We hear about it in the news. It is at the center of political arguments. You probably already have opinions on the issue. However, do you really understand the phenomena we call illegal immigration? The media focuses on drugs, guns, and the potential threat to the United States. But there is a side to this migration that the media doesn’t look at. An important aspect to these crossings is the death and despair that people go through due to the dangers of the crossing.
The Paseo de Humanidad, or Parade of Humanity, is a piece of art created by Alberto Morackis, Alfred Quiroz, and Guadalupe Serrano. The mural depicts migrants that try to cross the border through the Sonoran desert. There are 8 figures separated in half by a metal bar. Four are walking north and four are walking south. Above the figures are milagros, or religious folk charms that are meant to show how Mexico was before the Mexican – American War. The figures on the left are the ones headed north and they are depicted with more indigenous designs and clothing. One of the individuals is carrying a baby on their back. The ones going south, on the right, are depicted with more American things like the face of the Statue of Liberty, or one is carrying a washer. A wrapped body is being carried by two of these individuals. This modern mural tells the story of migration in this region. They come north into the United States with nothing but their heritage and their dreams; hoping for better lives for their children. When they return to Mexico, they have a mixed heritage and more wealth. They are, however, carrying back a body. The story of migration in this region is overcoming the dangers of crossing in order to find a better economic situation.
Since the Paseo de Humanidad is a mural, I will first look at the history of Mexican murals. Murals are a very important Mexican art style. Mexican muralism sprung up after a 10 year long civil war against the dictator Porfirio Díaz. The spirit of the revolution had a strong support with the lower classes like the farmers and laborers. One of the main arguments was “The community that terrorizes over man forgets that men are ‘persons’, not biological units. (Pomade)” The Mexican government commissioned artists to create these murals in order to educate the illiterate masses about Mexican history. The movement was led by Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco and they were known as Los tres grandes, or the three greats. Los tres grandes painted on the walls of highly visible, public buildings using techniques like fresco, encaustic, mosaic, and sculpture-painting (Bravo). The mural is an iconic Mexican art style and has ties to Mexico’s history. The Mexican mural even crossed into the United States when Diego Riviera created a 27 panel mural cycle titled “Detroit Industry” (Belnap, pg 62). In this light, the mural is the perfect art form to use along the border of U.S. and Mexico. Since the Paseo de Humanidad is a mural, it is important to look at what it is trying to convey about the complexity of the border.
The Paseo de Humanidad tells the story of migration so let’s take a brief look at the history of migration between Mexico and the United States. Migration along the U.S. and Mexican border has been going on for a long time, both legally and illegally. The border itself has changed positions several times throughout history. In 1803, the United States bought a large chunk of land from France in the Louisiana Purchase. The actual borders of the purchase were not clearly communicated between the colonial powers of Europe, or to the United States. This led to multiple border disputes and conflicts (Nevins, pg 79). Several times, the residents of a region suddenly lived in a different country because of the land changing hands. One aspect of migration is travel that had normally occurred when there was no border and then there became one. “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us,” is a common saying and sentiment in this region (Hondagneu-Sotelo). Another aspect deals with how permeable the border is. If security is the main concern of one of the countries and the border is blocked, then migration is slowed and potentially stopped. At times migration is wanted for one reason or another. The Bracero program aimed to bring Mexicans to work in the United States in an attempt to benefit both parties. The Bracero program even led to many illegal crossings of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
The Paseo de Humanidad is about the Mexican story of migration so it would be irresponsible of us to not look at first person accounts of crossing the border. Manuel Padilla was a migrant worker who was both part of the Bracero program and then an illegal migrant. Padilla had been in the Bracero program but it was required that everyone reapplied. When Padilla went to do this, the offices were all bogged down with people looking for work. Padilla then decided to cross without papers and worked in various states in order to make money (Martínez, pg 148). There is also migration due to violence. Ruben García was an activist at the border that founded the Annunciation House to help many refugees that came into the United States from Latin and South America (Martínez, pg 221). There are many reasons for migration but we often never get these stories through our media.
One aspect of the Paseo de Humanidad is life and death. One of the people walking north is carrying a baby while two of the people walking south are carrying a wrapped body. In 2012, 477 migrants died attempting to cross the border. This is up 27 percent from 2011. It is estimated that over 5,600 migrants have died crossing the U.S.-Mexican border since 1998 (Planas). Another thing that is significantly underrepresented in our media are these deaths due to the dangers of crossing the terrain. Migrants have to face hypothermia, dehydration, fatigue, illness, as well as physical threats from things like gangs or vigilante groups. The title of this mural is the Paseo de Humanidad, the Parade of Humanity. There are few things that really speak to our humanity like life and death. Crossing the border can be really dangerous and is very much a concern to migrants.
The Paseo de Humanidad is an artifact that embodies the border region of U.S. and Mexico because it tells the story of migration. Migration is an integral part of the culture and affects almost everyone in the region. Just as in the mural, migrants come north with nothing but their heritage. They bring their children in hopes of giving them a better life. They return with more wealth. One of the returning figures is carrying a washer. Since the journey is dangerous, not everyone makes it. Two of the figures are carrying a wrapped body of a fallen migrant. Another thing that they return with is a mixed identity. One of the figures is depicted with the face of the Statue of Liberty and a bomb while another figure still has the Mexican identity depicted with peppers. The Paseo de Humanidad is a great representation of the story of migration. It shows people attempting to overcome death and danger in the hope of achieving a better life for themselves and their families. Migration is a “Parade of Humanity.”
Belnap, Jeffrey. “Diego Rivera’s Greater America: Pan-American Patronage, Indigenism, and H.P.” Cultural Critique 63 (2006): 61+. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.
Bravo, Doris. “Mexican Muralism: Los Tres GrandesDavid Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.” Mexican Muralism: Los Tres Grandes. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2014.
Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. “Crossings: Mexican Immigration in Interdisciplinary Perspectives.” Contemporary Sociology 28.3 (1999): 333-4. ProQuest. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.
Martínez, Oscar J. Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Tucson: U of Arizona, 1994. Print.
Nevins, Joseph, and Mizue Aizeki. “The Border.” Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid. San Francisco: Open Media/City Lights, 2008. N. pag. Print.
Planas, Roque. “Border Deaths Spike 27 Percent, Even As Immigration From Mexico Drops, Report Says.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 Dec. 2014.
Pomade, Rita. “Mexican Muralists: The Big Three – Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros.” Mexico Culture & Arts. MexConnect, 5 May 2007. Web. 06 Nov. 2014.