By Michael Goldstein
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By LA Weekly
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“I know, I know,” the kid says, drawing his gaze down to the sidewalk. “I would go back, but the addiction is too strong.”
“No addiction is stronger than your mother,” Carbajal scolds. “You will have your addiction all your life, but you will not have your mother all your life. And when you need her, it will be too late.”
Every day that passes, I am losing hope that I will find him.(Photo by Gregory Bojorquez)
When we shake hands to go, the boy offers us the back of his wrist rather than his palm, a polite gesture.
As we head back to the banana depot, Carbajal says she can’t understand how these men don’t try to locate their families. She worries Pedro is so disoriented in Tijuana, he’s lost track of time, maybe even forgotten how to reach her. “I brought him to Tijuana when he was young. It’s very different than today. I’ve always told him, ‘Watch where you are, make note of the streets,’ and he’d always say, ‘No, for what? I’m always with you.’?”
It was good advice. While Tijuana has significantly cleaned up and modernized its central districts in recent years, much of the city remains a place of delirium-inducing physical transience. The landscape is in a constant state of broadening, expansion, abandonment. People who are from here, like my own parents and many of my relatives, are still prone to getting lost in the city’s twisting roads and dead-ends. The ground is hot. Tijuana is also a place defined by human transience. Migrations, forced or of necessity, press against Tijuana from north and south. For decades migrants have been pouring into the city from Central America and the Mexican interior, hoping to make it across the border, only to sink into the urban stew. Many settle into the shanty villages that dot the hillsides.
From the north, busloads of fresh deportees are ejected from the United States at the San Ysidro crossing. The buses come right up to the boundary’s revolving metal gates, unloading migrants who are usually carrying nothing but what they had on themselves when caught. Mexican immigration officials briefly process them at a low square building, then they are released into the city and the vast Mexican republic. Some make it back to jobs and families in the U.S. Some fall into drugs, succumb to illness or disease, or are simply never heard from again. Getting “lost” is part of the social fabric here. It’s as if Tijuana swallows people.
A day after my first outing with Carbajal, I look for her at the banana depot. It’s nothing more than a few wooden buildings, painted white, lining a dirt courtyard. A few cats and rabbits live there. Carbajal has been staying in a windowless shack upstairs. I’m told she’s away, and decide to walk from the Zona Norte to the border crossing. On a well-worn footbridge over the Tijuana River, I spot her standing against a ledge, peering intently at a cluster of Tijuana police who are investigating a matter in one of the drainage ditches in the concrete riverbed. She is finishing a cigarette. She says she was passing by and she noticed the commotion. She now wants to make sure that they’re not pulling out an addict, a dead body, a homeless person, or her son. It is late afternoon and a sharp Pacific breeze is coasting through the basin. The river looks a lot like the L.A. River. There are wide concrete banks and a slow-moving stream of green sludge running north to the ocean. Carbajal is deciding whether to give up the day-to-day search for her lost boy and return to her night shift at the Jack in the Box. She has six other children to care for. She may come down on weekends.
“I feel like now, well, now I leave it in their hands, because I have to return to work,” Carbajal says calmly. “I would come back every now and then, for shopping, see if I run into him, here, where they sell things. If they find him, they’re going to call me right away, unless someone calls me and says, ‘Here he is, he’s working, he’s okay.’ But if that happens I’m going to tell them to not let him get away, until I get there.”
The following weekend, Carbajal decides to return to Lancaster. She’s still consumed by questions. “Who is going to tell him what to do? The people in there with him. I feel like someone must have told him, ‘You sign whatever, so that you can get out, and then they’ll come and pick you up.’?”
Two of her granddaughters are watching loud cartoons in the next room, at a brown stucco ranchhouse belonging to Juan Carlos. Carbajal looks out a window, to a shiny old trailer out back perched upon a heap of yellow desert dust. “I’ve always told him, ‘Don’t let anyone convince you of anything. You alone decide what you need to do, the good and the bad. Don’t trust no one.’?”
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