Every day, 50,000 cars and 25,000 pedestrians cross the Tijuana-San Ysidro border, making it the busiest port of entry in the Western Hemisphere. Crossing this border can take several hours, but these wary travelers never go hungry. Nearly 1,600 food vendors await these commuters, looking to feed them all kinds of belly-warming foods: burritos, tortas, tostilocos, and sweets like nieve de garrafa are just a few of the foods available to border crossers. This has been the way of life around the border for many years, however plans to modernize the Mexican side of the border may be about to end these vendor’s way of life. The mercado operates as more than just a place to sell food: it is where many of the older vendors live.
“The older people here, we’re the ones that will be affected the most,” Nelly Carrillo told NPR, adding, “Young people can move, but we already built a foundation here.”
Measures to protect these vendors are currently being explored, yet no clear solution has come to light yet. Some are suggesting that the vendors could become certified tourism operators. This would ensure that the vendors receive lawful protection they currently do not have, and since they already act as ambassadors to their country, they are providing a service for tourists. Aside from putting people’s livelihood in jeopardy, the proposal to relocate the mercado could cause significant cultural damage. In an email from Cog•nate Collective, the cultural importance of the market was laid out: “For us, the market is a vital space, inserting character, history and a social-cultural… dimension to the process of crossing the border.”
To get the whole story, check out the comprehensive story on NPR.