/ Portraits by Sara Norris
Certain preconceptions about Tijuana are unavoidable when growing up near the border. For a child, the bustling city is a gritty repository of tasteless gum and fireworks. At age 18, the same child sees TJ as place to buy beers and act like an idiot with impunity. Over the past two decades, however, violence from the drug war and associated turf battles have further tarnished American views of what lies south of the border.
Curious as to what degree this negative image is caused by 24-hour news outlets with a penchant for sensationalizing violence, a fledgling media company called Snail Trail Media set out to experience today's Mexico firsthand. Founders Hugo Fierro (an artist also known as Moistrix) and Chad Deal (a musician and journalist) developed the project to share their documented experiences from a series of cross-border trips, arriving at the name after a particularly memorable sojourn.
For those familiar with the term "snail trail," the tale of the crew's moniker won't come as a surprise. Those who don't know the term should definitely not look it up on Urban Dictionary, and should probably just skip the next two paragraphs.
The legend goes like this: on an alcohol-blurred night in Ensenada, the adventurers in question found themselves "accidentally" in a bar, which turned out to be a strip club. Apparently, strip clubs in Mexico are different from those in the states - one main difference being that a certain level of contact is encouraged, rather than met with expulsion.
While Fierro, probably not-at-all because he was (and still is) recovering from four years in the coast guard stationed in womanless Alaska, was enjoying the show, Deal became visibly uncomfortable. With a degree of lingering trauma in his voice, Deal recalls, "This one girl is up there, and she saw how awkward I was being. So she gives me this look and she reaches in and kinda dipsticks herself."
What happened next isn't for polite conversation. Suffice it to say, the woman reached out her hand and, uh, kinda dealt Deal's face a smear campaign as he sat frozen in terror.
Despite the rather raunchy and disturbing tale, the resulting company name is surprisingly apt.
"That's sort of an analogy for what we want to do," says Deal. "Go to a place, dipstick it and come back here and snail-trail the shit out of people."
Their first foray into "dipsticking" resulted in Blueballs in Mexicali (surprisingly not a sexual reference, honestly; watch it!), a 15-minute documentary chronicling everything from the history of the region to masked graffiti artists.
The most important picture the duo gleaned from their freshman effort is one of a culturally reinvigorated Mexico.
It turns out, gringos' fear of traveling to other-side-of-the- border cities was the best thing that could have happened to the culture there.
"[They're] no longer geared toward a convoluted perception of what Americans want," says Deal, adding that local interest in everything from artistic mediums to the culinary scene to craft beer-brewing has exploded in recent years.
Normal Heights' Visual Art Supply (one of the crew's early sponsors) was so thrilled with the guys' discoveries, they suggested bringing the artists and musicians featured in the documentary north for a show in their gallery.
After weeks of smooth talking by the Snail Trail-ers, and last-minute border delays nearly negating their efforts, the standing-room-only show was a huge hit.
"The people here in San Diego responded to it amazingly well," says Fierro. So well in fact, that this in-person cultural exchange became a main objective of the pair.
"We've become more promoters in a sense, even though we're certainly not making any money on these shows," Deal says. "We're just trying to open channels of communication and hook people up with the right people in both towns."
In regards to whether they're concerned about sending their friends across the border, Fierro shrugs, saying, "It's just like anyplace else. There are places here in America you know you're not supposed to be. It's about understanding who you are, having courtesy and being smart. It's just common sense stuff."
If a recent spat of San Diego nightlife violence is any indication, this is important advice to follow everywhere. After a shooting in North Park and a stabbing in the Gaslamp, Deal noticed Tijuana party promoters where quick with satirical Facebook posts akin to, "Listo! Don't go party in San Diego, it's very dangerous!"
The point: senseless violence can take place anywhere.
"I've always wanted to find what lied beneath the surface story, and there's no better place to do that than the border cities of Mexico," says Deal, but he wouldn't want you to take his word for it. go leave your own trail.
In may, Deal and Fierro will release their next episode, "Tijuana: Caution, Wet Stripes," featuring TJ musicians Los Mucuanos, Coastral, Late Nite Howl and more. stay tuned to facebook.com/snailtrailmedia for more info on the upcoming drop.