City of Cast-Offs

Tire Retaining Wall In Tijuana, photo by William Hillyard

Rubber Retaining Wall in Tijuana’s Swanky Chapultepec Neighborhood.--photo by William Hillyard

Tijuana is made of tires.  Car tires.  It is constructed of them: they form the walls of houses, shore up embankments, stabilize slopes, create retaining walls, staircases, curbs, fences, planters.  Tijuana is awash in tires, buried under them. The tires all came from California originally; we export more than two million old tires to Mexico every year as part of a recycling program overseen by the state. Tire recycling means nothing more than relocating, it seems, exporting our problem to the other side of the international fence.

This is a short  piece I wrote to accompany a photo essay by  World Press Photo award-winning photographer Guillermo Arias.   It appeared in  the Earth Island Journal.  Our assignment was to explore recycling: how does it fare as our first response to the American culture of consumption?

“Jorge Lopez works shirtless among a mountain of wooden pallets along the cluttered banks of Tijuana’s swampy Arroyo Alamar. He stacks the best pallets to one side and busts others into boards, piling them alongside the broken scraps gathered as firewood. Lopez makes his living selling the pallets, the boards, and the firewood to the squatters who live on the opposite bank of the arroyo. A whole pallet goes for two pesos — about 15 cents.”

Read the entire story: City of Cast-Offs

William Hillyard

Where is Away?

“When ‘off-shore’ is Tijuana, just the other side of a rusty metal border fence, there is little to prevent the problems we send away from flowing back north.”

the US-Mexico Border fence at the Pacific Ocean, photo by William Hillyard

The international border fence as it enters the Pacific at Tijuana--photo by William Hillyard

I got the idea for this story standing on the San Diego side of the border fence watching people squeeze north between the jagged stakes to have their picture taken.  It seemed to me that the fence only kept out those who were willing to be kept out.  The photos are by award-winning Tijuana-based photographer Guillermo Arias.

“At low tide, you could walk to Mexico, around the crusty palisade of the border fence, without even getting your shoes wet. The thinnest can slip between the stakes, as kids do, dashing into America—‘look at me, mom!’—and slipping back again over the line. The Pacific’s relentless waves and salt spray have long ago eaten the fence’s metallic flesh, leaving a disheveled skeleton of rusty spikes, 12 feet tall, like the broken and bent teeth of a giant scaly comb.” Read the entire story

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William Hillyard

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