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Fresno State alumna aims to ‘erase’ U.S. border with mural showing faces of deportation

The rust of the United States-Mexico border wall in Tijuana is being erased by the faces of deported immigrants.

A mural completed Friday at Playas de Tijuana, south of the border, is an effort spearheaded by Fresno State alumna Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana to bring awareness around immigration and deportation.

The project is part of De La Cruz Santana’s dissertation at UC Davis, where she is currently a doctoral student in Spanish with an emphasis on human rights.

The project, which was developed by a team of artists led by De La Cruz Santana, is funded through a grant provided by the Mellon Public Scholars Fellowship.

De La Cruz Santana, 28, graduated from Fresno State with bachelor’s and master’s degree in Spanish. She grew up in Compton, Calif. but began living in Fresno during high school.

The location of the mural has a special connection to De La Cruz Santana. Her own father crossed the border from Tijuana decades ago. He was later granted amnesty under a law signed by President Ronald Reagan.

The beach has seen its share of immigration-related debates recently, including Central American migrants who arrived there last November. The migrants reached the border in their quest to seek asylum in the U.S.

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Visitors view a new mural displayed on the Mexican side of a border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. The mural shows faces of people deported from the U.S. with barcodes that activate first-person narratives on visitors’ phones. Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana conceived the interactive mural in Tijuana as part of doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Davis. (AP Photo/Elliot Spagat) Elliot Spagat AP

The project isn’t just paint on steel. It takes an interactive turn with links to first-person immigrant stories that are preserved online.

Using a QR code, anyone who scans a canvass portrait along the mural with an iPhone or scanning app can get access to the personal stories.

The links add to two digital archives De La Cruz is also developing: Humanizing Deportation and DACAmented: Dreams without borders. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is in reference to an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that gave immigrants who arrived as children the ability to live and work in the country for two years at a time.

The online archives hold dozens of stories told by different immigrants.

De La Cruz Santana said that, through the project, she seeks to answer the question: “Who are the real childhood arrivals?”

Among the faces painted on the border are two young mothers who migrated to the U.S. and were later deported, leaving behind their own children.

All faces on the mural are of people known to De La Cruz Santana. She felt compelled to share their stories so others could learn of their plight.

De La Cruz Santana said the mural project will also potentially help raise money to provide legal services to the deported immigrants who are seeking to reunite with family.

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Children play in front of a new mural on the Mexican side of a border wall in Tijuana, Mexico Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. The mural shows faces of people deported from the U.S. with barcodes that activate first-person narratives on visitors’ phones. Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana conceived the interactive mural in Tijuana as part of doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Davis. (AP Photo/Elliot Spagat) Elliot Spagat AP

“I really want people to see the stories,” De La Cruz Santana said. “The biggest reward is the people who are showcased there are going to get some sort of help ... for me, that’s the big thing.”

Another aspect of the project is to develop written “white papers,” or suggestions, on ethical immigration solutions that can be presented for consideration by the U.S. and Mexico governments.

If she gets more funding, De La Cruz Santana hopes to continue to “erase” the border by continuing the mural all the way to the ocean.

“The border is there separating both countries and its a way of taking it back,” De La Cruz Santana said.

De La Cruz Santana also had help from Central Valley muralist Mauro Carerra, who recently painted crosswalks in Fresno.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado is a journalist at The Fresno Bee. He covers the people and places experiencing economic and social inequity for The California Divide media collaboration. He grew up in the southern San Joaquin Valley and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Fresno State.
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