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The family and I were in a sprawling mall in Tijuana on a Saturday evening, killing a couple of hours until a circus tent opened—not a metaphorical circus, a real one.

I was walking around the mall in lock step with Mexicans, probably looking just as hopeless, slack-jawed, and without a clue. You could tell by the clothes, jewelry, and haircuts that these were for the most part working Mexicans, which meant they labored hard for twenty bucks a day.

No one at this Tijuana mall is on a shopping spree. Instead, the mall is a kind of mirage laid out for the underclass. I was sure that one day out of the week they mill around from one store to another, not buying much, inevitably ending up in the food court, where they buy a cheap burrito or some fast food from Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Subway. There aren’t enough tables to seat the mob so clumps of people stand holding plastic trays, waiting for a table to open.

The mall feels like a holding tank for the dispossessed. No one has to round up the powerless lower class and bus them here. They round themselves up and after a few hours at the mall they’ll return to their cinderblock casas with mattresses on the floor.

These people aren’t going to rock the boat. Most of them accept their fate—this is how high they’re going to fly.

And next weekend, they’ll head back to the mall and stare at all the merchandise on display, maybe examining a price tag or two, and settling for a lousy meal at the food court.

No one’s going anywhere.