Here in the San Diego/Tijuana region, there has been an influx of migrants in the last year and half, many of them Central American, that have come seeking a better life, especially since quite a few are escaping violence, persecution, or poverty. Several non-profits in San Diego, such as Jewish Family Service and the Rapid Response Network have helped these migrants, as well as several grassroots organizations, such as the Bus Station Project.
However, when Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy was enforced in the summer, many of these asylum seekers have had to wait in Mexico until their number is called up. Before the policy was enforced, the majority of them was allowed in - with an ankle bracelet on- and went to stay with a family member or sponsor. They were helped by one of the above organizations to buy tickets, etc... Now, that many of them have to wait in Mexico, the need for assistance as well as suitable shelters has really increased in Tijuana.
Enter two newer grassroots organizations that were started in 2018 and early 2019 to try to meet the demand in the Tijuana area. In 2018, Birdie Gutierrez, the daughter of migrant farm workers, founded Bridge of Love across the Border and began to collect much needed items which were sent to migrant shelters in Tijuana. Like the Bus Station Project, Bridge of Love is not big enough to qualify as a non-profit, so Gutierrez has a Gofundme page and relies on donations. She has worked hard to help as many as she can. Gutierrez has rented two storage facilities in Chula Vista to store the donations that are later sent down to various shelters in Tijuana every week.
One of the main groups that Bridge of Love works with in Tijuana is a “comedor” or “soup kitchen”, called Contra Viento y Marea Comedor Tijuana. Contra Viento y Marea translates to “against all odds”, and that is an apt description of this grassroots organization. This organization partners with a shelter for LGBTQ migrants called, Casa de Luz. The LGBTQ migrants faced a lot of hostility in other shelters and on the street, so this would give them a safe place to stay.
Both places are sponsored by the Hecate Society, a diverse group supporting LGBTQ and other vulnerable refugee populations.
The “comedor” is led by one of the founders of the Hecate Society, Devi Machete. Machete, is a fierce woman with drive, but when you get to know her a little better, you see what a tender heart she has. Machete is not a migrant. She was born in Arizona and has degrees from Scripps College from Claremont Graduate University. She is an activist who decided to not only help the migrants, but live among them in Tijuana to serve them better.
Contra Viento y Marea Comedor Tijuana opened in February 2019 and is housed inside a building where they have a kitchen, dining room, and stairs leading to the rooftop which they use.
Since that time, Machete, with the help of several capable Honduran migrants, has served lunch and dinner to hundreds of people, including migrants from Central America, Africa, and Haiti, as well as local folk in need. Two of the Honduran migrants who work closely with Machete are Vladimir, a young man with a business and accounting degree and an older woman, Berta, who has experience cooking at a restaurant. The “comedor” has also started a garden on the rooftop of the building to grow some of their own vegetables. In addition, they built two plywood storage units and rooms on the roof where they keep clothes, blankets, toys, toiletries and other necessities to distribute as needed. Finally, there is a free medical clinic every other Saturday with American volunteer doctors and nurses.
Although the “comedor” is not a shelter where people can sleep, it still fills an important need in helping migrants. On another important note, they are also building friendly relationships in the local community. When the migrants first arrived in Tijuana, not all the locals welcomed them, but the comedor is helping to change that with good will.
They are able to do all this thanks to help from others and donations. The Hecate Society has both a GoFundMe page and a Venmo account at @tjrefugee-support.