rica. Javier was still a taxi driver while Rubi was cooking.

S1: For different restaurants and hotels. She opened a pupusa in her garage.

S14: In San Jose.

S1: They were a working couple through and through.

S4: But according to Javier , things change for taxi drivers in San Jose when Uber came to. Town.

S2: Town.

S4: Like many other places , the app displays many unionized taxi drivers and to add misery to injury.

S19: The accident happened.

S20: The taxi and final.

S9: Taxi is the.

S4: Longest taxi in a car accident. It was barely four years old. Pretty much brand new.

S1: He would lease it to another guy part time when he wasn't operating it. The other guy totaled the taxi in a car wreck.

S4: Harriet hadn't even finished paying it off.

S1: His driver did not want to take responsibility and bailed.

S14: Leaving Javier with the wreck.

S1: And the debt. With Javier in a tough bind.

S14: And Ruby , tired of the kitchen.

S1: Garden , had a suggestion for. Them.

S14: Them.

S4: Move to Tijuana and start over.

S1: They needed a well-deserved break. And I think we need one , too. Let's go get some water. Yeah.

S5: Yeah. Let's take a break.

S4: And when we come back , we hear about Javier and Ruby's challenges and their views on the American dream.

S1: More of this story when we come back. From KPBS. You are listening to Port of Entry.

S4: Hamill remembers a conversation he had with a close friend who tried to convince him to stay in Costa Rica.

S20: Do you have a key for you ? Taxi. Bangkok ? No Tengo para pagar.

S4: But Ruby had no way to make ends meet.

S1: And so they took current suggestion to leave for Tijuana. Oh. Yes.

S6: Yes. Tijuana. Possibilidade Poner Negocio aqui. The don't dispute.

S1: Leave for Tijuana.


S2: Running a medical recovery house.

S1: A place where people who've had medical procedures in Tijuana could go to recover.

S6: There's a decision.

S4: So they put all their savings into opening a recovery house in Tijuana.

S2: But there were big challenges.

S6: The result is a la casa de la. See , you know , Carrie in dollars and Susan's desire like recuperation pressure. Luckily.

S4: They were ready to rent a big house. But when the landlords heard it was for a recovery house , they automatically doubled the rent. They were originally asking for.

S1: And it turns.

S14: Out Javier and Ruby needed.

S1: To be English. Speakers.

S14: Speakers.

S1: Their main customers were overwhelmingly going to be Americans. They did not know a lick of English hire.

S14: A bilingual nurse.

S2: Couldn't afford it.

S6: No less willing with tambien , but without a loss. Oh , yeah. You know. Nada.

S1: Oh , and the permits.

S2: Couldn't get them.

S14: By their own admission , they were completely out of their depth. So little by little , they were eating through their savings.

S6: Mucho dinero. Well , see you at the cinemas. Otra vez de la coming out of options.

S2: They fell back.

S4: On their old faithful cooking. Pupusas.

S11: Pupusas.

S6: I say , Well , I say , Nando.

S2: Honestly , I'm not that sad this happened to them.

S1: You're not that. Sad.

S5: Sad.

S2: I mean , we.


S5: I think you've been hanging out with Julio too much.

S4: Yay ! I need help.

S5: You both need help.

S6: Who says Como de la gordita es mas de queso de Puerco.

S21: The mice de mice cannot come.

S1: Pupusas are a traditional Salvadoran staple. Think of them as a thick tortilla or gordita made up of Masa and stuffed with all sorts of fillings.

S22: Chicharron , shredded pork beans , cheese and even a.

S4: Vegetable here or there. You usually have it with Gordillo.

S1: A Salvadorian pickled salad made up of mostly shredded cabbage and carrots.

S4: To cut through the rich flavors of the pupusa.

S12: Pinto is typical Nicaragua , Costa Rica.

S6: Pero practicamente todo Central America porque in El Salvador. Casamento is arroz frijoles.

S12: Fritos de estrellas or Frito Maduro.

S1: Pinto is your typical Costa Rican grand slam breakfast. It's 2 to 3 fried eggs turned over.

S14: Easy with.

S1: A polish or German sausage next to a generous.

S14: Side of.

S1: Seasoned rice and black beans mixed together. Oh , and a fried plantain with cheese or cream to help fill you up just in case.

S2: Man , I wish we.

S4: Had a camera to pan to our producers. Booth.

S11: Coolest face as we record. This is priceless. Look at. Him.

S2: Him.

S5: Look , can.


S1: Case in point , the food truck , which they own and operate , was sold to them for cheap by a Mexican who befriended them.

S4: We are popular in the neighborhood. They are a go to for anyone on a tight budget. Their pupusas are 60 Mexican pesos. That's 3.5. USD.

S2: USD.

S1: One Pupusa is enough for a normal person.

S2: Yes , but never for our producer.

S4: So hubby and Rubi are doing pretty well in teaching Living the Tijuana dream.


S4: It's working out a lot better than the American dream.

S6: They offer you. Stay here. Persona Tijuana. You welcome this boy. Para para la cabeza para el otro lado de nosotros esta auditoria Intro in December dentro porque el Sabrina de la spousal semana.

S14: Javier and Rubi have a friend from Costa Rica that crossed.

S1: Into the States through the desert in December. The man had heard from a nephew that they were making.

S14: $700 a week.

S1: In a meatpacking plant somewhere in the Midwest.

S4: But as far as they have heard , he still doesn't have stable employment in the US.

S6: La Semana Trabajar. Yes , we call a persona Viviendo Punto.

S1: He sometimes works three days a week and.

S14: Sometimes doesn't work.

S1: At all. But his cause keep going up.

S4: He pays his landlord $80 a week for food and $100 for rent. But when he's out of a job , he can't afford to pay. So he calls home to have his wife in Costa Rica send him money.

S5: Wait , isn't it supposed to be.

S1: The other way around ? That feels. Backwards.

S5: Backwards. Yeah.

S24: Yeah.

S2: I guess that's the new American dream.

S6: But I gave it a. I mean.

S4: You'll see part of the reason he can't find a good job is because he doesn't speak English at all. And that is required for most jobs.

S6: I know. Because , you know , you go you go by surprise in Mexico. You know , there's you know , I know.

S4: Comedian Ruby said their friend was going after the American dream.

S1: And they thought it was not fair for him to have faced such hardships and even imprisonment in Mexico for being an undocumented traveler.

S4: Only to find no real work upon his arrival in the.

S11: States , I. Suppose.

S6: Suppose. Yeah. Yeah. So that's all you can. Yeah , that's true. I can. See.

S25: See. Well , there you go.

S9: In Costa Rica ? No.

S6: Vamos a Como dinero. Vamos a dinero in Dolares eso Pero Pedro. I don't know.

S14: Their experience living in Tijuana , they said , is. Relatively.

S1: Relatively.

S14: Stress free.

S2: It allows.

S4: Them to earn a decent living , save a little bit.

S2: Of money.

S4: And overall , keep moving forward.

S11: Hey , Bob.

S1: So , Nat , it seems like Ruby and Javier's experience and all that's happened to their friend means chasing the American dream. May not be worth it these days.

S4: Yeah , dude , it's something that everybody's talking about. The high cost of living in the US is pretty crazy.

S26: The old American dream was about prosperity and opportunity. But for a lot of people , that dream is dead. Dream.

S27: Dream. I honestly believe that the American dream is dead for our generation. Frankly , our purchasing power is one of some of the lowest in history.

S28: And yeah , you go try to buy a house in any major metro area , forget about it.

S1: Everything gets more and more expensive every day. The cost of quality food , housing , education , health care prices just keep skyrocketing.

S4: Just trying to afford these essential necessities , resulting in a low quality of life , especially for the working class.

S1: Even more so if you're a recent migrant , you end up spending money faster than you earn it to the point that you have to call home to spot you some cash like friend. It seems like these days the American dream is only available to those with a nest egg or a significant amount of money to buy in.

S4: Nowadays , a lot of Americans are finding other places to live the American dream.

S1: Much more affordable places like , for example , Mexico.

S4: The neighborhood of Plaza , Tijuana , where we live.

S2: And earn a living , is.

S4: Filled with Americans of all ethnic backgrounds who are living there looking for a better deal for their dollars.

S1: Obviously , this has other unintended economic consequences.

S2: Like gentrification.

S1: But that's another story.

S9: In the news. So , you know.

S1: Javier says he had never really felt seduced by the American dream. He was never interested in going to the United States to try his luck.

S9: For pot in the Ukraine.

S4: He has made significant progress in this new country and even felt less stressed.

S2: In Tijuana when compared.

S4: To Costa Rica.

S1: Or what could come his way if he joined their friend who ventured into the US.

S9: He was no Necesidad de pera , but almost.

S4: And although the work has been hard , they can see the results every day.

S1: Javier and Ruby's decision to stay here has paid off. They're happy and fulfilled in Tijuana.

S4: They feel grateful.


S9: The American peso. But Mexican.

S1: Javier and Ruby think it may be better to stay and create the dream where one is bloom , where you are planted rather than chasing after a dream that might not come true.

S4: They prefer the Mexican dream.

S1: Like the main thesis of Ritas short documentary. This is a city in which you can build your dreams on.

S4: Your very own Tijuana dream.

S1: Before we go , we would like to leave you with a few bits from Rita's. Documentary.

S5: Documentary.

S4: Tijuana Dream.

S1: And some of her remarks from an interview that our producer Julio had with her that will be available in its full length later this season.

S29: It's been in vain for American voters. Estados Unidos. Tijuana. Tijuana. Progreso. Cuanto. Sinaloa. The Lados Aqui. I can see the unfamiliar Sabino Trabajando. Honestly , it's common type of Mexican dream now. Tijuana Dream.

S30: Tijuana is of growing a culture of its own , which didn't exist before. It has. It has now a place to where people want to be here. And people want to spend time here , and people want to spend money here. When before everybody would leave , everybody would go and spend their money in the States. But the economy kind of played a weird part in it. People started realizing that here with a little bit of money , they can start a really cool business. And I feel like the local culture started appreciating itself.

S31: Hi , I'm Rito Asura. I wanted to show a different light on the city. Everyone is always used to seeing Tijuana in a negative light. It has a bad reputation. It has a sort of like shadow on top of the city , which might. Which is true. There's some things that have happened there that obviously I'm not denying any of that , but I wanted to make an extra effort to sort of like bypass that. Like , yes , we know this is the reality , but let me focus on something good. And I decided to make this film and focus on culture revolution that was happening at the time. And it's still happening today that there's so many cool restaurants , there's so many like cool bars and there's so much like movement and businesses happening and like there's so many new developments. It's a land of opportunity. Like , yes , people do get kidnapped. Yes , there is crime. Yes , we know all the reality of of the city. But I wanted to show like , hey , but it's also this , this , this and this. So come with me and I'll show you this , like , journey of of just cool kids trying to do their best , you know , with their situation with the cards they were dealt. Tijuana is very you know , you can't expect what's going to happen in Tijuana. And it's very like you go with the flow all the time in that city. Like sometimes you plant things and then you get you your car hits a pothole and oh , my gosh , I have a flat tire. Or sometimes the streets are all. And even though we do have mention of the crime and , you know , narcos and the dark legends and all that that surrounds the city , that they've been wearing this hat for so long , I kind of had I felt that responsibility of like Port Juana. Like , let me just get let me take off this huge heavy backpack for 17 minutes and let me just let them rest and show this like , city that we're so beyond that. I just wanted it as a gift for the city. Like , hey , there's this little glimpse of hope and a little bit of joy. Here it is. And I wanted to give it to the city as a present.

S32: What a great way to end this little interview. Tito , thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. All right. Thank you so much.

S1: And we want to extend our thanks to Rito for allowing us to use his material and recognize the team that made this wonderful short documentary possible.

S4: This episode of Port of Entry was written and produced by Julio Cesar Ortiz. Franco.

S1: Luca Vega is technical producer and sound designer.

S4: Adrian Lobos is media production specialist.

S1: Elisa Barba is our editor.

S4: Lisa Morissette is director of audio programming and operations.

S2: And John.

S4: Decker is senior director of Content development.

S1: This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting , a private corporation funded by the American people.

S4: This project was also made possible with support from California Humanities , a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit call Soy Natalie Gonzalez. Nos.

S5: Nos. Vemos Pronto.

Ruby and Javier are two Central American migrants that own and operate Pura Vida a food truck in Playas de Tijuana that offers a wide selection Salvadorian and Costa Rican dishes. After an opportunity saw them to uproot and make it to Tijuana, they reexamine the pull of the American Dream and consider a new option; The TIjuana Dream.

Tune in!


Big thanks to Rito Zazueta for letting us include bits and pieces of her monumental short in this episode. Here's the Link to her documentary.

Tijuana Dream (2016)

Dir. Rito Zazueta

Prod. Rick Zazueta

🎶 “Flotando” Rommel Duran / Entre Desiertos
🎥 Josh Olivera


Port of Entry has whole new set of stories with you, this time centered around food and migration.

This season we share several stories about how food has changed cities in the borderlands, including episodes on folks who have made Valle de Guadalupe, the famous wine region of northern Baja, their home.

Follow hosts Natali Gonzalez and Alan Lilienthal as they sit down with these fascinating people who share their personal and family stories. Listen in and join us!

If you like this episode, show us some love @portofentrypod


From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells cross-border stories that connect us. More stories at

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“Port of Entry'' is written, produced and directed by Julio C. Ortiz Franco. Luca Vega is our Technical Producer and Sound Designer.

Alisa Barba is our editor.

Episodes are translated by Julio C. Ortiz Franco and Natali Gonzales.

Elma Gonzalez and M.G. Perez are our Spanish Editors.

Lisa Morrisette-Zapp is Director of Audio Programming and Operations and John Decker is the Director of Content Development.

This program is made possible, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.