Alongside the U.S.-Mexico border lies a city home to Contra Viento Y Marea, El Comedor Comunitario (CVYM). CVYM is a mutual aid collective, resource center and community kitchen located in one of the most violent and poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the city of Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. This area, in the Zona Norte neighborhood, is ideal to cross paths with migrants and refugees who have traveled distances of up to 6,000 miles. Once folks arrive at the border they are forced to linger, and must live in deplorable, treacherous conditions. CVYM not only gives them what they need, but gives them hope as well.
Devi Machete, the daughter of U.S. based Mexican migrants, is the co-founder of CVYM, as well as the bilingual spokesperson, program coordinator, migrant community organizer and partner liaison. They are proud to document the project's efforts through photography and have shot thousands of photos since its inception. Machete has over 10,000 photos in their archive to date. They feel that “while the mainstream media is fixated on only photographing migrants when they are dead or injured, [Machete has] specifically decided to photograph migrants as they live, play, organize, and care for each other.” Their enlightening and moving photos depict everyday humanity, as well as their daily meal program, donation distributions and clinic work. Machete has titled this series, "Contra Viento Y Marea, La Felicidad De Combatir Contra La Injusticia, Pobreza Y El Hambre En Tijuana." In English, "Contra Viento Y Marea, The Joy of Combating Injustice, Poverty and Hunger in Tijuana."
CVYM provides nutritious, home cooked meals - 200-250 plates of food five days per week. They also redistribute survival goods, such as clothing, hygiene kits, face masks, blankets, sleeping bags, toys, diapers, first aid materials and even Narcan, opioid overdose treatment. "We are the only place in the city where anyone can come knock at our door, at any time, any day, and receive assistance with a meal, material goods, or support services." They also collaborate with Refugee Health Alliance (RHA) and Acupuncturists Without Borders to provide telemental healthcare, medical care and acupuncture. CVYM also administers aid in locating emergency housing, legal services and information on other humanitarian resources in the area. It goes without saying that the entirety of these services are done free of charge. The project counts on hundreds of allies and partners on both sides of the border to provide these complex, and plentiful services.
Most of the consistent volunteers at the space are migrant youths themselves. They arrived with the 2018 migrant caravan after making the decision to leave home because of deadly conditions. Machete understands the challenges associated with the trek and the point at which these folks arrive at the border. "They know from first hand experience what it is like to go to sleep hungry, to lack a safe place to live and to go without the most basic necessities, like a coat or a pair of shoes." However, Machete is empowered to say that "they are the fuel that powers our project and the visionaries who aspire to turn our ugly neighborhood into a beautiful place to live and work." CVYM is the only project in the city that is founded and operated autonomously by Central American migrant youth.
CVYM functions on a horizontal, consensus decision making model, meaning everyone has a say in the growth of the space and its programs. They operate on the foundation of true relationships and can therefore provide effective care in times of crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Although CVYM was initially created to assist migrants and refugees from anywhere in the world, they largely attend to Central Americans - folks from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They also serve U.S. deportees, the houseless community, low income families, unaccompanied minors, sex workers, street vendors, the local LGBTQIA community and the mentally and physically disabled. Machete comments, "We are fighting against hunger and delivering humanitarian aid because it is a matter of life or death out here."
We believe access to satiating homestyle meals is a fundamental human right, not just a privilege for those who can pay.
As they begin the new year, Machete is proud to announce their opening of a Free School and Art Laboratory at the center. The current migrant volunteers will be the school's first ever students. In the near future however, they will make the classes and programs available to all local migrant and refugee youth. "With our new Free School and Art Laboratory, we'll begin to provide nourishment for the mind and the soul too!" This will provide a safe and positive environment for young adults to teach, learn and have much needed fun.
Devi Machete is truly an inspiring person who is dedicated to bettering their community and the migrants they choose to serve everyday. Their devotion to guiding others is what makes Contra Viento Y Marea the thriving and lifegiving place it is today. "So let the Tijuana sun shine brightly upon us as we blissfully work together to create a new world where all people, especially migrants and refugees, can thrive; without crippling violence, fear, alienation, hunger, and poverty."