America’s Renegade Retirees

clips, Frontera, mainstream media, Mexico, words

U.S. News and World Report

ROSARITO, Mexico — At the sprawling beachfront Las Rocas Resort and Spa in the Mexican state of Baja California, the restaurant El Mesón serves up American-style pizza and Mexican seafood accompanied by a breathtaking view of the Pacific. To drum up more business, the restaurant is running a new campaign in local publications, with a limited-time offer.

Their advertisement shows a beaming, middle-aged couple, a silver-haired gentleman and a blond. Her arms are draped comfortably around his shoulders. “Super special!” reads the text over their heads, in English. “Seniors 50% off your check!” In the tiny print below, a disclaimer notes that the deal is available to those aged 55 and up.

That marketing focus is intentional. In 2017, for the first time in twenty years, Mexico topped the list of International Living’s annual ranking of the best places for U.S. citizens to retire. The population of Americans in Mexico is rising, in size as well as in age.

Yet most of them may be there illegally. South of the border, it’s relatively easy for U.S. citizens to live without legal documentation. In fact, some official reports indicate that illegal Americans seem to be the rule, not the exception.

One 2015 study from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography reveals that a stunning 91.2 percent of Americans in the country don’t have their papers in order. That figure includes typos and other minor irregularities, and doesn’t appear to account for dual nationals.

The welcome many American immigrants feel in Mexico stands in stark contrasts to the way their Mexican counterparts are treated by Uncle Sam.

At the border crossing into Tijuana from San Diego, Americans can drive straight into Mexico without stopping or showing any kind of identification.

Mexicans generally embrace Americans and the influx of U.S. dollars that accompany them, and the Mexican government rarely deports Americans – typically just for very serious crime. Fines related to immigration paperwork can range from $50 to a few hundred dollars.

Conversely, under the Trump administration, even those people who grew up in the United States, brought here as babies or children, are now being deported for lacking formal documentation.

“There is a great deal of irony there,” says Sheila Croucher, author of the book, “The Other Side of the Fence: American Migrants in Mexico.” She adds, “I believe the Mexican people are remarkably adept at separating the actions and attitudes of the U.S. government from that of the American people.”

According to the U.S. State Department, around a million Americans currently reside in Mexico. But that number is only an estimate, since citizens aren’t closely tracked leaving the U.S. For its part, Mexico struggles to tally incoming visitors.

“I think it’s safe to say that over the past few years there has been a marked increase,” Croucher says. “And there’s been no indication of a reverse flow of people coming back from the towns in Mexico where large numbers of Americans have settled.”

Statistics from the U.S. Social Security Administration show that distributions to beneficiaries in Mexico increased 7.2 percent between 2012 and 2016. Yet those numbers, too, aren’t exactly reliable: many American seniors move south while keeping their old bank accounts back home.

Some of the 15,000 Americans skirt formal residency requirements by obtaining tourist visas, and renewing them every 180 days. Otherwise, a one-year temporary visa costs about $194 USD.

Cheap living, proximity and established enclaves of Americans are three top reasons why Americans are drawn to retiring in Mexico, says Jen Stevens, the executive editor of International Living.

“Part of the reason Mexico came out on top [in our ranking] is because of the dollar being so strong this year, compared to the peso,” Stevens says. “It is even more affordable now than it was a decade before.”

Hot spots for American immigrants, young and old alike, include cities and towns like San Miguel de Allende, Rosarito, the Valle de Guadalupe, Lake Chapala and Ajijic.

And with the climbing cost of healthcare in the U.S., some American retirees also view Mexico as a good option if assisted living facilities or in-home private care become necessary.

Scott Astorga of Palm Springs says he opened a small retirement home in Rosarito in June 2016. “There’s a demand here,” Astorga says. “That’s why I’m in business. It’s growing. Back in 2003, there weren’t any assisted living facilities.”

Yet some Americans find themselves unsettled by what still seems to be a fact of Mexican life: the “mordida,” or bribe.

Sean Gunderson, 57, of Arizona bought a beachfront second home in a gated community along the Tijuana-Rosarito coast in 2004.

A few years later, the former law enforcement consultant was advised to pay a bribe after the Mexican government refused to fix a typo on paperwork related to his property. The incident rankled Gunderson so much that he decided to put his house on the market, scrapping a plan to develop a multi-million dollar assisted living community in Baja California.

“If you don’t mind operating that way, as an American, you can buy influence and connections,” Gunderson says. “But for us, in terms of investing, that was the straw that broke our backs.”

“Border deaths: The last crossing of Tiger Martinez”

mainstream media

“TUCSON, Ariz. — On Oct. 3, 2012, Pima County’s deputy chief medical examiner and two assistants peeled open a flat white vinyl body bag. The corpse inside was recovered in Cochise County, part of the hot Arizona desert lands also known as the Corridor of Death. According to the autopsy report, the 24-year-old man with braided hair was of African descent, with his “natural” teeth in good condition.

Despite having been stored in a freezer since its recovery just a few days earlier, the body had already begun to degrade. The man’s hands were mummified from the sun; maggots infested his flesh.

Typically, such a body would be nearly impossible to identify, but the hardened, leathery skin across his torso, forearms and biceps provided an inked history. His upper right arm was tattooed with spangled stars, a backdrop for the name Kiara. His right arm read, “Live For Everything, Die For Nothing,” and his upper left read “New York” and “Allan 12-26-09.” Finally, the name Betty curled across both forearms.

The body arrived clothed, with belongings: a gray baseball cap, an American flag bandana, white pants with a matching white belt, a black compass, one orange lighter and two tubes of ChapStick. Two thumb drives, each crammed with music. A knife case with no knife. Medical examiners entered each item into an electronic database.

In one pocket, the man had carried a handwritten letter, addressed to him in bright red ink. “Allan … From that first day, I loved you, I love you, and I will keep loving you.… ”

Tucked neatly into the front pocket was a Honduran identification card: Allan Modesto Martinez Alvarez, born June 27, 1988.”


Tijuana’s ‘tent city’ shelters deported immigrants | PHOTOS

clips, mainstream media, photojournalism


Written by Michelle García, photographs by Erin Siegal McIntyre. 

TIJUANA, Mexico — There was a time when Javier Reyes conferred with architects about building plans, when a day’s work meant constructing new homes for Californians near Bakersfield. But the world of bricks and plywood he once knew has been replaced by a sea of brightly colored tents. Now he uses his quiet authority to bring a semblance of order to an informal camp of homeless people, many of whom were, like Reyes, tossed out of the United States.


On a recent morning, a tension comes over the camp. A man grabs a woman from behind and pushes her to the crowd. “She’s pregnant,” someone yells. A security team — men who live in the camp — is dispatched to break up the scuffle. Meanwhile, a tall man with a thick mustache and heavy jacket saunters up to the table and slips a paper across the table where Reyes sits — another deportee from California on the streets of Tijuana searching for refuge… 

Read the full story published by Al Jazeera America:

Freelancer’s Journal: Erin Siegal McIntyre


For Scratch Magazine: A day at work with an investigative journalist

Erin Siegal McIntyre is an independent/freelance investigative journalist and photographer based on the United States/Mexico border in Tijuana. She works in print, online, broadcast, and radio journalism; her topics of focus include border issues, Mexico, Latin America, drugs, organized crime, immigration, veterans, and photography.We asked her to track what she does all day, and how much it costs.

The Goals:

To make $45-50,000 (before expenses and taxes) this year producing a mix of multimedia stories, investigations, and projects; some long-term watchdog investigations that are personally satisfying; and some shorter assignments taken just for profit.

To make time for a few pieces of writing that may be unpaid but allow for creativity, style, or the use of other brain muscles not regularly used in straight journalism.

The Workday:

Every day is different; some days are spent doing interviews and traveling around the city to various locations.

7–7:30 a.m.
Wake up, check email, Twitter, Facebook in bed. What’s breaking in the world, what’s trending? Has anything happened locally in Tijuana overnight, like the Army raiding an ex-Mayor’s mansion and confiscating a weapons cache? Any new drug tunnels or mass graves?

8–8:45 a.m.

Walk dogs, clear head. Remember that I’m not trying to sell daily news. I can’t afford to. Web doesn’t pay enough and neither do the newswires; the cost-benefit ratio is skewed in favor of the media corporations, not the contractor. Begin looped internal monologue/pep talk designed to convince self Work Has Meaning. Pick up the local newspapers: Frontera (daily, 4 pesos, or 30 cents), and Zeta Tijuana (weekly, 15 pesos, or around $1.50).

8:45–­9 a.m.

Hop in car, turn on the news (Noticias MVS con Carmen Aristegui), drive to office, cleverly disguised as the reception of a local storage unit facility. Once in awhile, I’ll buy coffee from the local spot (10-20 pesos, depending); otherwise, it’s a travel mug and Trader Joe’s beans from the U.S. Outside my office, I slip the guard dogs a few Milk Bones (daily, 1 bone per pit bull, 3 dogs total) to foster goodwill.

9–10:15 a.m.

In-take. Scan newspapers, taking iPhone photos of any articles I want to save (phone bill, $200/month; office rent, $200/month). Browse posts on the various listservs, professional organizations, and online groups I belong to. Tweet particularly interesting, important, or amusing links to help pull in new social media followers at my target rate of 100+/month. Scan Twitter and Facebook again for content, tips, leads. Check for news related to intercountry adoption; post links to the website for my book, Finding Fernanda.

Delete/reply to all email in attempt to keep Gmail inbox at under 50 non-archived messages. Someone from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has invited me to speak to grad students about themes related to Finding Fernanda; they don’t mention a fee. Check in about university speaking fees with my fellow Fellows from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism (all unpaid; fellowship provides database access and student research assistants based in Boston). Tell Stanford I usually receive an honorarium of $2,000-5,000. I don’t tell them this usually happens in my dreams. They do not respond.

Send note to my local intern, age 19 (paid a percentage of my own fee, depending on what stories he helps with). He can’t meet this week, and is getting flaky. Consider finding a new intern; curse fact that I purchased non-transferable student IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) membership ($25) for current intern. Make mental note to be harder on future assistants.

10:15–11:30 a.m.

Review daily schedule. Evaluate tasks left over from yesterday. Figure out priorities by deadline. Check “Money Owed” client spreadsheet; see who’s past due and re-invoice, with added late fees, if necessary. Here’s looking at you, Al Jazeera America!

Check the FOIA Project‘s new procedural or substantive Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit decision blog. Check status of my 25+ ongoing FOIA requests to various federal and state agencies. Call to follow up on a few. Squeaky wheels, grease. If necessary, check in with pro-bono lawyers about threatening government with lawsuits to obtain requested materials.

Remember I have to give a Powerpoint presentation in three weeks to a conference of women journalists; shelve until week of conference.

Try to avoid G-chats from friends who have 9-5 jobs and time to engage in such niceties. Fail.

11 a.m.–noon

Re-establish priorities for in-process pitches, projects, and stories. At the moment: two national radio stories that are pitched and green-lighted (one $650, one TBD), one national radio investigation in the pre-reporting/ negotiation stage, and two magazine pieces (one green-lighted, one ready to pitch, fee on both TBD) that need to move forward. Three mag editors have asked me for story ideas and I haven’t yet delivered any. One of the mag editors is rolling in cash. Clock = ticking. I also have two separate long-term multimedia investigations in various stages of non-completion, each involving complex arrangements between myself, other reporters in other cities, multiple broadcast outlets, outside (and often dwindling) foundation grants. And that’s just the funding, not the reporting , stalled FOIAs, and lawyers.

I’m getting hungry.

Noon–1 p.m.

General research/reporting: phone calls, arranging interviews, setting up pieces of stories, soliciting sources via email and Facebook. Glance at ongoing “Potential Story Ideas” file; contains 257 folders. Think about recent invitation to pitch a new weekly national TV series on border issues ($ to be determined), wonder if outlet will just steal my ideas. Google templates for non-disclosure agreements; outlet agrees to sign before reading pitch.

1–1:30 p.m.

Get tacos from place next door (2 for 20 pesos, or about $1.80). Re-caffeinate.

1:30–3 p.m.

Buckle down and write/re-write a set amount of words for green-lighted magazine story.

Open draft of in-process proposal for my second book, consider working on it (Cost: two months of research and reporting, unpaid, gambling that my agent in NYC will be able to sell proposed manuscript for enough money to make time investment worth it), decide my attention span has vanished, close document. Squirm. Consider learning how to use Scrivner ($0, copy supplied by generous friend).

Remember I haven’t yet sent CBS b-roll video footage of myself “being a journalist” for an upcoming show appearance, where I’m featured as a talking head. Wonder if such work is beyond the consulting fee they’re paying me ($6,000). Try to squelch thought, as there’s really no question about it: in total, I’ve worked more than they’ve paid me over the course of the last two years while the show has been in production. They claim they’re over budget and thus cannot pay me a day rate for shooting, editing, and transferring b-roll (usual video day rate: between $250 and $750).

3–3:15 p.m.

Scan list of upcoming grant and fellowship deadlines; consider pros and cons of doing a documentary film that’s been stuck in my head for months, involving an unstoppable Tijuana activist. Unable to commit, despite main character haunting me. The thought of having to fundraise a major project makes me really tired. But a certain grant deadline ($10-$25,000) is next week. Do I spend the time prepping an application, including acquiring a matching non-profit sponsor? Or do I continue to sit on the damn fence? For now, I’m frozen, fencetop.

3:30-3:45 p.m.

Check email again. Yes, Al Jazeera, you can hire me on a day rate to shoot video ($TBD) during a single day in October, even though you haven’t yet paid me for 5 days of work this past July. No,, I won’t rip off The New York Times to rewrite a story I photographed for them ($250), for you ($100-175).

3:45-5 p.m.

Leave office. Swear to self that I’ll stop reporting news and take a sabbatical to finish the book proposal soon. Head to a copy shop to view a DVD of a video deposition leaked to me (laptop disc drive is broken, too expensive and useless to replace). Head across border to San Ysidro for post office, any possible paychecks, and bank.

6 p.m.

No paychecks. End up at the local ranch having beer with Mexican cowboy friends who sometimes double as sources. They know a lot about everything, and I’m trying to hook one of Diane Sawyer’s producers on a story where their contacts could be helpful. Cowboys will open up if they’re in the right mood. They’re not. News of the day is that a certain local trainer has just killed a client’s horse. Apparently, this is the second animal killed by his training methods. A fiery Facebook page has been created to “honor the memory” of dead horse, allegedly beaten to the point of bleeding from the nostrils by said trainer, even after horse stopped breathing. Do I want to write about it? Yeah, but it’s a tangent. A trap. Who would buy that story? “Animal control asleep on the job?” I’d spend a whole day on it and get paid jack ($100? $200?). Sounds like something for We have another beer.

Next day, Fox News runs dead horse segment.


Erin Siegal McIntyre is a freelance investigative journalist based on the U.S – Mexico border in Tijuana. She’s a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, a Redux Pictures photographer, and a hustler. Buy her book here, and follow her on Twitter.

Latest Clip: New York Times

clips, photojournalism, Pictures

The rise of stem cell industry catering to customers who may pay tens of thousands in cash for miracle...

I photographed Dr. Javier Lopez of Tijuana’s Instituto de Medicina Regenerativa.

The story, “Stem Cell Treatments Overtake Science,” is by science writer Laura Beil.

“Maggie Alejos arrived here in June from St. Anne, Ill., with her husband, her daughter and a cashier’s check for $13,500, payable to the Regenerative Medicine Institute.

Rail-thin, with an oxygen tube anchored above her upper lip, Ms. Alejos, a retired Army nurse, has coped with emphysema for a dozen of her 65 years. Once she came close enough to a lung transplant that doctors prepared her for surgery, only to discover that the donor lung was unfit.

At a hospital here, doctors affiliated with the institute extracted about seven ounces of fat from her thighs, hoping to harvest about 130 million stem cells and implant them in her failing lungs.

Across the Internet — where Ms. Alejos learned about the Tijuana institute — adult stem cells are promoted as a cure for everything from sagging skin to severed spinal cords.

On the surface, the claim is plausible. Scientists have discovered that fat, bone marrow and other parts of the body contain stem cells, immature cells that can rejuvenate themselves, at least in the tissue they are naturally found.

But it has yet to be proved that these cells can regenerate no matter where they are placed, or under what conditions this might occur. Moreover, questions about safety remain unanswered.

These sober realities do not appear to have slowed the rise of an international industry catering to customers who may pay tens of thousands of dollars in cash for their shot at a personal miracle. (Some foreign operators offer creative variations on the theme, like cells from sharks and sheep.)…”

Read the full story on the New York Times website:

“Immigration and assimilation: Finding a cultural foothold … in a gang” | Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2013

clips, words


“Immigration and assimilation: Finding a cultural foothold in a gang,” by Erin Siegal McIntyre, from the July 7, 2013 cover story package on immigration for the Christian Science Monitor. 

In 1979, at age 7, Alex Sanchez and his younger brother left El Salvador. They didn’t want to immigrate to theUnited States, but they had no choice. Five years earlier, their parents had made the journey north. The young brothers had spent most of their lives believing that their neighbors, who acted as temporary caretakers, were family.

“It was a hard transition to come into the United States to meet these new people,” Mr. Sanchez explains. “We’d been calling someone else Mom and Dad in El Salvador.”And once the family was reunited in Los Angeles, the children’s situation got even more difficult. Sanchez’s parents fought. “We started getting beat for things like not calling our dad ‘Dad,’ ” he says. His father often left the family, and his mother sank deeply into religion.

At school, Sanchez was ridiculed for not speaking English, and the other Spanish-speaking Latino kids derided his Salvadoran slang. “There was really nothing to help us to integrate into society,” he says, describing what experts call “downward assimilation,” integrating culturally but not into the mainstream culture. “It was difficult for us to understand what was happening. We just knew that we hated this country, that we hated our parents. We hated everybody and everything around us. There was no American dream. And in some ways, it became an American nightmare.”

The family moved to South Central L.A., then Koreatown. Finally, at a new school, Sanchez found a group of other immigrant children whose experiences mirrored his own – including being humiliated and bullied. Among his new clique, Sanchez found the sense of love and belonging that had eluded him since moving to the States.

“Instead of responding individually to harassment, they responded with unity,” he says. “And eventually, this became known as the Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13.”

Today, the US government recognizes the high-profile gang as a transnational criminal organization. According to the FBI, which has a task force dedicated to battling the gang, the organization operates in more than 42 states and boasts between 6,000 and 10,000 members.

At first, Sanchez says, the gang felt like home. At age 11, he got his first tattoo. By 15, he’d been shot. His adolescence was spent bouncing in and out of juvenile detention, and by 20, Sanchez had served three separate jail terms for various offenses. “For us, going to prison was a rite of passage,” he recalls today. “You got recognized by the gang; you were someone to be reckoned with.”

By 1994, after his third prison sentence, the gangster glamour of doing time started to tarnish. Sanchez was 21 and realized he wanted to turn his life around. After another arrest, he signed voluntary deportation papers, weary from the intensity of gang life. Perhaps deportation, Sanchez imagined, could serve as a vacation of sorts. 

He was wrong...

Million Dollar Makeover? Behind Baja’s New Image

clips, radio

In a hushed beige room at San Diego’s Hotel Handlery, clusters of well-dressed American public relations executives mingled. The February luncheon — formally titled “How PR Shaped Baja California’s Resurgence” — was an insider’s look the inner workings of a highly regarded campaign.

The pay-per-plate event, thrown by the Public Relations Society of America, paid tribute to the ongoing PR campaign that recently won a 2012 industry award for “outstanding public relations tactics.” Attendees dined on tilapia and eggplant parmesan while listening to panelists talk about the nuts and bolts of Baja’s image overhaul.

“We’re here to talk about an extremely successful PR campaign that really changed the conversation about Baja from media attention on violence to one focused on Baja’s food, arts, and cultural scene,” the emcee announced.

Allison + Partners, an international firm with offices in San Diego, was hired by the coastal Mexican border state of Baja California Norte to shift public attention away from violence, in an attempt to “reactivate” American tourism in the region.

The tourism industry withered in recent years, largely due to insecurity and transnational crime organizations warring in the region. Baja’s historic reputation for sun and surf was eclipsed by gruesome headlines including beheadings, kidnappings en masse, and frequent shoot-outs.

But in 2010, the state contracted with Allison + Partners to help fix its image. The ongoing campaign is shifting public attention and generating positive stories to place in the media focused on food, art and wine.

Since the campaign began, tourism is slowly making a comeback in Baja. In 2009, as violence peaked, hotel occupancy in Tijuana dropped to just 35 percent, said Juan Tintos, the state’s Secretary of Tourism. Today, it’s risen to 57 percent. In fact, for every year since 2011, tourism has grown incrementally better.

Despite the intense marketing and advances made in Baja, across Mexico, tourism overall continues to falter.

Pedro Azcárraga Andrade, president of Mexico’s Consejo Nacional Empresario Turístico, announced at a press conference in late January 2013 that the nation’s tourism industry has lost $12 billion since 2008. He issued a call for the federal government to change its strategy to “better the country’s image abroad.”

It might seem like a tall order.

Current travel warnings published by the U.S. Department of State instructs Americans to “defer non-essential travel” to parts of 15 states in Mexico.

Baja California Norte used to be on the list — but it’s not any more. The current State Department travel warning advises against traveling at night, and warns visitors that targeted assassinations continue to take place, sometimes in broad daylight.

It also notes that 25 Americans were murdered in Baja between July 2011 and July 2012.

But compared to American cities, Tijuana’s current murder rates seem to be fairly average. Between July 2011-2012, according U.S. State Department statistics, 351 homicides occurred in Tijuana, a city of an estimated 1.3 million people.

Comparatively, Detroit had 344 murders—but that city’s population is about half that of Tijuana’s, with around 700,000 people.

The U.S. cities of Memphis, Oakland, St. Louis, and Flint, Mich. have statistically more murders than Tijuana.

Still, in Mexico, an accurate tabulation of homicide and crime rates can be difficult to come by. Statistics from the Attorney General’s Office can be incongruent with those of other government bodies.

A recent report from The Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice noted that in 2011, just 16.4 percent of crimes in Mexico were investigated and prosecuted.

Political analysts like Alejandro Hope have called the country’s statistics of homicides related to organized crime “worse than useless,” saying that they only confuse matters since they’re not based on real criminal investigations or evidence.

In 2008, former Rosarito Mayor Hugo Torres told the San Diego Union-Tribune that tourism suffered in part due to “strong smear campaigns from some California media.”

In February, at the PR luncheon, Torres furthered his argument, saying media attention to crime and brutality negatively skews the way the public perceives Mexico overall.

Juan Tintos, who served as Baja’s Secretary of Tourism from 1992-2001, has now been back in the position since 2010. To him, the Allison + Partners Baja campaign has been a clear success.

“We encouraged American tourists to visiting and sharing the positive side of Baja,” he said. “We used key messages by very famous people, testimonials, celebrities, and the American ex-pats. The key message is that Baja California is a safe destination.”

Tintos added that planting “positive” sources and prefabricated pro-tourism organizations in the news media has helped.

So has bringing movie stars and celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain to the region, a move he said helped shift the focus tremendously from murder to food and wine.

“We went through a drought with the film studios here in Baja, where for about seven or eight years, we didn’t have any type of productions,” Tintos said. “We reactivated the film industry, bringing people here to the state like Sylvester Stallone, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, and most recently Robert Redford…”

Powerful media outlets including The New York Times and the New Yorker published stories on Tijuana’s food scene, heightening the positive buzz.

American ex-pat Marjorie “Maggie” Drake keeps track of the negative side of coverage on her blog, “Maggie’s Madness Drug War Chronicles,” which she’s penned from Baja since 2006. Drake’s own amalgamation is an antidote of sorts to the positive stories: She details and translates stories about regional crime and violence as reported by the local press and eyewitnesses like friends and neighbors.

Baja California spent a reported half million dollars on public relations in 2009 alone, with Mexico’s federal government shelling out another half-million. Back then, the firms Fleishman-Hillard and 1st Strike Creative were retained to help repair the state’s image.

Today, neither Tintos nor Allison + Partners will disclose the price tag for Baja California’s new image. Tintos said he prefers to think about the cost in terms of cost-benefit for the tourism industry, an amount he said is in the millions.

But a new image has emerged: The state has evolved from being best known for dismembered bodies to being hailed as a culinary epicenter with a vibrant art and music scene.

“A big part of our campaign is actually bringing journalists across the border to experience Baja for themselves,” said Annie Drury, an account executive from Allison + Partners who has worked on Baja’s image for years. “Journalist fam trips, sometimes they’re individual trips, sometimes they’re group fam trips… ”

“Fam trips” are what’s known as familiarity trips, or paid junkets to Mexico used in promotion. The current Baja campaign by Allison + Partners snared a 2012 a Bernays Bronze Award, given in recognition of “outstanding public relations tactics.”

The PR firm tracks this change in perception by using results from an independent polling company working with the Mexican research institute COLEF to evaluate the efficacy of their tactics. In December, 600 Southern Californians were surveyed.

“Respondents who perceive Baja as unsafe, that decreased by 16 percent over the past year,” said Richard Kendall of Allison + Partners. “Those who would not visit Baja because of a perceived danger, crime, or drugs decreased by 44 percent.”

But perception and spin aside, Consul General Andrew S. E. Erickson at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana said the State Department maintains its travel warning for Baja California Norte for a reason: continued security concerns.

“Tijuana has come a long way from 2009,” Erikson said. “Look, we continue to have concerns about security. That’s why we have a travel warning… There continues to be situations in which American citizens are killed. The majority of those murders seem to be related to transnational organized crime, narcoterrorism, or narcotics-related murders. As a general rule, however, people in tourist areas are not targeted.”

Originally aired by the Fronteras Desk

VIDEO: City As Blender: Tijuana’s New Mix Of Music, Crowds, And Cultures

clips, TV & Video

TIJUANA, Mexico — By 2009, Tijuana had become a shadow of its former self. Known for bars, clubs, and general debauchery, the city’s nightlife had ground to a crushing halt. Drug violence scared away tourists, and even locals stayed indoors.

Today, the city is emerging from hibernation.

Reuben Torres is a producer with the Tijuana trio Los Macuanos, a band he formed with Moises Horta and Moises López.

“When we started doing music, nobody was doing anything in the city,” Torres said. “It was around the time when there was violence, so everything stopped. The parties died. For the three years we’ve been doing this, we’ve persevered… we were like, it doesn’t matter that nobody cares. But now people have started caring.”

It’s true: people are not only caring, but now sometimes traveling in packs just to hear new music. On a recent November weekend, not one but two music events arrived in Tijuana: the All My Friends Music Festival and the musical residency Norte Sonoro.

The concept behind Norte Sonoro is simple. Each year, a hand-picked curator chooses six international musicians, and brings them to a pre-selected Mexican city for a week of immersion in local sounds, food, art, and culture. At the week’s end, the artists perform in a showcase, and collaborate on a digital album.

Esteban Sheridan Cárdenas, founder of the Norte Sonoro, says that choosing Tijuana as this year’s Norte Sonoro host city was an obvious choice.

“It made perfect sense to have it happen here,” he said. “Tijuana is very Mexican. Some people might not think it’s very Mexican because it’s so pocho, but I think it’s really the future of Mexico. The upper middle class in my generation, we grew up listening to a lot of Anglo music. And then, you suddenly realize that México has such amazing sounds.” 

For 2012, Brooklyn resident Jace Clayton, who performs as D.J. Rupture, curated the residency. Clayton is also a professional music journalist who’s written extensively about modern Mexican sound.

This year’s artists included Venus X and Sun Araw from the United States, Psilosamples from Brazil, Poirier from Canada, and Cardopusher from Venezuela. Once the musicians arrived, they spent a week exploring and spending time in the studio with Tijuana’s own Los Macuanos.

“The idea is that it’s not some easy sampling pulled off the internet, you know, or some cheesy remix,” Clayton explained. “The idea is really getting the social context that gave rise to these sounds that we’re working with, and trying to engage in that in a socially responsible way, as we’re meeting each other, as we’re getting to know the city.”

Clayton thinks that Mexico is undergoing a musical renaissance of sorts. “It’s a really interesting and fertile time for Mexican music,” he said. To him, Tijuana is “a crazy creative hotbed for different people doing really exciting new music and art.”

Moni Saldaña is a promoter with NRMAL, a music and arts promoter from Monterrey, Mexico. Saldaña said that the local sounds sampled by the musicians-in-residence included movimiento alterado, corridos sierreño, banda sinoloense, and indigenous music.

“We just decided to choose traditional sounds,” she said. “Local sounds are very important and very big in this area– not only in Tijuana, but in Ensenada and Mexicali.”

At the end of the residency, Norte Sonoro artists collaborate to produce a digital album. It’s available for free download online, and organizers say that it should be ready in January.

The Norte Sonoro 2011 music project free digital E.P. cover.

The Norte Sonoro 2011 music project free digital E.P. cover.

You can download the first Norte Sonoro digital E.P, published in 2011, by clicking here.

After Norte Sonoro on Friday night, the highly publicized All My Friends Music Festival attracted hundreds of young people to Tijuana the following day. The crowd for the all-day concert included Americans from San Diego and Los Angeles. Many stayed late into the night.

The festival showcased of more than 30 bands from Mexico and the U.S. performed on three separate stages at Tijuana’s Casa de la Cultura. Two stages were set up outside, with one inside. The musical genres crossed boundaries, and included dubstep, punk rock, jazz, cumbia, no wave, norteño, banda, noise, techno, and more.

Tijuana resident Marco Antonio Apodaca, known locally as DJ Yelram Selectah, mixed tribal guarachero, a robust electro-blend heavily influenced by tropical cumbia, traditional Mexican folk songs, and a touch of dubstep.

The crowd melted into a dancing frenzy.

VIDEO: U.S. Military Veterans, “Banished” to Tijuana

clips, TV & Video

TIJUANA, Mexico — Hector Barajas lives in a rundown apartment in Rosarito, Mexico. His small living room is cluttered with makeshift items appropriated as furniture: upended 20-gallon bucket chairs, chipped TV dinner trays trying to stand alone on teetering bent legs. There’s even a door-less broken fridge that serves as a bookshelf.

Full story here:

VIDEO: Caravana Por La Paz Comes To The U.S.

clips, TV & Video


The Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia traveled around Mexico and the United States in the name of peace against the Mexican drug cartels.  He was joined by hundreds of Mexicans who have lost loved ones due to the violence.  This is their story, in English.

Directed and Produced by Erin Siegal
Filmed by Erin Siegal and Eros Hoagland

Watch the video here:

VIDEO: In Tijuana, Less Bullets, More Paintballs (ABC/ Univision)

clips, TV & Video

In the stark, rolling hills that join Tijuana to the coastal port town of Rosarito, a battle is raging. A 15-year-old boy reloads his weapon behind the rusted hulk of an abandoned pick up truck. He signals his nearby comrade with gloved fingers, raises his head for one last look and then sprints ten long meters to a section of corrugated water pipe. His heart races as he pumps round after round down range at a man twice his age wearing paramilitary battle webbing and camouflaged fatigues.

You can watch the video at ABC News here:

PHOTOS: Thousands Protest Peña Nieto in Tijuana


In nationwide demonstrations on Saturday, tens of thousands of Mexicans peacefully took to the streets in protest of President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, accusing his party, the PRI, of corruption and vote-buying. In Mexico City, a reported 50,000 people participated in the “MegaMarcha,” while a simultaneous demonstration in Tijuana had an estimated 10,000 participants. Additional marches occurred throughout many Mexican states, including Oaxaca, Monterrey, Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Guadalajara, as well as in U.S cities like Los Angeles and Austin.

People held signs lambasting Soriana, the Mexican supermarket chain allegedly involved with vote-buying via gift cards  said to have been distributed by Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI. Many signs also mentioned Televisa, Mexico’s largest television network, accused of manipulating voters by skewing political coverage in favor Peña Nieto during the campaign. Some banners targeted the foreign press, declaring in English that “democracy in Mexico is a fraud.”

Tijuana’s own march was largely organized via social media networks, with help from students involved with Mexico’s growing “Yo Soy 132” movement. The march began and ended at the traffic circle Glorieta del Cuauhtémoc, named after Aztec ruler Cuauhtémoc, in the heart of Zona Rio, the city’s business district.

Tear: Adela Bello Navarro in The Toronto Star

clips, mainstream media

A new story by my friend and colleague Myles Estey is in today’s edition of the Toronto Star newspaper.

“The authorities of Baja California know who the drug dealers in the state are, but they have not detained them.”

So reads the opening line of a feature story in Tijuana’s weekly newspaper, Zeta, which goes on to name known drug dealers and provide photos and details of their whereabouts.

In other parts of Mexico, this would be a death sentence for the writer. Mexican authorities say 75 journalists have been killed because of their work since the National Action Party (PAN) took power in 2000. Zeta saysthis number as low. Its investigation found that 69 journalists had been killed in the six years since Felipe Calderón started a military offensive against the drug cartels, and 101 since 2000. Another 12 are missing. And, in 2011 alone, it found 11 media offices across Mexico had been shot at or attacked with grenades.

You can read the full article here:–mexican-journalists-risk-death-to-do-their-jobs#article

Adela Navarro Bello for Newsweek

mainstream media

Last month, I had the honor of photographing Adela Navarro Bello, editor of Tijuana’s investigative weekly Zeta. This year, Bello is included in the Daily Beast/ Newsweek’s list of “150 Women who Shake the World.” You can read all about her here, here, or here.

I was starstruck while shooting. Wanna know why? Just watch this short video clip, produced by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Also, she had a black leather bull whip on one of her shelves– a present, Bello told me, from her reporters.

Hearts Apart Shoot: The Rivera Family

file under: hope

U.S. Marine Joseph Rivera kisses his wife Alissa at Camp Pendleton in California.

My friend & fellow photog Krista Kennell is the West Coast Coordinator for, recruited me to become a volunteer photographer with the nonprofit. They match professional photographers with military families about to deploy for portrait sessions.

From their website: was created to keep families connected while our military men and women are serving abroad. Through the efforts of our community’s finest photographers, provides our soon to be deployed servicemen and women with pictures of their spouses and children. The photographs are printed on waterproof and durable bi-folded cards, which fit securely in their uniform pocket. believes that our military personnel deserve and need the memory of their families to carry them through the difficult times that lie ahead.

Finding Fernanda: Pictures from an Investigation

clips, photojournalism

The New YorkerFinding Fernanda: Pictures from an Investigation

Finding Fernanda,” the first book by the photojournalist and investigative reporter Erin Siegal, uncovers pervasive fraud in the international adoption industry, specifically between Guatemala and the U.S. It’s not a photo book, but photographs are central to its conception.

The story began in December of 2007, when, on vacation in Guatemala, Siegal found herself surrounded by over a dozen American couples leaving Guatemala City airport with newly adopted children. “There was something very surreal about the scene because of the quantity of children leaving,” Siegal told me. “At first, I thought I’d shoot a simple photo story on international adoption, using images alone, and maybe some audio, but the more clips I read, the more I realized that the subject matter didn’t seem well-suited to visual reportage.” Nonetheless, as her reporting unfolded, Siegal found herself relying more and more on photography as a tool to inform her writing. “I needed to be able to describe scenes visually in the book, to keep things vivid, and it really helped having photos and video to rely on for description,” she said. Photos alone would not be able to tell the complex story Siegal was uncovering, but the story could not be told without them, either. “The road to this book included a lot of reflection on photography and the limitations of the craft, in terms of being able to tell in-depth investigative human rights stories,” Siegal told me. “I never meant to write a book; the story simply demanded it.”


Posada Sin Fronteras


Yesterday at the Tijuana/San Diego border a “Posada Sin Fronteras” was held. People took turns talking into microphones about deportation and divided families. There were two sound systems set up; one on each side. A woman in Mexico spoke of how her new baby, still nursing, remained in the United States.

The sides sang Christmas carols, back and forth, sometimes in unison, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English. Tamales were distributed.



A few more from the corrida

El Zapata chats with fans and his fellow matador El Capeo before the corrida. How adorable is it that his nose wrinkles when he smiles?

Fans snap photos as the matadors make their way into the ring.





Corrida de Toros

Pictures, words

This Sunday, I went to a bullfight at the Bullring by the Sea in Playas de Tijuana. It was my first one, and perhaps my last. I hadn’t expected the bulls to die so slowly, or express so much pain. After they’ve been stabbed, their tongues loll out of their mouths, wagging back and forth. Bulls have surprisingly long tongues. They also wail loudly: a haunting cry that reminded me a bit of a faint foghorn.

Going into it, I knew the bulls were going to be killed, and that it might be unpleasant to witness. Given the long, storied history of the corrida (bullfight), I imagined there was something I simply didn’t understand about the allure. Beforehand, various fans explained the elegance of the art– no, not sport, but art– to me, saying the matadors engaged in a delicate ballet with the animal. One man, Herman Montaño, told me that the bulls are selectively bred from Spanish bloodlines.

I taped four interviews with my new radio mic, along with lots of ambient sound: the cries of the bulls, the crowd cheering and jeering, the live band warming up and playing, the stadium sound system blasting Chino y Nacho, food vendors joking around and setting up their wares. I also stuck my microphone in front of the matador pictured above, El Zapato, as he greeted fans and signed autographs before the corrida. Aficionados (fans) thrilled to the performances, though the stadium was less than a quarter of the way full.

When I fell asleep, I dreamed of wailing bulls.

Latest Tear: Businessweek


Last month, I photographer perfumist Yosh Han in her apartment studio in San Francisco, California. It was a blast! Yosh is really nice, and sent me home with a little sampler of a few of the scents she sells at department stores. Here’s the clip, from Businessweek magazine!