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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Children, art give hope to ‘The Tijuana Project'”

    There is a sad truth to the saying, “”One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”” In “”The Tijuana Project,”” that trash proves to be the only source of income for a family and the Fausto Gusto neighborhood of Tijuana, Mexico. The feature-length documentary by John Sheedy follows Reyna Hernandez, her brother, cousins and neighbors, who all live next to a landfill. They comb through the mountains of trash for recyclable materials such as aluminum and copper to make their living.

    Regardless of whether they’re called urban/informal recyclers or garbage pickers, an estimated 15 million people around the world subsist on the trash we toss away. The shantytowns that form around such landfills often provide little hope of escape. Poverty, drugs and crime are rampant. Access to healthcare and education is virtually nonexistent, and the likelihood of contracting cancer or a chronic disease is high. Life expectancy, unsurprisingly, is short. Children work alongside parents and relatives to sort through the garbage to find recyclable material and valuable metals like copper and aluminum. Life in Fausto Gusto is not that different.

    Despite these circumstances, Reyna and the other children in “”The Tijuana Project”” are filled with joy and fun, and act like other children. They smile and giggle whenever they’re on camera. They swing on tires tied to trees next to a stream of water contaminated by heavy metals and carcinogenic chemicals. They dream of being someone other than a garbage picker. One child wants to become an artist so that he can make money and buy his family a telephone. In the next shot he holds up his drawing of Marvin the Martian. In spite of living in a place where many residents regularly steal cars, deal and become addicted to meth or heroin in the cemetery and carry makeshift knives for protection and extortion, another child wants to be a police officer.

    Reyna wants to be a teacher, but changes her mind after the dump is relocated to Tecate. Her aunt and uncle, as well as the other residents, need her help at the new dump site. They can earn approximately $20-$30 a day from the garbage, as opposed to $10 a day that the local maquiladoras, that is, Mexico-based factories owned by foreign companies, usually pay their workers.

    Hope for a better life for the children comes in the forms of David Lynch, Sister Teresa and a children’s parade. On his first visit in 1980, Lynch created a makeshift school using nothing more than a blue tarp laid on top of a mound of garbage. It was the students’ learning table. Lynch has since created an elementary school where one of his former students is now his preschool teacher and assistant. “”Education is everything. … We’re not here to give handouts, we’re not here to make a beggar society,”” Lynch says.

    Sister Teresa has a down-to-earth determination when it comes to caring for the children of Fausto Gusto. She provides basic health care, along with morning and after-school meals for children ages 1 to 6. She ensures that students come to class dressed nicely and cleanly. It’s more than likely that when the children say drugs are bad, the lesson has been drilled into them by Sister Teresa.

    After hearing a proposal to have a children’s parade, the children and their parents and relatives are excited to do it. An artist comes in to have a week-long series of art workshops for the children. The film overflows with bright colors and joyous music as they paint banners and flags with their hands, and practice simple chants and drumming routines in preparation for the parade. Not even the dangerous and squalid conditions and people can stop the parade from happening. (In a post-screening Q&A, Sheedy said the roving patrols, with their AK-47s and quad bikes, avoided the parade altogether.)

    There is so much richness and life in “”The Tijuana Project”” that even the cruel ironies — a shiny new shopping center built on top of the old dumpsite, shoppers unaware of the poverty just downhill, residents using desecrated tombs as makeshift shelters, a clear view of San Diego on the horizon — cannot dampen the hope, humor and joy that radiates from the children of Fausto Gusto. We are fortunate that, amid the piles of garbage, Sheedy found and shared such treasures.

    Future screenings

    The Tijuana Project

    Sunday, April 18 at 1 p.m.

    The Screening Room

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