Fandango Fronterizo is an annual musical event bringing Mexican and American citizens together, in spite of the thick border fence that separates Tijuana from San Diego. For nine years now, the sonic fiesta has become a time to unite nations through song and celebration, while recognizing the sadness and pain inherent in the divide.
The idea for the event came from Jorge Castillo, a lanky 57-year-old librarian and musician with a salt-and-pepper beard who was born in El Paso and grew up in Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. Mr. Castillo bought his first jarana, a stringed instrument, in 2007 and started attending fandangos in San Diego. Like many here, he quickly grew frustrated by the fact that many of his fellow musicians who lacked papers were unable to cross the border. Volunteering for a beach cleanup one day near the border site, Mr. Castillo had a revelation: “When I saw the fence, and the people on the other side, I thought, ‘Wow, this is the perfect place for a fandango.’”
To reach the bleak steel entry wall — at the southernmost corner of the continental United States — musicians lugged instruments a mile and a half from a parking lot, astride tire ruts of United States Border Patrol vehicles in the sands of Imperial Beach along the Pacific Ocean. Their ranks included those who could legally cross the border and those who could not. “The Fandango is a way to transform something very painful to immigrants into a space that heals,” said Carolina Martinez, a 34-year-old musician from Medellín, Colombia, whose parents still reside in her home city.
The custom weaves together music, poetic verse and foot percussion — petticoated dancers in swoopy skirts elaborately stomping out rhythms on a wooden platform. Popularized in the United States by Ritchie Valens’s hit interpretation of “La Bamba,” son jarocho evolved from the fandango and has become a spirited fixture on both sides of the border.
This story was originally published on May 29th, 2016.