Over the past couple weeks the direction of my project has taken a pretty significant shift in a new direction. As I began to narrow my geographical scope, I found that there is a lot of historical richness to be found in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands themselves. If you zoom in here, it’s easier to make assessments about the border and how people interact with and experience it. Not only this, but many of these histories can be placed into an interesting transnational framework. Take for example Tijuana.

A quick Google search can tell you that the city of Tijuana (Baja California, Mexico) was founded in 1889. What Google probably won’t as easily tell you is that Tijuana’s birth can be largely attributed to United States mining interests. Lawrence D. Taylor’s essay, titled ‘The Mining Boom in Baja California from 1850 to 1890 and the Emergence of Tijuana as a Border Community’ has been a valuable contributor to my research. Perhaps unbeknownst to Taylor, he has actually written a bit of a transnational history about Tijuana. This doesn’t seem to be his main intention, however, so I have taken it upon myself to draw on some of his work with my own ideas (which will perhaps further my understanding of how important transnational exchanges and flows were to shaping the borderland communities we know today).

In the three decades leading up to 1889, gold and silver veins were being discovered throughout the land that straddled the international border, resulting in a nearly constant gold rush of sorts throughout the area.[1] People began settling in the Tijuana River valley as early as the 1860s; note that, just as the valley itself spans both sides of the border, these agriculturally-driven settlers did as well.[2]

In addition to agricultural settlements, the valley was an important transit route for people moving between mining areas.[3] It wasn’t long before the Tijuana River valley was attracting so much cross-border movement that the Mexican government established a customs house to stimulate the accumulation of revenue from people crossing the border.[4] What Taylor has been getting at thus far, and what he does not explicitly voice, is that Tijuana’s initial social and economic development—developments which would arguably push it toward becoming a standalone city in the future—was formed as culmination of agricultural interests from both sides of the border, as well as flows of people throughout the area and across the border (I’m thinking about economic transnational activities in which goods and/or profit are obtained in Mexico and brought back into the United States).

In the 1880s, an international firm called The International Company of Mexico began selling pieces of the available land to people who wished to inhabit the Tijuana area.[5] I tried to research further into this company, but found it difficult to find much information without advanced resources. Taylor describes the company as a U.S.-Mexico firm.[6] Some further research revealed that it was an American company based in Connecticut.[7] Regardless, its interest in the land and the grant of land it received marks the beginning of a multitude of foreign countries obtaining and reselling the land to settlers. This is because all of this was occurring, of course, during a period when Mexican policy sought to develop Mexico further by encouraging foreign investment. Pieces of the land that would constitute many of the border communities toward the West (including Tijuana) were soon in the hands of American companies, and companies originating in England, France, and Germany.[8] 

It wouldn’t be long before the exoticism presented by Tijuana’s proximity to San Diego would stimulate a massive tourism boom to Tijuana–even if just to look at it. What ended up being my most important takeaway from researching Tijuana is how factors that pull people and interest toward the border can shape the formation of the borderlands and dictate how people experience living on the border. I’m hoping this will add a useful perspective to my project as I continue to work on it further.


[1] Lawrence D. Taylor, ‘The Mining Boom in Baja California from 1850 to 1890 and the Emergence of Tijuana as a Border Community’ in Andrew Grant Wood (ed.), On the Border: Society and Culture Between the United States and Mexico (Oxford, 2001), pp. 5-13.

[2] Ibid., pp. 14-15

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 16.

[7] Robert R. Alvarez, Jr., Familia: Migration and Adaptation in Baja and Alta California, 1800-1975 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1987), p. 30.

[8] Ibid., p. 29.

Tijuana’s Transnational Origins

One thought on “Tijuana’s Transnational Origins

  • April 27, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    One of the great difficulties that have confronted me as I consider transnational history and its implications, and which rears its head again as I read this -very interesting- post, lies in the effects that the conceptualisation of all events as incidents in ‘flow’ must have upon our understandings of, among other things, nationality and individual identities. Positing that all anthropologically-related things (ideas; goods; people) are in flow means also accepting, as a matter of common sense, that there is nothing that is a priori existent: which means working, as we have been, outside the classic delineations of nation and border. This also means laying aside the easy, standard shorthands- of using catch-all phrases such as ‘American interests’ to conflate individual entrepreneurs with their country of origin, for instance, and thereby making an imagined and constructed entity an ‘actor’ in its own right. In this blog, though, I think you do very well in avoiding that- placing the emphasis, as you do, upon individual actors rather than making them conflated, and identifying them as ‘individuals who originated in a certain country’ rather than making them synonymous or metonymous with that country, allows a far more nuanced discussion.

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