Help from the Mexican Counsel

mexico_flag-wavingWe had a good metting with the Press Attache of the Mexican Counsel on Monday, April 6.  He asked for a letter that outlined the project and concerns, and said he would alert the Tijuana PR dept. and Police of our presence…hopefully this will put any police harrassment/theft/paying money in leiu of arrest.

He knew who I was, knew of my Reader article.  When I told him about the time the TJ cops robbed me or beat me up, he said, “Why didn’t you report it?”

“What good would that have done?” I asked.

He assured me that the govnerment was working on weedng out criminal behavior among their law enforcement, either local of federal.  I don’t know about that — those guys get paid scraps, getting cash out of tourists is how they make their living, right?

Or am I just jaded?

Of course, he is the press liaison and must put a positive spin on an igly reality: that most TJ cops are on the take.

Here is the letter I sent:

April 6, 2009


 Dear Mr. Gonzales:

Thank you again for your time and hearing Chris Morrow and I out regarding our documentary film project.

 As explained, the subject matter is “A Day in Zona Norte.”  Zona Norte is the red light district of Tijuana.  We are interested in filming the daily life of merchants and those making a non-sex trade living in the red light area: the taco stand fellow and/or the shoeshine men, as well as the street mariachi players.  We want to show that other modes of business occur in that area of Tijuana that has a “certain” reputation.

 The film is an extension of my two years of anthropological research and observations in Zona Norte, an ethnography for my doctoral dissertation, published last year by Cambridge Scholars as Zona Norte: An Auto./ethnography of Desire and Addiction.

 This short documentary is being financed by Real Ideas Studios, a company in San Jose, CA that is also producing six other short documentaries with an international flavor that they will screen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. You can read about the program at this website:

Our main concern, and request from the government of Mexico and Tijuana officials, is trouble with law enforcement, both the Tijuana Municipal Police and the Federales.  During my research in 2006-2008 in Zona Norte, I have, several times, been robbed, physically assaulted, and had my camera stolen by the police. It is our understanding that photographing or filming street prostitutes may be illegal or not encouraged; however, we do not wish to film/interview them, just the vendors and honest workers on the street, who work in the same area.

 Please note that we will take precautions not to film law enforcement or Mexican Army troops going about their duties, either.

 Thus, notification to the police substation in Zona Norte, and acknowledgement that Mexico government officials know we are down there, should avoid any sticky entanglements. We would like to conduct this project in Tijuana soon, between April 10-15; we will only require one day, 1-2 hours at most while down there.  We would not to object any representative accompanying us, as this will aide in our safety. We hope that, in the interest of good international relations, our safety can be assured. Our intent with this short documentary is to show a positive aspect of hard-working Tijuana residents in a volatile area.

 I have written to Tijuana Mayor Ramos’ office about the project but have not heard back yet.

 Aside from the documentary, CNN may run a “making of the film” story, and I most likely will write about the experience in the San Diego Reader.

 There will be two people on this project, both U.S. citizens: myself, Michael Hemmingson, and Chris Morrow, who will be acting as camera operator. I will direct, narrate, and carry out interviews. I will most likely hire a cab driver or someone in the area to assist with translating.

 I am a staff writer for the Reader and a cultural anthropologist and journalist, having reported from Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia in the 1990s for the Associated Press.  I  have published 49 books of fiction and non-fiction.

Chris Morrow is a freelance photo-journalist whose work has appeared in the Reader and who is a stringer for

 We look forward to working with you and thank you for your assistance.



Michael Hemmingson



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