Central American Refugee and Migrant Youth in Tijuana Turn to Mutual Aid to Survive

Just two blocks away from the border wall, and a 15 minute walk from the Chaparral border point crossing into Tijuana from San Diego, is a community kitchen and frontline resource center called Contra Viento Y Marea (CVYM) known locally as “El Comedor.” The outside walls are covered with colorful murals of a little girl holding up a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll, an indigenous woman with a basket of bread over her head, and a Aztec style jaguar hieroglyph. Inside these walls is a comfortable kitchen area with a modest stove, a diner style table setup, and two large refrigerators. This is the place where migrants and refugees from all over the world, deportees, low-income families with children of all ages, street venders, sex workers, homeless people, and other vulnerable groups like members of the LGBTQ community, as well as the mentally and physically disabled, come together to get nourishing sustenence and fruity agua fresca for free on a daily basis. We the volunteers firmly believe hunger should not exist because access to healthy and delicious meals are a fundamental human right regardless of socio-economic status or any other factors. All our meals, goods and services are entirely free of charge.

El Comedor was founded in February 2019 by Central American migrant and refugee youth who arrived in Tijuana with the 2018 migrant caravans. In this space, we collectively operate the community kitchen, a donation center and an urban community garden on the rooftop. Our migrant volunteers have hopes of being able to cross into the US someday but for now, we’re laser focused on combating hunger and extreme poverty in our marginalized trans border community. Using tactics of direct action, mutual aid and transnational solidarity, our youth volunteers have created a little oasis for ourselves and our marginalized community in the Zona Centro. Most migrants and refugees who rely on CVYM for meals and humanitarian aid have nowhere else to turn. Our Central American migrant and refugee youth run a mutual aid project to survive and rise up collectively with our community.  

As human rights defenders, we are determined to keep fighting for the most vulnerable, especially during this disastrous Covid-19 public health care crisis. El Comedor is holding it down during the Covid-19 pandemic that has induced a terrible economic depression where thousands lost their jobs, while many others saw their work hours cut just as staple food prices have skyrocketed. The pandemic has been used as a convenient excuse by the Trump and Biden administration’s to shut down the US asylum process for asylum seekers. It is illegal under US domestic and international law to block the entry of asylum seekers, but that hasn’t stopped the US government from doing it anyway. Policies like Title 42 have trapped migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Tijuana indefinitely because they are unable to cross into the US or return to their home countries. Title 42 has visibly contributed to a rise in the number of extortions, kidnappings, torture and assassinations targeting migrants stuck across dangerous border cities. 

El Comedor bears witness and supports migrants struggling to eat, find emergency shelter, access health care, obtain legal advice and give care to those directly impacted by state and mafia violence. The migrants and refugees who come to us for wrap-around services, survival goods and high quality meals are from Central America (particularly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) but we serve Haitian, Cuban and South American refugees too. Those forcibly displaced from Central American traveled over 3,000 miles by foot, train hopping, by bus, on rastras (hitching rides atop of mack trucks) risking life and limb for the chance to make it to the promised land. They are fleeing extreme poverty, US backed dictatorships, cartel and gang violence, as well as climate induced catastrophes like Hurricanes Eta and Iota (2020). Under these circumstances, the urgent need for CVYM’s humanitarian aid work in Tijuana cannot be overstated. 

The impact of decades-long destabilizing US foreign policies and so-called international “free-trade” deals in the Northern Triangle, the Caribbean, and South America continue to reverberate and fuel the influx of refugees heading towards the US. As long as the American government refuses to deal with the root causes of migration, there will be exponentially more forcibly displaced people fleeing to the US-MX border in droves. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, US backed, armed, and trained paramilitary death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala killed thousands of people, commiting henous acts of genocide against indigenous peoples, massacring human rights advocates, land and water protectors, journalists, clergy, students, but also ordinary people living in dire economic conditions. The compounded trauma that migrants carry with them requires immediate attention but instead of supporting them when they get to the border, the US government slams the door shut in their faces. Our space recognizes this trauma, and we aim to do as much as we possibly can to provide real relief immediately.  

El Comedor is an important example of a fierce, autonomous, migrant/refugee youth led mutual aid project during these times of wide ranging, overlapping crises. This project relies on the solidarity of hundreds of accomplices, allies, partners and supporters on both sides of the border. CVYM operates entirely on donations of food, survival goods, labor and funds. We invite you to join our valiant struggle to save lives in Tijuana. 

For More Info about El Comedor

Website; www.contravientoymareatj.com

Facebook; www.facebook.com/contravientoymareacomedor

Instagram; https://www.instagram.com/contravientoymarea_comedortj/

To donate funds to El Comedor 

Venmo: @tjrefugee-support

Cashapp: $comedortj 

Rent GoFundMe; https://www.gofundme.com/f/tijuanakitchen?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

All other operational expenses GoFundMe; https://www.gofundme.com/f/migrant-organizers-of-tijuana-covid-support

Contra Viento Y Marea, El Comedor COVID19