By Mimi Pollack
The San Diego and Tijuana region is dealing with a well-publicized influx of migrants, many from Central America, who are escaping violence, persecution or poverty and seeking a better life.
Several nonprofits in San Diego, including Jewish Family Service and Catholic Charities, as well as a number of grassroots organizations, such as the Bus Station Project, stepped up to help these migrants after they entered the United States. They provided food, clothing, medical assistance, and travel to a family member’s home.
But after the Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy was introduced in the summer, many asylum seekers were forced to stay in Mexico. While they wait for their court date, the need for shelters and other assistance in Tijuana has dramatically increased.
Enter two grassroots organizations that were started in 2018 and early 2019 to support migrants 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 an organized charity, 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 as “against all odds,” and that is an apt description of this grassroots organization. The comedor partners with another aid group, Casa de Luz, which opened a home for LGBTQ migrants who faced hostility in other shelters and on the street.
Both places are supported by the Hecate Society, a diverse group supporting LGBTQ and other vulnerable refugee populations. The organization aims to highlight the stories of immigrants and refugees traveling to the United States while simultaneously engaging in mutual aid, community organizing and coalition building inside of refugee communities.
The Tijuana kitchen is run by one of the founders of the Hecate Society, Devi Machete. A driven woman with a tender heart, Machete is not an immigrant. 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 opened in February and is housed inside a building with a kitchen, dining room, and stairs leading to a rooftop space. With the help of several capable Honduran migrants, Machete has served lunch and dinner to hundreds of people, including migrants from Central America, Africa, and Haiti, as well as Tijuana residents who are in need.
The staff has started a garden on the rooftop 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. There is a free medical clinic every other Saturday staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses from the United States.
The comedor fills an important need in helping migrants, while also building friendly relationships in the Tijuana 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.
The Hecate Society has both a GoFundMe page and a Venmo account at @tjrefugee-support.
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