They come from near and far. Some arrived just recently; others have been here for years and years. But they are all addicts. Mostly heroin but a few dabble in meth, too. They sell themselves to pay for the junk. It?s cheap to buy the junk in Tijuana ? about 50 pesos and it?s cheap to buy a few minutes of pleasure with them ? 200 pesos is a standard starting point. 200pesos right now is about $12USD.
This is Jessica. She arrived in Tijuana about two years ago. She has been using heroin since she was 15 years old. Her health is rapidly declining and she was hospitalized for sepsis. Her veins are so damaged, she took to shooting heroin directly in to her neck; this is not uncommon among the gringa addicts. She attempted a three-month rehab program in the United States but left immediately after her time was finished, returned to Tijuana, and started using heroin again. A large abscess on her finger hospitalized her a month later and she lost a large part of the finger. She says she sees this as ?an opportunity to do things right? and has an appointment to get back on methadone.
This is Christy. She came to Tijuana eighteen years ago when she was just 18 years old. Unlike many of the American girls who come to Tijuana, she is fluent in Spanish. She taught herself to speak it years ago when she realized people were talking about her and she couldn?t understand them. Recently, she attempted to go to rehab in the United States. It didn?t work out and within three days, she returned to Tijuana. However, Christy decided to get on methadone. She has been doing well on it. She said that when she?s ready, she?s going to get completely clean and become a drug counselor.
This is Jim and Pat. They have lived in Tijuana for 25 years now after becoming homeless in San Diego. They are married. Pat works as a prostitute and Jim picks up odd jobs when he can. They live in this single room with five cats.
This is Cindy. She has lived in Tijuana off and on for about three years now. She has two children that live in the United States. Cindy has moved away from Tijuana twice now but returns each time. She doesn?t use heroin but does smoke meth (known as a globo or cristal in Tijuana). She has another son who lives with her in Tijuana who is two years old.
This is Venessa. She lived in Tijuana for quite some time. She was in a book about the HIV crisis in Tijuana called Tomorrow is a Long Time. When the book was being written, she had hepatitis-C; within a week of it being published, she was diagnosed with HIV. In spite of the availability of free HIV-suppression drug therapy, Venessa did not want to participate. She continued to use heroin and live her life. In this photo, she has a large abscess hidden under the sweatshirt around her shoulders. In January of 2017, she came over to San Diego after a large abscess on her leg broke open. She died a few days later.
This is Kelly. She has lived in Tijuana for about 15 years now. She rescues many of the abandoned dogs in Zona Norte and will take care of a dog for someone who is in jail. She originally came down to avoid a warrant but decided to return to the US to take care of it. When that was done, she returned to Mexico; she enjoys living in Mexico and doesn?t see ever returning to the United States. She is an avid reader and can often be found reading a book while she waits for a customer. The three small dots near her eye are a common tattoo seen in Tijuana ? it stands for ?My Crazy Life?.
This is Ashley. She came to Tijuana a long time ago. She saw me one evening and asked if I would take her picture ?because I need a good photo of me for my funeral.? She was pleased with the picture. I had no idea that a little more than a year later, I would be the one at the local morgue identifying her body after she was murdered in her apartment along with five other people because no one else would go to identify her. In spite of our grim opening, she was a funny and lively and amazing woman. She was bilingual and often translated for me. I miss her dearly.
These American women are just a few of the many who live in Tijuana and sell sex. It is not illegal to be a prostitute in Mexico, though local ordinances require a health card.
Some of these women came to avoid legal issues in the United States; the rest came for the drugs. There are many more Americans down there and the story is similar for all of them. I wish I could say that they spend some time in Tijuana living this life and then manage to get back on track and return to life in the United States but in the two years I?ve been working on this project, that has not been the case for any of the women I?ve met. A few have come close and a few are still trying to do that, but many more simply decide that this is how they will live their life.