Culture

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

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.

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.”

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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It’s Like “A War Zone” At The Border Wall As Injured Migrants Are Being Sent Back Without Medical Treatment

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It’s Like “A War Zone” At The Border Wall As Injured Migrants Are Being Sent Back Without Medical Treatment

For years we’ve heard of horrific stories from the U.S.-Mexico border, and things only seemed to get worse under the Trump administration’s cruel and inhumane policies.

Now, with new segments of border wall finished – including 15-feet-tall segments with barbed wire – many people who attempt to cross the border wall are falling victim to severe injuries as they fall to the ground or are torn up by razor wire. Although many are falling into the U.S. side of the border, where they should be receiving medical care once apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol, many are being immediately returned to Mexico.

U.S. Border Patrol is returning severely injured migrants to Mexico without medical care.

Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful wall,” which has torn apart communities along the border region and done nothing to curb migrants and refugees from attempting to reach the U.S., is leading to crippling injuries to people attempting to cross the border amid worsening situations in their home countries.

According to one Texas pastor, Rosalio Sosa, who runs a network of migrant shelters known as Red de Albergues Para Migrantes (RAM), told Dallas News a shelter in Palomas gets about seven injured migrants per week and the situation there looks like that of a “war zone,” with the number of injured piling up.

“This has become a war zone, with war injuries and no resources,” he said. “But governments need to know that deserts, rivers, walls are no match for hunger.”

According to Sosa, Border Patrol routinely sends migrants to Palomas with a range of injuries from minor to serious including those who have fallen off the Border Wall. 

“They just pick them up and send them over here. No wheelchair, nothing. Not even a Tylenol,” Sosa said.  The shelter works to get the men medical care in Mexico.

Many migrants confirm what the pastor is alleging, saying they’re being dumped like garbage.

Many of those who have attempted to enter the U.S. are fleeing political unrest and economic uncertainty amid the Covid-19 pandemic. They allege that they are being “dumped” back in “Mexico like garbage” without any help or medical aide from Border Patrol.

Pedro Gomez, who attempted to flee Guatemala in January, said his ankles were broken after falling from the wall and he had to crawl to the US border agent’s vehicle.

“I couldn’t even get up, so I crawled inside the migra [US Border patrol] vehicle”, Mr. Gomez said, adding: “they dumped us in Mexico like garbage, a piece of trash. They said ‘stand up, stand up.’ I don’t know where I found the strength.”

For their part, the Border Patrol denies any allegations of mistreatment.

The U.S. Border Patrol has routinely denied any wrongdoing. In fact, in response to multiple allegations from the pastor and several migrants who claim mistreatment, the agency released a statement rejecting the claims. It said the agents regularly encountered injured migrants and administered medical aid to those hurt.

“We routinely encounter injured people on the border, most of which are individuals that have entered the country illegally. When it is apparent that someone is hurt we will administer first aid and request assistance as needed,” El Paso sector border patrol chief, Gloria Chavez, said in the statement.

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This Pop-Up School For Migrant Kids Along The Border Went Virtual Thanks To Covid-19 But It’s Thriving More Than Ever

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This Pop-Up School For Migrant Kids Along The Border Went Virtual Thanks To Covid-19 But It’s Thriving More Than Ever

The people traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to reach the U.S.-Mexico border aren’t living in some ‘migrant vaccuum’ where nothing else matters. They still have lives to live and experiences to have and, particularly for the young ones, an education to continue.

That was the thinking behind one sidewalk school that popped up in one of the many migrant camps along the U.S.-Mexico border. It was becoming filled with children from across Latin America who were forced to wait out their asylum process from within the border camps, thanks to Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. But their need for an education didn’t just go away.

One woman – with no formal teacher training – decided to help and launched what was called a ‘sidewalk school’ for kids in the camp. But it’s been incredible successful and has blossomed into an online academy for kids throughout the border region.

Despite Covid-19, this pop-up school for migrant kids along the border is thriving.

Just as the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted schools around the world, it’s also having an impact on a pop-up sidewalk school for asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The school, which launched to help fill the educational needs of a growing group of kids stuck at the border, had to go to virtual learning because of the pandemic. But instead of seeing that as a challenge, the school instead has blossomed.

What started out with one teacher at one camp on a sidewalk, how now blossomed by hiring 20 teachers – all asylum seekers themselves – to give classes via Zoom to children across the border region.

To be able to switch to distance learning, the teachers and students were outfitted with more than 200 Amazon tablets by The Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers. The organization was founded by Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, who lives across the border in Brownsville, Texas, and has been crossing to help the asylum seekers by providing them food and books.

It started in just one migrant camp with one teacher but it’s blossomed ever since.

A program like the sidewalk school was severely needed as hundreds and thousands of kids starting being forced to wait at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s well-known that the border region is one of the most dangerous and violent parts of Mexico and that only underscores the need for quality activities.

Many point out that parents aren’t sending their kids to Mexican schools because they’re afraid to be apart from them. Crime is common here, and kidnappings have been reported. Other parents say registering for school in Mexico is difficult. But program leaders want the kids to be able to continue their education, and they say that many of the asylum-seekers have skill sets they can put to use at the school.

Parents are grateful, too, with one woman telling NPR that she knows “her children will be safe at the sidewalk school, and it gives her time to meet with an immigration lawyer. Volunteer attorneys have been coming over on the weekends to give free legal advice. The asylum-seekers could wait for months to be able to make their asylum case in the U.S.”

Teachers try to give the students some sense of normalcy amid the often dire circumstances at the border.

Credit: John Moore / Getty Images

Many students start their day with an arts and crafts class. Kids are asked to draw on paper plates then outline them with flue and drop glitter. Then they get to hang their creations from trees.

One impromptu teacher, who told NPR he preferred to remain anonymous, said that he wants the kids to “see other people appreciate the artwork they did and let them know how important they are, too, even to people, like, just walking past and driving by. It’s beautiful work.

The classes have offered children not only the chance to catch up on studies that were interrupted when their families fled violence in their homelands, but also a distraction from the long days of boredom.

Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is what is fueling the need for programs like these.

Credit: JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images

It’s the Trump policy of ‘Remain in Mexico’ that has forced programs like these to exist in the first place. The program forces asylum seekers to wait south of the border as their immigration cases proceed through the U.S. court system.

It leaves thousands of families living in tents or at Mexican shelters. Previously, asylum seekers were allowed to remain in the United States with relatives or other sponsors while their cases proceeded.

Many have spent more than a year with their lives in limbo, and the wait has only grown longer with the Trump administration suspending immigration court hearings for asylum-seekers during the pandemic.

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