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Arts and Culture

The Disasters of Border Crossing

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Posted on Sep 20, 2007

By Rosa-Linda Fregoso

(Page 3)

Even as its main purpose is to induce critical reflection about human suffering, this graphic image of a migrant’s corpse in the scene of his death raises a number of ethical questions.  What warrant do artists have to represent the final moments of someone’s life?  Is this replica of a migrant corpse disrespectful to family members of border-crossing victims?  Does it violate the dignity of the dead?  Is such a vivid reenactment pornographic, or even a further violation of migrants’ human rights?  For the museum’s director, re-creating a migrant crossing death in such a realistic and graphic fashion transforms the image into a “metaphor for social indifference.”  As Garcia explains, “Here I am, sitting down and working on exhibitions and I have a dead man underneath me.  I am drinking my coffee, smoking my cigarette and I have this dead man underneath me.  I really don’t have time to think about it.”

That is precisely the attitude that Colectivo Malaleche aims to disrupt, our complacency, the fact that most of us don’t have the time to think about the hundreds of migrants who die each year, and when we do think about them, we have no inkling of the horrors of their final experience.  The images are too raw, too immediate, especially for family members of boundary crossers.  For art museum and gallery visitors accustomed to art as contemplation and pleasure, Malaleche’s turbulent and disturbing work aims to move them into the space of critical engagement.  At least that is what the great masters of the grotesque attempted to do.  In depicting atrocious acts of violence, Goya’s series of etchings “The Disasters of War” denounced the grotesqueries of war.  Like other installation and performance artists such as Vito Acconci, Ana Mendieta, Diego Catelan and Cindy Sherman, Malaleche revisits the strategies of the grotesque to address urgent social concerns.  The more recent installations of London-based Dinos and Jake Chapman also come to mind as artists who feature the grotesque and macabre to address the social urgency of children’s exploitation.

Shocking and grotesque art has a way of imprinting itself on the psyche.  An artist denounces atrocities she perceives in the world in the hope that we, too, can see injustice from her perspective and empathize with the human suffering depicted.  But does greater awareness lead to critical encounter and, even more, to social action?  That question has haunted philosophers and cultural critics for decades.

In painting the horrors perpetrated by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Colombian artist Fernando Botero aimed to do for Abu Ghraib what Pablo Picasso did for Guernica.  “No one would have remembered the horrors of Guernica if not for the painting,” Botero notes.  There is a similar impulse at work in “Muerte X Agua”:  The point is to remember them, the boundary crossers who died, denied the right to life and livelihood.  Without memory, their death and our forgetting would be among the great disasters of border crossing.

Malaleche’s newest installation, “Crosses and Crossroads: A Chain of Death and Suffering,” will be featured at the Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, on Oct. 24,  6:30-8 p.m. http://www.fishergallery.org/index.php?page=programs&action=currentExhibit

Rosa-Linda Fregoso teaches courses on human rights, violence studies, visual
media and culture in the School of Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School
of Communication and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University
of Southern California.


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By maddy, May 14, 2008 at 8:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

yo wat up home doggies im just chilaxing on my couch watch mtv

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By Paracelsus, September 27, 2007 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment

Why is it Subcommando Marcos has never networked with Latino affinity groups to fund his operations? At least the Irish cultivated a network in the states to send money back to the homeland to support the cause. I have never heard of La Raza, LULAC, of MALDEF ever throwing parties to fund resistance movements in Mexico or any other oppressed Latin American nation. Look at how Michael Collins was able to organize a resistance movement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Collins_(Irish_leader)

I know that the oppressors in Latin America aren’t from a colonizing country, but the people are being oppressed by a selfish elite with colonial attitudes.
I disdain the lack of manhood among these open border foreign nationals, who want to make it worse for the struggling working classes of my country. Guns for Subcommando Marcos? Si! Section 8 and welfare for jackpot baby illegal aliens? Nunca!

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By Suzanne, September 26, 2007 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why is there no criticism of Mexico’s wealthy ruling class as to border crossing deaths?  Do they not care about their own countrymen?

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By MAR, September 26, 2007 at 11:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

About 50,000 US draft dodgers “sneaked” across the northern border during the Viet Nam war.  (They like to call themselves “war resisters” now; many have used the amnesty but many remain as pretty good Canadian citizens, just as many of the Mexicans are now pretty good US citizens.) But they were equally despised by many Canadians,  whose culture makes them voluntarily serve their country; they have only had a draft during the latter part of the two World Wars.

Draft dodgers were similarily often a burden to the Canadian provincial welfare systems. Draft dodger often meant “hippy”.  Many grew (and still grow, they say, BC Bud,) said to be the best grown by those who know.

  The draft dodgers were not turned away but it is worth noting also that about 50,000 Canadians served voluntarily in the US forces during the same war, many in the Marines. There is also a proportionate share of those Canadians whose names are on the Wall in Washington.

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By Pico, September 21, 2007 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment

It’s relatively easy to choose up sides and start slinging insults and accusations. It’s a hell of a lot harder to deal with all the complexities this issue involves, and still retain some semblance of humanity. I can say that. I live in Phoenix and I’ve been struggling with this for quite a while.

Please, come read my pieces on this at http://www.wildchihuahuas.blogspot.com if you’re interested in knowing what that “struggle” means, at least in my experience. One post is “On the New Sanctuary Movement,” posted today. The other, a 2-part piece, is called “The Border, The People, The Questions.” It’s found in the archives of the week of Sept. 12. (The site is searchable.)

I think this article is excellent and should be required reading. True, it doesn’t present the point of view of the folks who live just this side of the border. That’s fine; it didn’t promise that it would, and it doesn’t have to. There are, God knows, plenty of other places to find that and other points of view. There’s no need to try to stomp this exhibition or this article into the ground because it doesn’t do what it never set out to do.

I guess I’m appealing for a right of free speech, and for recognizing that the same economic decisions that are outsourcing OUR jobs here have killed off theirs. True, that’s not all the story, but it’s a very important part of the story that needs to be taken into account. If we keep going as we are now, it won’t be long before WE find out what it feels like to be on the bottom tier. Facts: Our middle class is disappearing. Our homes are losing value by the hour; our jobs are being outsourced; our purchasing power hasn’t increased since the early 70s, but you can bet our prices have and our “employee benefits” have disappeared at the same time.

It may be that these are the reasons we feel so threatened by a bunch of Mexican peasants.

I’ll say this: If I were in their shoes, I’d be doing exactly what they’re doing. And its not true that these immigrants know exactly what they’re getting into. From interviews that Humane Borders people have done with these “illegals,” we know for a fact that coyotes tell them anything to make a buck. Many expect an easy 1-day trip, and some bring baby strollers. That’s how little they know. These are people from the interior of Mexico, Salvador, Guatemala. They know from shit about anything except semi-tropical jungles. They know ZIP about the Sonoran. Most Americans know ZIP about it. A gal who moved here recently set out on an 8-mile hike in 108 degree temps, for God’s sake. In her 30s. She died.

It’s also true that many of these people come TO border towns for the maquiladoras == the thriving factories we were all promised would bloom because of NAFTA and CAFTA. When they get to Nogales, Mexico, they find 50 percent of the maquiladoras have closed, their jobs ALSO outsourced to Asia. So then they have little choice but to push further north for another “promised land.” They can’t go home. There are no jobs at home.

Every single great religion in the world stresses that its believers are to give generous hospitality to the outcast and the stranger. It f’ng isn’t easy, is it? But that’s where the rubber meets the road for people who call themselves, say, Christians. If you do it unto the least of these. . . .  So: for me, the struggle involves my fears, the contradiction between our legal system and actual justice, and what it means, in the end, to be a human being. My journey may not be yours, but it’s sure been instructive for me. As has actually living IN the Sonoran and talking with the people involved on both sides.

Me, I think the immigration crisis pales by contrast to the things Naomi Klein has documented in The Shock Doctrine. I hope we do not let ourselves be distracted from far greater threats.

Your mileage, of course, may vary. Probably does.

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By riya, September 21, 2007 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment

Comment for Rusty:
You are correct, these people are entering our country illegally.  And sorry, in the middle of the night I get poetic, and I do rememember the women that brought their kids (now one my brother’s wife, a teacher, totally legal)over from Tampico long ago, and in their religion they would be considered ‘saintly’ for their travails.

The slaughtering would be done by Blackwater West.  You Betcha!

But the migration is illegal, the trash in the USFS wilderness is phenomenal, it is a mess, the fire that cost millions just last week was started from an illegal campfire down in a wash by these guys, because the forest was CLOSED in that area to all legal citizens, due to fire danger.

I think the corporate folk want them here, because it is cheap labor.  I think plenty of Americans would do those jobs for minimum wage.  The ‘coyotes’
that bring these people over are the ones the BP goes after, and rightly so.

I get all fired up, because I really don’t want to see Blackwater here protecting our borders.  And I feel that their country is such a mess, but so is ours.  I once looked into immigrating to other places and the ONLY place I qualified to go was guess, Mexico.  While their people are streaming in.
Hang out for hours on the TJ border and look at the people there, begging, sticking their kids in polluted traffic to beg.  Makes me glad I’m not that bad off.

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By luna, September 21, 2007 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As much as I feel for these people they are not “Immigrants”.
They are ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. I am sick to death of them being call immigrants. real immigrants do it the legal, right way.
and NO they are not “hunted” by “vigilante ranchers”
these ranchers and farmers have every right to protect thier homes and thier property which is destroyed by these illegal immigrants on a constant basis, I know this for a FACT because I have several friends in Tx and AZ who own such ranches!
so you people need to get your facts straight.
since when has it become a crime to defend and protect your home?????
vigilante ranchers, give me a fng break.
And just for thought, these people who are crossing our borders illegaly know very well what they are getting into when they take that first step.
I am tired of hearing about the “poor immigrants” WHO ARE HERE ILLEGALLY! what about the poor farmers and ranchers who are having thier property destroyed?????!!!!!! thier homes!
how come we dont hear about them? and as soon as they stand up for thier rights, they are labeled vigilante???
give me a break!

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By Rusty, September 21, 2007 at 7:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’d like to sneak my family into France. I want a better life for them…. this article is garbage. Scheer, who is this author? I read my news here everyday, but if I keep seeing crap like this you can expect me to head on over to Slate…  And who exactly is “slaughtering saints” ? Give me a break… If dying while breaking the law and burdening another country makes you a saint, then I guess there is no end to the madness… Regardless, Mexican’s who sneak across the border illegally are not martyrs, they are criminals.

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By riya, September 21, 2007 at 5:10 am Link to this comment

I wish I could sneak into New Zealand with my daughters, my cats and my dog Clara. I really do.  So I understand the immigrants plight. They wish for a better, more just and sane world.  So do I. 

I do too.

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By riya, September 21, 2007 at 5:06 am Link to this comment

Here is a truth.

We put gallon water jugs out in the wilderness of Pine Creek.  The citizns get angry.  If we don’t put them out, they sneak into their yards….

What’s a human to do?

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By riya, September 21, 2007 at 4:19 am Link to this comment

Correction on the ” Read”” it’s Victor Villasenor, the Rain of Gold.

I wish every southern CA kid would read that book.  I’m just a gringa Catholic white girl, my brother, who is 59 now, married a girl way back when…
she actually was a “wetback” and laughs about it now, how she and her mom and her aunt (no men involved, interestingly)and her little brothers crossed the Rio Grande into Texas.  This book gave me an understanding of how and why those brave women did this.  They both died, the mom and the Tia, within the last couple years.  But now I maybe have a grasp on what they did.  We certainly don’t need the likes of Blackwater patrolling our borders slaughtering saints in the wilderness like these brave women were.

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By riya, September 20, 2007 at 10:19 pm Link to this comment

Victor Villanueva…. Read.

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By riya, September 20, 2007 at 9:45 pm Link to this comment

The immigrants come across, and into the Cleveland National Forest, near San Diego, through the Hauser/Pine Creek Wilderness where Blackwater has it’s base set up.

The Rangers clean up the campfires and the trash.  We understand your plight.  But don’t set the country on fire, please, we just spent millions last week on the Pine Fire.

We dont want Blackwater to patrol the Border.
Everyone, be careful….

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