On the edge of Tijuana’s scrappy, noisy downtown the Espacio Migrante cultural center and shelter hosts about a dozen small families waiting out their U.S. asylum-hearing court dates in a modest second floor. A large, common space on the first floor is filled with murals, teaching space, and room for community meetings. Off to the side, a small warren of offices houses a resident psychologist’s desk, a one-room women’s health clinic, and administrators as likely to be looking for a paintbrush as talking to visiting donors. Once inside, the feeling is friendly, welcoming and protected.
Getting into the two-storey building though is a bit of a challenge, especially for strangers. The first floor is protected by a steel cage across the full exterior of the building. Staff, residents and visitors need to find one of the on-site workers who can unlock the padlock to the steel barrier, allow them in, and quickly lock everyone back up.
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Visitors are welcome but only with careful vetting, accompanyment and limits. No outsiders are allowed in the family residence area on the second floor; steady skepticism of outsiders and vigilence in protecting the safety and dignity of migrants are clear. “Once, someone came to me and said, ‘What are those gringos doing on the second flloor?'” one senior staffer at Espacio Migrante shares. “I went up there and there were some ministers roaming around talking to people and I had to tell them, ‘No, no, no – no one comes up here.’ They were saying, ‘But we’re helping, we’re donating, we’re here to witness.’ No. No. No.”
Arts and culture are central to Espacio Migrante. Residents create murals, hold concerts, and teach each other about their traditions.
There are no time limits for residents, education is strongly encouraged including prep for university exams, and shared cooking and enjoyment of meals is the norm.
And Espacio Migrante recognizes a need to engage the larger public, on both sides of the border, running conferences and outreach events for external audiences.
FROM THE ESPACIO MIGRANTE WEB SITE:
We are a binational non-profit organization that works in the area of Tijuana and San Diego, focusing on supporting migrants, refugees, and deportees. We work directly with diverse migrant communities, including migrants from Haiti, Central America, other regions of Mexico, migrants of the LGBTQ community, women and youth. We believe it’s important to raise awareness on the issue of migration as well as to empower migrants through activism and community organizing.
To achieve real transformation of the conditions of the lives of migrants, we believe in promoting initiatives in favor of their rights, quality of life and inclusion in society. Likewise, it is necessary to change the negative perception of migrants and to make the community aware of what is truly the complex phenomenon of migration.
Espacio Migrante was created in 2012 as a collective of young people who sought to provide educational tools for the migrant community. In 2015, we became a civil association in Mexico under the name of Espacio Migrante A.C. and in 2016 we became a non-profit organization in California, turning into a binational organization working in Mexico and the United States.