I collaborated with social documentary photographer Michael Hyatt to reflect on how individuals entering the U.S. without documentation interact with desert landscapes as they journey on foot through the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Our exhibit, Faith, Fencing & Fate: New Cultural Landscapes of Migration in the United States-Mexico Borderlands has been shown at UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues and Vancouver’s Rhizome Café. Ten of the photographs were included in La Frontera, an exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography.
War Apprehension Legality Landscape, January 9-13, 2006
An Exhibit at the UBC AMS Art Gallery
In 2004, I traveled to the United States-Mexico borderlands with independent filmmaker Dafne Romero to make a documentary film about the environmental implications of U.S. border enforcement strategies. When we tried to return in 2005, however, Dafne was denied entry into the U.S. and the project was brought to a standstill. Her movement restricted, Dafne was inspired to consider U.S. immigration policies through other media. The result was W.A.L.L., a collaborative project with Patricia Valadez, a set construction artist, and myself. Many of the objects on display were collected during my fieldwork in the Texas and Arizona borderlands. Perhaps the most moving are the personal belongings left by undocumented migrants as they journeyed through the Sonora Desert.
Using recycled materials, video footage, imagery, sound, testimonies, and personal belongings left by undocumented immigrants, W.A.L.L. reflects upon border policies through four concepts: war; apprehension; legality; landscape.
War: Metaphors of war commonly appear in the media to characterize immigration issues; undocumented migrants are frequently referred to as “invaders.” And yet, the real war is waged against undocumented migrants: over 5,000 border crossers have lost their lives trying to enter the US since new border enforcement measures were taken in 1994.
Apprehension represents one moment wherein this undeclared war is waged on the bodies of undocumented migrants. Once detained, undocumented migrants frequently are struck, denied medical attention, food and blankets, and subject to racially derogatory verbal abuse. Amnesty International also has documented unlawful lethal shootings, physical assaults and ill treatment of detainees in custody.
Legality: Immigration policies in the U.S. are twisted by conflicting interests. Thus, many migrants, especially Mexicans, wishing to work or join family members are unable to do so though legal channels. Hence, they must take great risks to cross the border.
Landscape: Border enforcement strategies use new infrastructure such as fences, cameras, lights, and fences or walls, which shift unauthorized border traffic away from traditional routes in urban areas to remote terrain. The environmental implications are significant due to 1) Border Patrol strategies that fence and trample ecosystems and 2) the increasing numbers of people walking through the landscape. Meanwhile, new cultural landscapes are produced as undocumented immigrants discard or lose objects and materials such as water bottles, paper wrappers, bags, clothes, identification papers, papers with contact information, shoes, reading material, toys, etc.