Mingus and poul fri among newest Tijuana residents

Haitian chicken fight song

The chaotic action in the kitchen continues. Señora Rosalía serves meals in styrofoam boxes, José Luis distributes the meals as he takes cash. The Haitian women cook calmly and wear nonchalant smiles. More Haitians crowd outside the kitchen as José Luis demands patience. The chicken meal sells for 40 pesos, roughly $2.25 with the current dollar exchange.

A cameraman from Telemundo arrives with a large video camera and a tripod. He sets up next to the kitchen but the Haitians tell him not to film. He probes around but decides to remain distant.

Sticking out like a sore thumb among the Haitians, I’m intimidated when it comes to getting some chicken. “Amigo, amigo, tu eres alto. Mete, mete. La comida no acaba. Si no mete, no come.” The same Haitian that allowed me to take a picture of his food instructs me that if I want some chicken I’m going to have to nudge my way up through the crowd, otherwise I’ll never eat.

Fortunately, José Luis spots me in the crowd and, after delivering four portions to the Haitian next to me, asks me how many I want. It feels somewhat unfair to get some chicken before so many people waiting (though I have waited longer than many of the Haitians). I give José Luis 200 pesos for my two portions and walk away.

A few steps from the kitchen, a Haitian woman carrying a baby and a man holding a bag of diapers wait for the crowd to disperse. I offer them my second portion in Spanish but they seemed confused. I take the chicken out of the bag and give it to the man. “Bon apetit! Bienvenue!” I say, exhausting most of my French. He smiles broadly and says, “Merci.”

Poul fri is marinated with a lot of garlic, lemon juice, and Scotch bonnet peppers, which are replaced by habaneros in this Tijuana version. The chicken is boiled, then fried. A lot of the flavors meld with the rice and beans. The chicken wasn’t very spicy, but the garlic taste lingered on my palate all afternoon.

Later that night I head to a downtown bar near Little Haiti. As I order a beer, I overhear the bartender and customers talking about the Haitians. The bartender tells me some Haitians have stepped in for a beer or two, others simply to use the bathroom, but that they never stay inside the bar for long. When I ask his opinion, he jokes, “Que se queden los Haitianos, y que se vayan los Sinaloenses.” (“Let the Haitians stay, and let the Sinaloans go.”)

Though most Haitians claim their final destination is the United States, not all are going to cross, and not many have the intention of going back home. The maquila industry has offered hundreds of temporary and permanent jobs to Haitians as long as they fulfill their requirements with immigration to work in Mexico. Others have already started to work, getting paid under the table in kitchens and other shops.

Like in many bars in Tijuana, a jukebox stands in the corner. On it, I find a couple of Charles Mingus albums. There’s an album named Tijuana Moods, recorded in 1957 but not published until 1962. Mingus, who grew up in Los Angeles, spent some time in the late ’50s and early ’60s strolling in Tijuana. Legend has it that Mingus has a son that was born and lives in Tijuana.

I drop a coin in the jukebox and select “Haitian Fight Song” in hopes that Haitians recognize the tune and feel welcome.

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