Daily life for bajacalifornianos depends first and foremost upon place. For those who live in Tijuana or Mexicali (Baja's two largest cities), life is vastly different than it is in the small towns and empty spaces that make up the rest of the region.

Most residents of Tijuana inhabit tightly knit, multigenerational family homes or multistory apartment buildings. Streets are bustling and noisy with traffic, and there are few parks or open areas. On the outskirts of the city, the poorest people live in shacks without electricity or steady water supply.

Revised and republished in 2006, Oscar Martinez's book Troublesome Border deals with current borderland issues such as population growth, economic development, ecology and international migration.

Tune into the art, culture and history of the US-Mexico border with Puro Border (Luis Humberto Crosthwaite et al), an eclectic collection of essays and stories by journalists, artists and poets.

You could spend days combing through the information, links and other educational goodies on the University of Texas' The Borderland Encyclopedia (www.utep .edu/border).

Luis Alberto Urrea's By the Lake of the Sleeping Children: The Secret Life of the Mexican Border, a combined effort with photographer John Lueders-Booth, takes a look at garbage pickers (the ultimate recyclers) in Tijuana.

Some neighborhoods are literally jammed up against the corrugated metal fence that separates the city from the US on the other side.

In affluent neighborhoods, houses are closed off by fences and electric gates to protect the building and flashy SUVs from the world outside, while the owners work in air-conditioned buildings here or in San Diego, California. Satellite dishes stand atop roofs, and housekeepers and tradespeople come and go.

The contrasts between poor and rich couldn't be greater: while kids from rich families go out nightclubbing in carros del año (new cars) and attend private universities or schools in the US, poor kids are lucky to complete primary education and often begin working before they're 15 years old. In other towns, families crowd into ramshackle dwellings and work in the fields or in maquiladoras (factories producing goods primarily for export) - in the case of the latter, for an average of between US$2 and US$2.50 per hour.

Elsewhere in Baja, things are strikingly different. In the smallest towns, people regularly take siestas and life maintains a slower pace, especially further south where the midday summer heat is oppressive. In Baja California Sur, some people still live on ranchos (rural settlements), both in the mountains and on isolated stretches of the coast, where life is much the same as it was 300 years ago. Take a drive up to La Candelaria (p252) from Cabo San Lucas and you'll find a village, similar to many others in the region, where families still slaughter pigs and goats, grow some of their own food and live a unique semisubsistent lifestyle.

Over the past decade - and especially over the past few years - Baja has experienced a massive real estate boom. While this development has undoubtedly had negative effects upon the landscape and environment, it has also brought wealth to many local residents. For example, families living in San Felipe, who several years ago were only scraping by, have sold their extra land holdings or entered construction businesses, and are today parking brand new SUVs in brand new driveways. This growth has also brought immigration from mainland Mexico, which has swelled some town populations and strained local resources and services (Loreto is a perfect example).

Gender roles are relaxing among the middle class, with education and jobs increasingly accessible to young women. Among the poor, women still tend to play out traditional domestic and mothering roles, though they may also have part-time jobs or sell produce at the market.

Mexico is more broadminded about sexuality than you might expect. Gays and lesbians tend to keep a low profile but rarely attract open discrimination or violence. Relatively open gay scenes exist in Tijuana and, to a lesser extent, Mexicali.

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