Things That Matter

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Photographer Tom Kiefer worked as a custodian at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Southern Arizona from 2003 to 2014. When migrants and asylum seekers crossed the Southern border officials would throw away their belongings, medications, and nonessentials during processing. Kiefer collected all of those belongs, arranged them systematically, and photographed them.

The photos will be displayed in the exhibition “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. 

The result is eye-catching and colorful art that, upon closer inspection, reveals the rich inner lives of migrants. Kiefer’s photographs of the CDs they were listening to, the medications they were on, and even diary entries provide insight into the almost ordinariness of migrants. These were just people carrying things that meant something to them the way anyone else going somewhere would. Then the U.S. government deemed those personal and sentimental items trash. 

What Kiefer provides is a rarely seen snapshot of what migrants cared about when they came to the United States looking for a better shot. 

Kiefer was documenting American history through his lens and labor. 

“It was my way of documenting a piece of our nation’s history,” Kiefer told the Washington Post

In one of his haunting photos, there are 32 CDs lined up. Some CDs are from artists like Trapt but others are mixed CDs with intimate labels like “Brown Pride” or “Super Sappy Songs for Issa 2.” The image reminds the viewer that these migrants were real people — and we don’t know who any of them are and because of the United States’ ever-changing immigration policies, we don’t know if they’re even OK. 

Kiefer began to find the belongings when he asked if he could donate the canned goods that Border Patrol authorities seized to food pantries. He went through the trash bins to look for the nonperishables, but what he found instead was a wealth of humanity. 

“The Bibles, the rosaries, the family photographs. I was shocked,” he said. “And I didn’t know what to do, because it was obviously being condoned.”

Kiefer knew he would get into trouble if he took other items so everything he gathered was by intuition. Altogether in his years working there he collected 100,000 items. 

“I had to do it all very quick, discreet,” he said. “It was just rapid-fire, split-second decisions about what I could keep and what had to go in the trash, stay in the trash.”

Throwing away migrants’ possessions is particularly cruel, Kiefer feels.

 “[It] underscores the cruelty of the tentative punishment that the government feels the need to levy against these people. It’s clear the majority of which are decent, contributing and who want nothing more than a better life for themselves or for their family,” he told the Los Angeles TimesWhen Kiefer first began going through the trash looking for cans, he found mostly toothbrushes. However, when things appeared to be more personal like religious items and diaries, he felt compelled to save them because, he says, “no one would believe me if I had not collected these items.” He purposefully used colorful backgrounds to humanize the items. He didn’t want a cold, white background that would make things look sterile, more like products than personal items. 
“[The photos are] like a knife to the gut, and that’s precisely something that I think gives this work its power — that it draws you in with its beauty and then it has this really profoundly sad backstory,” Laura Mart, Skirball curator, told the Los Angeles Times.

He hopes the legacy of his exhibition is empathy above all else. 

“Dora the Explorer. A personal belonging carried by a migrant or someone seeking asylum. When apprehended by USCBP while crossing the desert most personal belongings considered non-essential or potentially lethal are confiscated and discarded,” Kiefer wrote in a caption of a children’s Dora the Explorer purse. 

Things like children’s toys, backpacks, and clothing items are enough to infuriate and sadden just about anybody.

“Whether it’s an individual object, shoelaces, I present them in a way that I hope the viewer can not just identify, but just kind of be empathetic, or put themselves in the person or persons’ shoes: ‘Wow, a person carried that.’ ‘That’s the same cologne I use, the same toothbrush or toothpaste,” Kiefer said. 

While he was a custodian during the Obama administration, Kiefer says he didn’t witness the abuses of powers reported under the current president. Kiefer personally condemns the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and hopes his exhibition will change some peoples’ stances. 

“Is this the nation we want to be?” He said. “The way things are now is not sustainable.”

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

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

Things That Matter

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

John Moore/Getty Images

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.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

These Terrariums And Fairy Gardens Are A Lil’ Homies Dream Come True

Culture

These Terrariums And Fairy Gardens Are A Lil’ Homies Dream Come True

botanical_homies / Instagram

Lil’ Homies are one toy that we all remember. They little figurines were so much more to us than little toys that we got from toy vending machines. Adrian Ortiz is using them to create something magical and giving people a non-Eurocentric take on terrariums.

Adrian Ortiz is giving Lil’ Homies their own terrariums in which to flourish.

Ortiz understands the cultural importance of Lil’ Homies because it was one of the first times he saw himself represented, like so many of us. The toys were a welcomed moment of representation for Ortiz after spending so many years seeing so many white narratives in the media and toys.

“I started making terrariums with Lil’ Homies in them as the figures because I noticed how traditional fairy gardens were always representing white/European figures,” Ortiz told mitú. “I thought about how perfect they were in size. I wanted to dedicate my art page to the idea of people of color existing and participating in nature.”

Ortiz feels supported from his followers as well as his boyfriend. His art has been a welcomed breath of culturally relevant plant art in people’s social media feeds.

The ongoing pandemic gave Ortiz a chance to dive deeper into a hobby he already had: plants.

“I have always been into plants and nature since I was a kid and I began making terrariums and fairy gardens in the past year to deal with the pandemic like so many others,” Ortiz says. “There is something super special about making miniature tiny living worlds. I wanted to make fairy gardens but I ended up with something halfway between terrariums and fairy gardens but with cholos. So I created the ‘Brown People Indoor Miniature Gardening TikTok’ series on my tik tok account.”

Ortiz’s TikTok account, aptly named @botanical_homie, has more than 7,000 followers showing that people are really into the idea of Lil’ Homies living their fairy garden dreams.

The terrariums are another chance for people of color to be represented in the world.

Ortiz was in an arts school for middle and high school. In that time, the school fostered an understanding of racial injustices and introduced Ortiz to the concept of artivism, art as activism. It was, according to Ortiz, a moment when he realized that he wanted to dedicate his art to BIPOC.

“I grew up and live in Colorado and have seen the lack of access BIPOC have to outdoor activities like hiking and mountain climbing,” Ortiz explains. “These are white-dominated sports and activities that some POC never get to experience. I want to create a world where we can be anything and do everything, even if it’s miniature. A utopia for us to take back what is also ours.”

Ortiz is making the terrariums for everyone, even people who struggle to take care of plants.

Covid quarantining has forced so many people to think they make perfect plant parents. Yet, taking care of plants is something that doesn’t com naturally. Ortiz had to spend time trying to figure out what plants are the best for everyone.

“Part of my challenge in creating these terrariums has been figuring out what kind of plants people can keep alive. They all have different requirements so getting plants should always depend on your space and lighting,” Ortiz says. “I come from the generation of YouTube so I always say do research, it’s part of the fun. The biggest thing about having plants that people don’t realize is that you just have to pay attention to them, often. But again it depends, some plants are indestructible.”

Ortiz is happy to be able to create this art and hopes to make them more accessible.

“If you want to support me and my art work you can contact me via Instagram about commissions,” Ortiz says. “Shipping these pieces is not easy or ideal so I appreciate everyone’s patience as I learn and evolve. My goal is to work on larger installations and I’ll be putting out DIY kits in the near future.”

READ: If You Call Yourself A Frida Kahlo Fan Then You Should Be Following These Five Artists

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com