Imagine that you are working on a small farm. You went to school only up to the sixth grade, like most people in your home town. That was the only education offered nearby - you would have had to pay to go to high school, and where? Besides, you had to help your father with the farming.
You marry a sweet girl, go to church, have several beautiful children. You manage to support your family on the income you make growing corn. But then the market for corn falls out from under you - suddenly everyone is importing corn more cheaply from up north, as NAFTA allows. Money gets tight, then stops altogether. There's no work for you here, so you do what most of the local young men are doing. Your last pesos go to bus fare the hours and hours north to Juarez. You get a job in the General Motors factory (another aspect of NAFTA), assembling car steering wheels. You make 34 pesos per 8 hour day (about $3.53), which doesn't go far. The prices here are high, and a day's work barely buys you beans and tortillas. You eat as little as you can, sending what you save back to your wife and kids. After only a few weeks your family also makes the trip to Juarez, so your wife can work too.
Even with the two of you working, you can't save enough money. You work every extra shift. No extra for overtime. Your oldest child, who is eight years old, cares for the younger two while you both work. There is no school nearby. Your wife works so hard she makes herself ill, or the adhesive she has to handle all day at work is affecting her health. No money for a doctor. You and your once beautiful wife are squatting on the outskirts of Juarez , with no water or electricity, just a roof made of scavenged materials. Your children are hungry. You are tired, desperate, and ashamed.
The small solar-powered structure acts as a temporary transitional space in which migrants can meet basic needs for water and nutrition and share stories via an embedded touch screen interface. Drawing upon the vernacular of traveler graffiti, pictograms, and the Mexican tradition of ex-voto painting, migrants are invited to creatively share something about themselves and their journey with the homeowner and the larger populus.”
2. Las Madres Project
“The sculptural installation “The Mothers; Las Madres” standing vigil is an artist’s response to the human suffering and ongoing death of migrants coming across the Mexican/American border in search of work in El Norte. Each Mother figure represents over 1000 men, women and children who have lost their lives crossing the desert. The sculptures are made from discarded migrant clothing reclaimed from the desert and then blended with Sonoran plant material."
Valarie James continued the series with "Wall of Bordado", a collection of traditional embroidered fabrics found in the desert:
“Over time, we have found over 35 hand embroidered 'bordado' cloths with inscriptions such as 'Yo e Tu Rec. Felicida de Ma Ma' You and I remember the happiness of our Mother, 'Pienso En ti' I think of you and 'Somos Dos Enamorados' We are two people in love. Some of the cloths are of heirloom quality with relleno crewel work, others are everyday tortilla wraps. All are edged with lacy 'tejido de gancho' crochet. We wash the cloths and display them with care to honor the nameless women who made them."
James also created "The Migrant Shrine," a beautiful commission for the Southside Church in Tucson Arizona. This piece strikes a chord for me, because this church was at the heart of the Sanctuary Movement, of which my mother was part when I was a young child.
Border issues have been a part of my life since then - because of my mother's activism, because of our home being so near the border, because I felt there was an inherent injustice to the poverty just on the other side of the fence.
Many years ago I spent a year as a volunteer at Annunciation House in Juarez, Mexico, where border issues, poverty, and violence against women are at their most severe. It was possibly the best year of my life.
I'd like to take all the depressed teenagers I work with at the psych hospital on such a border witness trip, let them see how relatively lucky they are. Let them take part in trying to make a difference for their peers on the other side of the fence. Volunteerism therapy.