Tijuana has experienced unprecedented population growth over the last decade, nearly doubling in size to a current 1.8 million people. Over 200,000 jobs are now concentrated in factories along the border, mostly in American and Japanese owned maquiladora’s locating here to take advantage of cheap and unskilled labor for the assembling of products that are then re-exportated back into the United States. The average daily wage at a maquiladora plant is $8/day. The population growth in Tijuana, which now averages around 6% a year, has outstripped the cities ability to accommodate its own growth. New residents to the city are commonly forced to find housing in squatter developments where indoor plumbing and electricity are not available.

This photo essay explores the Tijuana community of San Bernardo a settlment of around 800 homes in Los Laureles Canyon south of the city center. San Bernardo has been a relocation area for many former residents of illegal squatter communites that were flooded by season rains over the last few years. If a resident occupies a plot of land here they are allowed to purchase it from the government for a cost of around 54,000 pesos ($4900) per plot, paid in installment payments of 1,500 pesos per month. After purchasing the land many of the newly transplanted and working poor are left with no money for construction of housing, forcing them to build their homes from tarps, garage doors and other remants that are found or bartered for.

Colonia San Bernardo has no running water or sewage system, or paved streets. The city has long term plans to extend the plumbing and sewage system to the community, but currently water is only delivered by truck and latrines are used for bathrooms. Many houses tap into electricity only by throwing raw wires over the city electric lines and running them back to their homes illegally. These wires snake across the ground, providing a constant electrocution hazard. During heavy rains fresh gullies are created in the sandy roads making them nearly impassible, and create and environmental hazard by pushing debris and sewage down the canyon to the Tijuana estuary and to the ocean. Despite what seems insurmountable odds, a community has developed at San Bernardo, with several food stores, a catholic church and play ground. This photo survey documents some of the existing conditions of the community as well as the new construction being led by a volunteer organization from San Diego called project mexico who has donated and built over a dozen wood framed houses for needy families, which are evident throughout the community.