Many businesses in San Ysidro depend on employees who live across the border in Tijuana. The Mexican Ministry of Economy estimates about 37,000 Tijuana residents cross the border every day to work in businesses in the U.S.
On Saturday, many workers stayed home, forcing businesses in San Ysidro to close their doors.
The manager of one store told KPBS,”The owners [of other businesses] were saying they had to close because their employees are from Tijuana [and] there’s no one to open them.”
The manager did not want to be identified, because she’s afraid. She lives in Tijuana, and said when she went Friday after work and saw a car on fire, she simply thought someone was having mechanical issues. She never imagined it would be a glimpse into a weekend filled with fear, and something that would affect many lives.
“We couldn’t even go out and go to get groceries for dinner that night, because we were so afraid,” she said in Spanish. “We couldn’t even sleep, there were so many police sirens all night.”
The store manager said the effects of that night didn’t hit her until the next day when she went to go to work on Saturday morning and saw a desolate town. “The border line to cross was empty, no, no, no line. It was shocking because it’s always full and the parking lot is always full and both were empty,” she said.
She told KPBS nearly every store in her strip mall was closed, except for her own. “But there were very few customers and only customers from this side of the border, and they were all asking what was happening in Tijuana,” she said.
We went to another store nearby and found a young employee who stayed home all weekend out of fear. She didn’t want to be identified out of safety concerns, but said she called her boss on Friday evening when she heard about threats from criminals calling for people to stay home or else they would be hurt. And, she said, every person she knows did the same.
In the shopping center next door, we spoke to another employee who did not want to give her name, but described the fear she felt over the weekend. She said she stayed home too, and so did her neighbors and friends. She said it affected all public transportation. She said she was scared and didn’t know what would happen, but she finally did take a risk on Sunday and went to work knowing her car might get taken and burned. She said it’s definitely calmer now but there is still fear and limited transportation, because many drivers are afraid their vehicles will get taken and torched too and those who rely on it to get across the border to work or who want to cross to shop are out of luck
The manager of the store that stayed open said many of the shops had just gotten back on their feet and are barely hanging on after the pandemic shut downs. She said if this fear lingers, the ghost town conditions she saw over the weekend may haunt them for years and the loneliness makes her sad.
“I walk down the street and there’s no people, and I get sad … It really does feel sad,” she said.