Culture

This Art Project Is Traveling To Every U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing And Documenting The Experience Of Daily Commuters

Gina Clyne

The U.S.-Mexico border is a deeply political space, with hundreds of thousands of people crossing the border daily. Artists have long used it as the canvas for their artwork, filling the rusted fencing with murals and creating site-specific pieces to disrupt its power over people’s lives.

As President Trump attacks immigration and doubles down on his plans for an extended border wall, artists are looking to the border, even more, to fight back.

CREDIT: Photo credit: Gina Clyne

Last August, L.A.-based artist Tanya Aguíñiga kicked off the AMBOS project, where she and other San Diego and Tijuana artists took over the marketplace in the center of the Tijuana/San Ysidro border crossing and created a week-long series of art interventions that included film screenings, a sound installation and the creation of a quipu, an ancient Incan communication device made up of color knots.

For the second installation of the AMBOS project, which is currently underway with the second leg planned for next year, Aguíñiga and her team are traveling to every border crossing along the southern United States, between Tijuana-San Diego and Ciudad Juarez-El Paso. They’re collaborating with local artists from both sides of the border at each crossing to create visual and performance art installations. They’re also bringing the quipu they started last year and adding to it, using it to document the daily migration of people on the border.

To build on El Quipu Fronterizo, Aguíñiga and her team give participants two strands of thread and ask them to tie them into a knot.

“The strands represent the U.S. and Mexico’s relationship to one another, our self at either side of the border, and our own mental state at the point of crossing,” says Aguiñiga.

The knots collected will all be tied together and added to the quipu, creating a visual representation of the thousands who cross the border each day. The quipu will later be part of an exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City that focuses on AMBOS. Through this quipu, postcards participants write about their border-crossing experience and photography and film taken throughout the trip. AMBOS will document the border as it currently stands and the experiences of people who live with it every day. That’s especially important as the space will likely transform if Trump makes his border wall expansion a reality.

Aguíñiga, who grew up commuting across the San Diego-Tijuana border, says the project as a whole will “give voice to our experience as people that are from the border, commute on the border and really do see ourselves as a part of a larger, trans-national community. Our experiences are very different from those experiences of people in Mexico and people in the U.S.”

“That’s the thing that the border, and even after being a certain distance away from the border,” she adds. “People don’t know anything about what it’s like to live next to the border, and what it’s like to live constantly going back and forth between two countries.”

CREDIT: Photo credit: Gina Clyne

Aguíñiga will also travel to parts of the border that don’t have a fence built yet to bring installation and performance art to “spaces that are yet undivided between us.” She’s also happy to share the experiences of people who have different histories and interactions with the border. Those who share their stories via the postcards are different ages, cross fro different reasons and view it in different ways, sharing how the wall has impacted their identity.

By humanizing the border crossing experience, Aguíñiga believes we can create positive change.

“Just by us making our experiences more visual, by recording them, by constantly sharing them with others, then people have a human story or face to put to it,” she says. “It’s more difficult for them to fear or not want to help make your situation better.”

To learn more about the AMBOS project, follow along on their journey and find out where they’re going next, visit ambosproject.com or follow them on Instagram.


READ: This 23-Year-Old Artist Created A Video Game About Border Crossing To Honor His Immigrant Parents

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This New Border Wall Mural Features QR Codes That You Can Scan To Hear Emotional Stories Of Deported Migrants

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This New Border Wall Mural Features QR Codes That You Can Scan To Hear Emotional Stories Of Deported Migrants

pdtmuralproject / Instagram

Deportation is a reality that many people living in the United States face in some way or another. It is an unfortunate consequence of immigration and the policies that are currently in place.

Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana aims to shed light on those who migrate into the United States as children and are deported as Adults.

De La Cruz Santana is a Mellon Public Scholars Fellow and is a UC Davis Ph.D candidate. Her project titled, “Who Are the Real Childhood Arrivals to the United States?” is influenced by her family. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States and were later granted permanent residency.

The mural is located at Playas de Tijuana, where her father crossed in order to enter the United States, and took a total of 9 days to complete. It focuses on the stories of 6 different people who came into the United States as children, some of which were deported later in life or are currently at risk of deportation.

The people represented in the mural are Karla Estrada, Monserrat Godoy, Jairo Lozano, Isaac Rivera, Andy de León, and Tania Mendoza.

CREDIT: Credit: pdtmuralproject / Instagram

Estrada and Lozano are DACA Recipients. Lozano’s first experiences working was in the fields with his family. During the summer, he continued working because he was not eligible for financial aid or loans. He went on to receive his Bachelors in Sociology and his Masters in Marriage and Family therapy.

Godoy and Mendoza are DREAMer Moms. Both Godoy and Mendoza are strong mothers who want to see their children more than anything. After living in the U.S for some time, Godoy was threatened and ordered by her husband to go back to Mexico. She took her 2 daughters with her because she feared for her life, but they struggled in the Mexican education system. The father of the two girls successfully arranged to have them brought to him in the U.S, but he denies Godoy the right to see them. Similarly, Mendoza has not seen her daughter in years after getting deported due to her daughter’s father not wanting to give her custody rights.

Rivera is a Repatriated Childhood arrival who came into the United States at the age of 6. He was then deported after being stopped at a border checkpoint in Temecula, California.

De León is a U.S Veteran and a Repatriated Permanent Resident. He lived in the United States for more than 50 years until he was deported after his green card was revoked. He is a senior citizen who has lived in United States his whole life and struggles to live in Tijuana.

Each face that is painted is accompanied by a QR Code to engage the viewer and allow for them to interact with the mural.

CREDIT: Credit: pdtmuralproject / Instagram

It’s easy to passively watch art, but the QR codes allows these murals to come to life and tell their story without being interrupted or  without fear. Viewers can learn more about the stories behind the faces first-hand and admire the mural at the same time.

The goal of the mural is to create awareness for undocumented folks living in the United States and to obtain legal help for the individuals showcased.

The project was personal for most of the people who worked on the mural with De La Cruz Santana. For instance, Mauro Carrera and Robert Vivar.

CREDIT: Credit: pdtmuralproject / Instagram

Carrera is the muralist who brought the De La Cruz Santana’s idea to life. For him, the project has been filled with emotions because he was just a child when he came to live in the United States. He was born in Veracruz, Mexico and migrated with his family when he was 4 years old.

Vivar, who has born in 1956, immigrated with his family from Tijuana, Mexico to Riverside, CA in 1962. He grew up in the United States, his experiences shaping his childhood and adolescence. He held a variety of jobs in California, got married, and started a family. However, he eventually got deported after ICE came to his home. Vivar has lived away from his family and the country he has ever known since 2011. In a video that is part of the Humanizing Deportation project , Vivar recounts his life and says, “[I am] Proud to have been born in Mexico, but I am also a proud American because the United States is where I grew. It is my home and no deportation and no government will take that from my heart.”

The mural emphasizes the fact that the stories we hear about immigrants are not all the same. Every immigrant has a story that deserves to be told and shared.

If you would like to visit the mural, it is located in Playas De Tijuana

Trump Has Made It More Difficult For Cubans To Seek Asylum So Many Are Being Forced To Settle In Mexico

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Trump Has Made It More Difficult For Cubans To Seek Asylum So Many Are Being Forced To Settle In Mexico

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Among the dilapidated buildings in Downtown Juárez lies Little Habana, a new restaurant emblazoned with Cuban flags, classic car art, and blasting reggaeton music providing the local growing community of Cuban asylum seekers a reminder of home. 

NPR recently reported about the new eatery that owner Cristina Ibarra opened four months ago once she noticed the burgeoning Cuban community that’s developing in the area.

She ran a taco business for 20 years before opening up a place that’s meant to evoke home for the refugees. 

“The Cubans leave their hotels and come to eat at the restaurant as if it were their own home,” Ibarra told NPR. “They stretch out, relax and talk. They share their experiences, their fears, their accomplishments … and that gives me tremendous satisfaction right now.”

The dishes are not interpretations but authentic recipes since all of her 14 employees are from the Caribbean island and advise her on menu items.

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Vamos a probar #ComidaCubana

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The menu includes traditional fare like ropa vieja, pork chunks in a tomato stew, and three different types of rice. Her efforts extend to the decor and interior as well with bright orange and yellow walls, art depicting a street scene in Cuba, and, naturally, the lone star amid the red, white, and blue of the Cuban flag hanging on the wall. 

The restaurant opening occurred around the time of a new policy introduced by the Trump administration nicknamed  “remain in Mexico” since it requires those seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed. Before the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy, those seeking asylum could reside in the U.S. while they waited. 

The number of Cubans at U.S. entry ports and categorized as “inadmissibles” by Customs and Border Protection continues to increase with more than 20,000 expected to seek entry this year.

In 2016 during the Obama administration,  the U.S. deported 64 Cubans but in 2018, the Trump administration deported 463 and this year that number will increase to 560, the LA Times added. 

So far this fiscal year, 6,312 Cubans have arrived in El Paso seeking asylum, whereas the previous fiscal year had 394, according to Custom and Border Protection figures 

“This is a terrible moment for Cuban migrants. There’s desperation and alarm because of the latest measures,” Yaimí González, a 41-year-old who fled Cuba three months ago, said to The Wall Street Journal.

“I just don’t see a solution to our situation,” González added. She now sells french fries at a stand in Ciudad Juárez making $10 a day, which barely pays for the guesthouse room that she shares with four Cuban male migrants, WSJ reports. 

Though MPP affects all asylum seekers, Cubans have historically received better treatment as they were viewed as political refugees.

For decades, Cubans caught at sea would be forced to return but if they stepped foot on U.S. soil they could stay and seek permanent residence after a year and a day. Obama ended the policy, known as “wet foot, dry foot” – in January 2017 and Trump has not reinstated it. 

Now the Trump administrations has banned U.S.-based cruise ships from traveling to Cuba, economically affected groups catering to tourists on the island, and he also imposed restrictions on sending money to the island. 

While they wait for a decision on their case, economics continue to plague Cuban migrants who find work where they can in order to pay for whatever housing they can find in what’s considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. 

NPR spoke with Melba, 32, a waitress at Little Habana who arrived in April and told them that she’s found meaning in her work as she tends to fellow Cubans who, like her, eagerly await to find out if they’ll ever make it to the U.S. 

She and her husband rent a hotel room for about $12 a day and she earns about $20 per day plus tips at the restaurant, NPR reports. This is in stark contrast to her life in Brazil, where she worked as a doctor for nearly a decade as part of a Cuban government exchange program, the LA Times reports. When she was asked what she’d say to Trump if she could, she told the publication, “In Cuba, there is no freedom like you live.”

As the Trump administration continues to make it harder for Cubans and fellow asylum seekers to gain admission to the U.S. and the economy on their island deteriorates, places like Little Habana provide not only a taste of home but a respite from the inhospitable treatment they otherwise receive outside the restaurant walls. 

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