15,000 Chinese migrants thriving in Tijuana

It's second largest community of foreigners after Americans

TIJUANA – David Tan arrived in this city 21 years ago from his native China, along with his wife and five children. Like thousands of his countrymen, he nursed a dream of building a better life for himself and his family.

"The Chinese community then was tiny and kept to itself. We just wanted to work hard, to do business," said Tan, the 57-year-old owner of a market called Abarrotes Rico that sells Asian products in the city's La Mesa district.

In front of his store was a store of Asian arts and crafts and a Chinese food restaurant; another four eateries were steps away, next to a travel agency, a Mandarin language school and Chinese cultural center that offers tai chi and kung fu classes, among dozens of other businesses, offices and banks.

Though certainly not the size of San Francisco's Chinatown, this community has made its presence known in streets and shopping centers like never before.

The city's international airport offers the only direct flight to Shanghai in the border region and, starting in November, community members started transmitting Mandarin-language programming through AM frequency 1470 to thousands of immigrants in Tijuana and Southern California.

"It's true," said Sam Wu, president of the Asociación Colonia China in Tijuana, which represents Chinese residents. "Our character is timid, we're very deliberate. But now, in this era, we're more open particularly because China's foreign relations have changed with its economic expansion."

This city's Chinese "colonia," or district, has tripled in size in the last decade as China has emerged on the world stage.

Wu said that some 15,000 Chinese residents live in Tijuana, the second largest community of foreigners in the city, after Americans, which number an estimated 50,000.

This region is very attractive for business owners and entrepreneurs because they have access to so many resources and they are near the U.S. market.

Currently, there are 210 Chinese businesses in the city, about 70 per cent of them dedicated the restaurant industry, Wu said.

On the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mexico and China, an artistic troupe form Sichuan Province performed on Jan. 27 for the first time in the Municipal Auditorium, with Mayor Carlos Bustamante on hand to greet them.

The show, which helped residents celebrate the Chinese year of the dragon, included acrobats, Tibetan singers, kung fu demonstrations and a magician.

"We're sharing our identity, our traditions with Tijuana's residents in a year that's very important to use," said Willy Liu, the secretary of the Asociación Colonia China, one of the show's presenters.

Although Chinese residents said that adapting to life on the border was difficult, they have done so little by little, some having children and even grandchildren were born in Tijuana. Some 1,000 students of Chinese origin are in enrolled in state schools, according to Baja California's educational department.

"We weren't really afraid when we arrived here and opened downtown," said Nancy Yong, 45, the manager of Asia City restaurant on Second Street. "It's just that we're a little timid and we spend the whole day working. But we do feel that we're part of this city."

Omar.millan@sandiegored.com

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