“A Real Door of Friendship”: Urbanization and the Political Ecology of the San Diego-Tijuana Border, 1945–65

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 2:30 PM
New York Ballroom East (Sheraton New York)
Kevan Malone, University of California, San Diego
This paper explores the political ecology of rapid urban growth in the San Diego Tijuana borderlands during the two decades following World War II and considers the centrality of the international boundary fence to the regional urban landscape. Wartime and Cold War industrial growth fueled a massive population boom in Southern California, while the Bracero Program and expansion of California agribusiness invited largescale migration from Mexico’s interior by way of Tijuana. Between 1940 and 1970, the Mexican border city exploded from a modest town of roughly 17,000 residents to more than 340,000, while San Diego County grew from under 300,000 to more than 1.3 million. The city of San Diego annexed San Ysidro at the international port of entry, establishing its contiguity with Tijuana. California constructed the Montgomery Freeway from San Diego to the border crossing to facilitate the transborder flow of capital, labor, and commerce. The United States and Mexico constructed new state-of-the-art customs and immigration stations to accommodate increased traffic. Tijuana was emerging as a gateway city for the expanding transborder economy and the newly annexed South San Diego was the link to an evolving binational metropolitan region. Yet, as the two sides were becoming increasingly interconnected, the United States was enhancing barriers on the international boundary between them. The transfrontier economy gave rise to distinct landscapes on opposing sides and the fortified border came to serve as an instrument of segregation in the emerging binational metropolis. The interests of U.S. and Mexican planners and policymakers conflicted with those of poorer borderland residents. Large-scale urban development projects displaced squatters in Tijuana and working-class Mexican Americans in San Ysidro. Ultimately, borderland residents found themselves at the epicenter of tensions between capitalism and nationalism during the Cold War years.
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