An Opera Festival Holds the Seeds for a Tech Revolution in Tijuana

On the first weekend in July, Tijuana holds its annual Opera Street Festival in the Colonia Libertad neighborhood just east of the San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego.

Seven thousand people converge on the rough-hewn Mexican neighborhood, founded by migrants, smugglers, and plaster statue makers.

A hundred yards from the wall that separates the U.S. and Mexico, organizers erect a main stage and block off two streets for art booths, clowns, jugglers, and wandering minstrels. Singers from the city’s robust opera scene mount the stage to perform a Saturday’s worth of Verdi, Puccini, and Wagner.

The festival is known as one of the great arts events in Mexico—as much for how it grew as for the music and cultural experience. So what does it have to do with technology innovation?

The Opera Street Festival embodies the same kind of self-reliance and risk-taking that characterizes the emerging tech scene in this city of 1.3 million. The currents that combined to create the festival are also bearing a growing move in Tijuana toward start-ups, risk-taking, and high-tech innovation.

Opera and music fans with more desire than cash took a risk and started the street festival in 2003 with private donations and volunteer labor, and very little government largesse—a rarity among Mexican arts groups.

Tijuana Opera Street Festival 2012 2 (Sam Quinones)They came from Tijuana’s relatively large middle class. Like middle classes everywhere, they want arts and musical instruction for their children, and this has spawned the city’s robust opera and classical music scene. Tijuana’s middle class also created a demand for fine food. All this, along with the balmy Baja California climate, helps make Tijuana a place where creative people want to live.

At the core of the middle class here are a large number of engineers, accountants, and other business professionals trained to work in the maquiladoras, the foreign-owned assembly plants that put together medical devices, electronics, auto parts, and more.

They and their children have been at the forefront of the movement for both better cultural options and new opportunities in tech innovation.

Geography also has helped. Tijuana grew up far from Mexico City and the … Next Page »

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Sam Quinones is a former Los Angeles Times reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] or Follow @samquinones7

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