As I was thinking about what I could contribute scholarship about Refugee life in San Diego I was thinking about the ways I was personally connected to the Refugee Community. I wanted to create an art piece that was grounded in my own identity and experience and not just trying to communicate the lived experiences of Refugees to whom I am in in relationship with.
This being at the forefront of my mind as I was theorizing this piece, I thought about how both my parents are immigrants, neither are refugees and lived objectively good lives before and after migrating. But, I am Mexican-German-American, and my Mexican family originates from the Borderlands. And I’ve experienced the divisiveness of the border wall first hand. It physically separates my family. I remember waiting hours in line to go back and forth to visit my family in Tijuana, being interrogated by Border Patrol, searching my car and my body. Their heavy artillery, their padded uniforms, and intense gaze that seared the words ‘criminal’ into my soul. I’ve borne witness to barriers and to systemic oppression and it breaks my heart and my mind, and breaks my family and community apart.
Thinking about the work that Detention Resistance does to co-organize with asylum seekers that are incarcerated in detention centers, as well as their long term goals of abolishing detention centers, ICE and the Border wall. Listening to the stories they posted on their website and the photos of the work they do reminded the importance of having faith in abolition work.
In the spirit of faith and of honoring the lives that have been taken from us because of the inhumane treatment and conditions in the detention centers along the U.S-Mexico Border, I took some time to investigate the life and death of Carlos Escobar Mejía. He was a 57 year old man from El Salvador, who had immigrated with his sister to Los Angeles in 1980, where he lived for 20 years before moving to San Diego. His sister described him as a ‘one of a kind person’. He cared deeply for his family and about justice. He spent much of his helping his sister, and in his time in the Otay Mesa detention center, would only talk about going back home to help her. Even when he was incarcerated and very much in need of help himself, he still worried about his loved ones. He also participated in a Hunger strike during his incarceration to protest the facilities inhumane conditions.
To compile this collage I began with Carlos’s story, finding photos of him with his friends and family, and then looking for fotos of El Salvador and other items of cultural significance. Thinking about his experience as a migrant and with borders I looked for photographs and artwork that related; the butterfly, the wall, the train, etc. In exploring the importance that faith has in abolition work as well as in refugee life I decided to use religious iconography related to my own culture; deities like the Virgencita and the cross. The shape the photographs make together creates a 2-Dimensional altar. Altars in chicano spiritualities are a material ways to express political, cultural and spiritual beliefs.
It is with a heavy heart that I recount the life of Carlos, for his death was in vain. Migration is a human right, mobility is a human right. As living, breathing beings we are entitled to moving with the season of life, just like butterflies. Just like the sun moves out of the sky for the moon.