Mi Amor- A Man’s Journey in Tijuana

Mi Amor is a series of letters a man named Mateo sends back to his wife in the States after being deported into Tijuana. These letters document the people he encounters, the conditions he has to live in, and ultimately the emotional and psychological strain he goes through.

Here is one of his letters:

Mi Amor,

David has been gone for a couple of days now and his home has flooded so I can’t stay there anymore. I have found a place to stay inside a sewer with about 10 other people. It floods here too, but Maria, my new friend, insists on sweeping it out. She says “a home is a home, no matter how much it leaks!”

Maria and her friend Paula talk a lot. I miss the sound of a woman’s voice. But, they don’t talk about a lot of happy things. Both of them used to earn their living by being with men. When Maria got deported from San Diego she was dropped off in Tijuana. She didn’t have any food, shelter, or any papers to work. A man approached her and offered her everything she wanted for a price. She was trapped in Zona rojo working for this man, being forced to spend nights with many different men. Her and Paula bonded together to protect each other, but women who have sex for money are in high demand. When I asked them if they were prostitutes they got really quiet, wouldn’t look at me, and responded with, “We were trapped, I would say we were more like slaves.”

I was afraid to ask more, but Maria said, she wasn’t afraid to talk about it or afraid of anything anymore. I asked her how she got out of it and she responded with, “I didn’t”. She said the man she worked for required that she get STI and HIV test in order to avoid problems with the police. She said it was standard, especially in that district. “It was my first time getting tested and it came up positive for HIV. I wasn’t of use to that man anymore and he kicked me to curb.” She admitted to using drugs, but didn’t know the consequences at hand. She was simply doing what she was told. “Please at all costs” was the motto she was given. Maria is only 19. She didn’t cry when she told me, but I’ll pray for her every night. It’s like people here don’t see us as people anymore. We are just wanderers taking up their space.

This place is getting scarier as the days drag on. Opportunities for getting a job seem to dwindle along with the lack of humanity here. I can’t wait to come home.

Send my love.


These letters were not only extremely difficult to write in order to capture the tone and transition I wanted, but also extremely emotionally draining. The overall message that I was conveying through these letters, was how deportation leads to drug abuse. Through a brief analysis of the different border cities in the U.S. Mexico border, the place that seemed to be the most affected by deportation was Tijuana. Between 100 to 300 deportees are sent through Tijuana every day. In 2009 alone, 2,000,000 people were deported and 40% of those deportees took place at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, which connects San Diego and Tijuana. In the canal itself, it hosts about 4,000 people and of those 4,000, 90% are deportees from the United States.This is why I chose the location of this story, and also, there were many stories to tell, all with the same theme of a loss of hope.

The large emphasis on the drug use in these letters, specifically the one above, is due to the fact that Tijuana has the largest number of drug uses per capita and an estimated 10,000 injecting users and Tijuana also has a thriving zona rojo, where 9,000 female sex workers can legally work. Zona rojo is where Paula and Maria are from, they were not only a part of the 9,000 statistic, but Maria is also a part of the 40% forced to have sex before the age of 18 and the 33% infected by HIV. Also, as Maria stated, to avoid persecution by police, the sex workers are required to undergo routine STI/HIV testing to maintain health permits. The amount of women infected with HIV after being deported is 10.2% and with men it is 3.5%.

In Tijuana migration has been linked to lower socioeconomic status, power inequalities, social and cultural alienation, a breakdown of family units, and fear of violence which leads to high vulnerability to drug use. For women, the lack of economic resources shortly after deportation, usually resort to selling sex in exchange for goods since Tijuana has a large market for sex trafficking.

Tijuana is a place that once used to thrive, but is now crumbling under the lack of infrastructure for all of the incoming deportees. In Tijuana about 300 people are being reintroduced into the country every day. The population is growing, but the people making it grow are being punished, like my character Mateo, for leaving. Deportation wouldn’t have such a negative connotation if the cities that were on the U.S.-Mexico border accommodated these people. If these people had access to papers that provided them an identity, they theoretically to get a better job, and be able to put money back into the local economy by filling the empty restaurant chairs with local paying customers.



4 thoughts on “Mi Amor- A Man’s Journey in Tijuana

  1. Chloe Slawson

    Hi Nicole, I enjoyed reading your letter from Matteo to his wife, despite its dark depiction of life of a deportee. I did not realize that the rates of drug use and HIV were so high, or that working as a sex-worker was legal as long as you get tested. In one of my classes, we studied Turkey and many sub-dominant groups within the surrounding regions. I can see parallels between that class and your letter. For example, when the Armenians were persecuted and kicked out of Turkey (or worse) many were left feeling like they did not have a homeland. They were forced to leave all of their belonging and some family members who managed to escape behind. This is similar to Mateo being forced to leave his wife and his new life in the states behind, and probably feeling like he had no place to go, and no one to turn to, especially considering the lack of resources available.

  2. Stephen Lane

    After reading this I feel differently about the issue of illegal immigrants for sure, it almost feels inhumane to send someone back to those conditions. I think we sometimes need to stop and remember that these people we talk about are indeed people, and have lives and friends and family.

  3. Ethan Farmer

    Nicole, these letters highlight something that isn’t often seen from our perspective and I think your explanation of them helps to show some of the major problems that are being swept under the rug when people are deported. I was surprised by the high number of people deported as well – 2,000,000 is more than triple the state of Vermont’s population. An eye-opening figure to say the least.

  4. Nina Knorr

    I love your idea of writing letters, but as I read on, I question whether it’s as easy as giving someone papers at this point. In a big picture sense, there are extreme cycles of poverty and addiction that are taking place. Poverty creates vulnerability– Leading gangs to take control, people to become addicted to substances, and sex trafficking to be a major issue. The inescapable desperation of these situations can be brought to light through your letters.

    This connects a little bit to my paper, in that I discussed violence against women, and looked at it as both an issue in Jordan and a global issue. Although violence against women transcends class and geographic location, where there is more addiction and poverty, acts of violence occur at higher rates than in situations where those don’t exist. I would also argue that education is imperative to assisting the people in Tijuana, so that they understand how to get a job, and can figure out ways to break out of these vicious cycles– poverty, violence, and addiction. I would also say it might be interesting to write from the view of a sex worker, because the roja zona is so large, it seems to be a major source of income.


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