A Money Lesson From My Adventure in Tijuana

Twenty miles south of the heart of San Diego lies the heart of Tijuana – a city full of delicious food, vibrant art and culture, thriving small businesses, and, unfortunately, poverty, drug violence, and police corruption. Not wishing to spend my entire life as a close-minded American, I like to pay a visit every now and then to sharpen my world view.

This past trip did not disappoint.

You see, it has been more than five years since I’ve truly paid a visit to Tijuana (excluding, of course, parties, music festivals, and the times I’ve passed through while visiting Baja’s beach towns). During this time, I’ve crafted a cherished woe-is-me narrative about how much harder my life is than many Americans because mommy and daddy didn’t pay for school and – as a result – I’ve spent most of my adult life saddled with debt.

The narrative is still true, of course, but seeing Tijuana again with open eyes has allowed me to form a more global perspective.

“Just by merit of being born in the United States, I’ve inherited a set of privileges that other people have fought for.”

For example –

My friend who lives in Tijuana is planning a wedding with her fiancé, Henry. Like most of the city’s refugees, Henry gave up his life savings to escape Haiti’s earthquakes, hurricanes, and outbreaks of disease. Each morning, many men like Henry form a block-long line outside the immigration office, hoping and praying for their chance to enter the United States.

As I watched the daily hope and frustration in the eyes of these men, I was brutally accosted by my own privilege as a U.S. citizen. Just by merit of being born in the United States, I’ve inherited a set of privileges that other people have fought for.

Privileges like, for instance, a relatively stable currency. Since the election of President-Elect Donald Trump, Mexico’s peso has spiraled downward into free-fall. Tijuana’s minimum-wage workers now earn one-third of the amount needed for basic survival and an estimated 15,000 people have lined the border in protest of Mexico’s 20 percent price hike on gasoline.

“It’s our duty to make use of our advantages and secure an economically prosperous life for ourselves.”

Another privilege: clean water. Yes, I’m quite aware of the water crisis in Flint, but it doesn’t change the fact that 99 percent of the United States has access to clean drinking water. Compare that to countries like Afghanistan, where the same is only true for 27 percent.

So why do I say all of this – to guilt trip you? Not at all, but I think it’s very easy for us “first world” folk to forget the advantages we have. Through these words, I hope to remind you that it is our responsibility, no – it’s our duty to make use of our advantages and secure an economically prosperous life for ourselves.

Whatever it is that you’re going through, I hope you remember that – as bad as you have it – there are many who likely have it worse. For your sake, I hope you continue using your advantages to fight for a better life for yourself, and – for the world’s sake – I hope you continue to fight for a better life for all.

That’s all I have for now, but until next time, happy Martin Luther King Day.

– Katasha

3 comments on “A Money Lesson From My Adventure in Tijuana

  1. Sometimes I just want to call out “First world problems!” to some people when I hear them complain. We really don’t understand how good we have it until we see how the other side lives. Thank you for sharing this, it’s important for everyone to know we are blessed!

  2. INDEED. And, I am definitely guilty of being a first-world complainer. Not to get all racial, but – as a black woman especially – I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of internalizing the cultural narrative that the United States isn’t for people like me.

    Now, of course, we still have A LONG way to go for leveling out the playing field with respect to race, class, gender, etc. BUT, that being said, I cannot deny that from a global perspective, we have A LOT of privilege and it’s important for us to acknowledge it.

  3. Thank you, Katasha! I’ve always said I’ve won the lottery by being born in the United States. For all of our faults, the least fortunate American has infinitely more opportunity than most people on earth. Free schools, free libraries, abundant water, excellent sanitation, reliable electricity, dynamic labor market, property rights, rule of law, robust safety net, little civil strife, stable government and money–the list of our first-world advantages is long indeed. Perhaps my favorite “stop bemoaning your life” stat is this: More than 500 million Indians don’t have access to a toilet. They have to defecate in the fields or by a river.

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