Sleep Dealer, or, Tijuana, Ciudad del Futuro

When the protagonist of Alex Rivera’s science fiction (sf) film Sleep Dealer (2008) arrives in Tijuana, Mexico, he is greeted by the following sign: TIJUANA CIUDAD DEL FUTURO. While the sign can be read as a means of indicating the film’s primary setting—Tijuana in the near future—it becomes a powerful “novum,” or estranging novelty, when read against the city’s cultural history and the colonial ideologies of sf. Tijuana, a border city of about 1.5 million people, has been called many things since it was founded in 1889. “City of the future” has not typically been one of them. In this chapter, I want to provincialize the cities that sf film has usually represented as epicenters of futurity—New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Detroit, London, Tokyo—and explore the consequences of imagining the future from “más acá.” As Rivera states in a blurb for a volume on Mexican science fiction cinema titled El futuro más acá: Cine mexicano de ciencia ficción (2009), “It is an urgent necessity to have more futures, because the futures we always see on screen are other people’s futures.” To imagine Tijuana as the scene of futurity is to develop a perspective south of the exceptionalism that divides America from América, that nominates the United States the subject of history and relegates Mexico to the status of object, and that universalizes Anglo-American futures while fantasizing that brown and black people will either conveniently disappear or else persist and “contaminate” tomorrow’s whiteness.    

Sleep Dealer, or, Tijuana, Ciudad del Futuro,” in Fantastic American Cities, eds. Brandt and Michael Fuchs (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, forthcoming 2019).

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