Arizona has been called "America's Meth Lab of Democracy". Many hot button issues were tried here first and have since gone national-- on steroids. One of them is nativism. Back in 2013, I did a painting called, Navidad Baja Arizona - A Christmas Story. It was my response to the dehumanization of immigrants dying in our desert, and how women were accused of coming here to have "anchor babies" and game our system.
Fear and victim-blaming has been a wildly successful political weapon throughout history, especially in Arizona--and each generation to breeds new sets of eager, vulnerable ears. Enter the Trump brand of nativism and by 2019, it's a whole new ballgame. This Christmas, I didn't need to reinvent the wheel-- just add some ammunition and realities we'd rather not think about. I DO want to remember that the Nativity is really about the Human Spirit. Regimes come and go and although the human spirit is ephemeral, it finds a way. Always.
- Linda Magdalena Victoria
This may be the last in my series honoring asylum seekers for a while. It is an intimate capture of the bond between parent and child. The process of painting the mother revealed the ancient classic Maya bone structure of her face. What timeless beauty. I wonder if they are still alive and together. This administration will go down in history for its crimes against humanity.
I must say here that this brutal saga of America's asylum seekers really struck a nerve. When stories started coming out about what "Zero-Tolerance" was doing to families, children, even babies, I absolutely could not stand it.
I was still recovering from surgery but was determined to DO SOMETHING... ANYTHING. When the plumbing collapsed at the old Benedictine Monastery (Tucson's primary migrant shelter), a dozen porta-johns were brought in and volunteers built outdoor showers from pallets, tarps, and PVC pipes. Plumber's daughter that I am, I and another lovely Catholic lady cleaned all of them daily, and continued to do so until the Casa Alitas Program relocated to their new location farther south. The asylum seekers were conscientious, and always offering to help me. The physical duresses they suffered were evident in what I cleaned and it was heart-wrenching. No innocent people, especially children and babies should be treated like this by the United States of America. These refugees, and the countless migrants before them are the ones who have cleaned OUR toilets and worse, in the shadows, for generations for Christ's sake. What is God's name is wrong with us? There were days it was so overwhelming I'd dissolve in my car before I could leave.
When that job went away, there were plenty of volunteers and I felt compelled to do something to lift up the humanity of these remarkable "throw-away" people who had suffered so much and come so far. That need gave birth to this series of artworks.
This may be my favorite image of border-crossers. I wanted to paint this couple because I think they are utterly captivating. It's not a new image and has been hanging around on my computer for years. I pray they are both doing well.
Via the photographer:
"Flor Garcia, 19, of Honduras, holding her one-year-old daughter, Flor Fernandez turned themselves over to CBP after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico near McAllen, Texas, on Thursday, July 3, 2014."
Photo: Rodolfo Gonzalez/AP
The twelfth soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border (and hopefully my last, at least for a while):
Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, Age 10
Of El Salvador
Died Sept. 29, 2018 of heart complications,
Darlyn was encountered by Border Patrol on March 1, 2018, a few miles west of Hidalgo, Texas. She complained of chest pain and three days later, was transferred to HHS custody where she remained for about seven months. Darlyn was treated for a congenital heart defect at various hospitals -- including in San Antonio, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona.
HHS spokesperson Mark Weber told CNN Darlyn had surgery complications that left her in a comatose state. She was transported to a nursing facility in Phoenix and later to Children's Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, where she died on September 29, due to fever and respiratory distress.
Darlyn was traveling to the US to find her mom, who had migrated from El Salvador to work and provide for her three daughters nine years earlier. She hoped to be reunited with her mother in Nebraska. Her mother asked that Darlyn be released to her care. The government refused.
Her body was returned to El Salvador.
Darlyn's story HERE.
The eleventh soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border:
Claudia Patricia Gómez González, Age 20
of San Juan Ostuncalco, Guatemala
Shot by BP agent, May 24, 2018
Rio Bravo, TX
Claudia earned a degree in accounting but had not been able to find a job in her home country of Guatemala, so she traveled 1,500 miles to the United States, hoping to find a job and a better future. Shortly after she set foot in Texas, a Border Patrol agent shot her in the head and killed her.
Gomez-Gonzalez's shooting drew international attention after a bystander posted video of the aftermath on Facebook Live, showing her lying on the ground, bleeding. Authorities changed their initial account of the shooting two days later, adding to the controversy at a time when the White House has cracked down on undocumented immigrants.
The deadly encounter ended the journey Gomez-Gonzalez started nearly three weeks before in an indigenous community in San Juan Ostuncalco, Guatemala.
The details around the death of this young Guatemalan woman remain unresolved, as the majority of migrant deaths are. And like many others, a wrongful death suit against CBP on her behalf was filed, a year after her death.
Claudia's story HERE.
The tenth soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Johana Medina-León, Age 25
of El Salvador
Died June 1, 2019
Medina's journey to the U.S. had taken months. She had waited for a Mexican transitory visa for more than a month in Tapachula, Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border, Diversidad Sin Fronteras stated. The advocacy group said Medina waited nearly three months in Juárez before she was allowed to make her asylum claim to U.S. immigration officials in El Paso.
Johana known to friends as "Joa," died at the Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, after being detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for seven weeks. Medina had been a certified nurse in El Salvador but sought asylum in the U.S. because she couldn't work as an open trans woman in the nursing profession in her home country. From April 11 to about May 23, her health deteriorated and she tested positive for HIV. She begged for medical attention that never came.
In mid-May, she had passed her "credible fear" interview, which determined she would be persecuted if she returned to El Salvador, but Leon wasn't paroled until she began complaining of chest pains and was taken to Del Sol Medical Center. She passed away four days later.
Johana's story HERE.
The ninth soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Juan de León Gutiérrez, Age 16
Died April 30, 2019
After 2 years of drought, Juan left an area of Guatemala where children are known to be stunted by malnutrition. He hoped to be reunited with his brother in Miami.
Juan was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol near El Paso after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. He was transferred to a local hospital after a doctor at a government shelter noticed he was sick. He was released and hospitalized again a day later. Juan was 16 years old when he died of a brain infection.
His family had no money--not even to take the bus to Guatemala City where an airplane carrying his body would arrive.
More of Juan's story HERE.
The eighth soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez, Age 16
Died May 20, 2019,
Carlos died in Border Patrol custody while trying to reunite with family members in the United States. He was also venturing north to support his siblings, one of whom is disabled. 1 of 9 children from an area of extreme poverty in the Guatemalan Highlands, he was a soccer player, a musician who played bass and piano, and a healthy young man, his family told a Guatemalan television station.
Hernandez succumbed to the flu, complicated by pneumonia and sepsis, on or near the toilet of his South Texas Border Patrol cell. His body was returned to Guatemala.
More of Carlos' story HERE.
New Report Shows “Deeply Troubling Failures” by Border Patrol in Boy’s Death, Key Congressional Leader Says
ProPublica, Sept. 17, 2021
Inside the Cell Where a Sick 16-Year-Old Boy Died in Border Patrol Care
ProPublica, Dec. 5, 2019
The seventh soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vázquez, Age 2
Died May 14, 2019, Texas
Wilmer's mother brought him to the U.S. to get him medical care for a condition that left him unable to walk. Wilmer and his mother Hilda left home in March to make the journey to the U.S. He became ill in Mexico and crossed into the United States with a high fever and difficulty breathing. Diagnosed with pneumonia and other complications at a children's hospital, Wilmer died about a month later.
Wilmer's story HERE.
The sixth soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Roxsana Hernandez-Rodriguez, Age 33
Died May 30, 2018, New Mexico
Roxsana said she had fled Honduras in part because of the discrimination and violence she faced for being transgender. (She was gang-raped by four MS-13 members and contracted HIV. ) She said in an interview, "Trans people in my neighborhood are killed and chopped into pieces, then dumped inside potato bags."
Hernandez was one of roughly 25 transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals who joined the annual caravan of Central American migrants heading to the US border. She crossed at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego and was later transferred to a CPB facility in NM for transgender detainees. She succumbed to symptoms of pneumonia, severe dehydration, and complications associated with HIV and later died from cardiac arrest.
Roxsana's story HERE.
The fourth & fifth souls in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Óscar Alberto Martínez-Ramírez, 25 yrs.
Angie Valeria, 23 mos.
both of El Salvador
Drowned together in the Rio Grande River, June 24, 2019
Working at a pizzeria in El Salvador, Óscar made approximately $350 a month supporting his wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos, and their young daughter, Valeria. The three lived with his mother, Rosa Ramírez, in a two-bedroom home outside of San Salvador. She gave them the larger room, but they wanted more than a life on $10 a day.
Frustrated at being unable to present themselves to U.S. authorities and request asylum, Oscar swam across the river with his daughter. He set her on the U.S. bank of the river and started back for his wife, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Óscar returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current then swept them both away.
Oscar & Valeria's story HERE.
The third soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Mariee Juarez of Guatemala
Age: 19 mos.
Died May 10, 2018, New Jersey
(after being held at ICE detention in Dilley, TX)
After experiencing inhospitable violence in her home country, Mariee's mother, Yazmin Juárez, was faced with the difficult choice of staying in Guatemala and likely facing death or fleeing to the United States to apply for asylum. The decision to embark on such a journey was a remarkably dangerous one with no guarantee of obtaining legal status in the end, but as Yazmin recounted, the crushing instability of their home country made staying put impossible.
When the two arrived at the border in Texas, they were quickly funneled into the U.S. immigrant detention system to wait for their case to be processed. They were both examined by a doctor and found to be healthy. The two were then transferred to a facility in Dilley, Texas where they were crammed into a filthy, crowded cell with sick children. Mariee became sick within a week of their detention with a cough and runny nose and grew steadily worse; contracting a high fever and diarrhea and vomiting.
Yazmin stood in line for hours, begging the guards for help. When Mariee was finally seen, she was given antibiotics after a quick examination. Yazmin begged the clinicians to run additional tests and allow her daughter to stay in a more sanitary area until she recovered, but she was sent back into their overcrowded cell with the other sick children.
Shortly thereafter, the two were released from custody and allowed to stay with family in New Jersey until their asylum claim could be heard in court. Upon their arrival, Juárez rushed her daughter to the hospital where it became clear that her condition was far worse than diagnosed. Mariee died six weeks later, on the day celebrated as Mother’s Day in Guatemala.
Mariee and Yazmin's full story HERE.
The second soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Felipe Alonzo Gomez, Age 8,
Died Dec. 24, 2018, New Mexico
Felipe was excited to come to America. His father, Augustin, thought taking Felipe to the U.S. would give him more “opportunity,” and was focused on escaping the poverty of their hometown. Felipe hoped to have his own bicycle.
The boy’s mother, Catarina Alonzo Perez, said she spoke with her son the day before they arrived at the U.S. border. “He wasn’t sick on the way; he wasn’t sick here,” she said through her stepdaughter in the Mayan language known as Chuj.
His body was returned to Guatemala.
More of Felipe's story HERE.
The first soul in my En Memoriam project honoring asylum seekers who did not survive the rigors of the American border.
Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal-Maquin, age 7
of Raxruha, Guatemala.
Died Dec. 8, 2018, in New Mexico.
She and her father traveled 3,000 miles from Guatemala seeking a better life. She jumped when her father told her she could come with him to the U.S. She thought she might get her first toy, or learn to write. She got her first pair of shoes right before the trip. They were apprehended the night of Dec. 6 at the extremely remote port of entry at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, by Border Patrol agents, just 2 days before she died. Jakelin died of sepsis.
Jakelin's story HERE.
In this homage, it is my intent to reach beyond the political wailing and gnashing of teeth to remind us that the Divine often comes through via the "least of these". The Christmas story has many parallels to the struggles of present day migrants crossing Arizona. It is my way of blending both historical and true-to-life contemporary elements, and of putting a human face on the "aliens" among us. My story goes like this:
The treacherous journey through Mexico and into the Sonoran desert overcomes the pregnant Maria, and she goes into labor. The pollero (coyote) of her group leaves her to fend for herself. She seeks shelter under the spreading branches of a mesquite tree.
Maria sits on her backpack, covered by her jacket. Her bare feet have blisters from many miles of walking. The man Jose is older than Maria and could be her husband, a relative, or a sympathetic fellow crosser. He wears dark clothing and the iconic back-pack with a gallon jug of water. In his right hand is a staff hewn from a mesquite branch, which may also indicate he's made this trek before.
Maria wraps the newborn Jesus in a bordado (hand-embroidered tortilla cloth) -- a memento given by her mother back home for her new life in the E.E.U.U. (United States). Hummingbirds are an auspicious blessing in most indigenous cultures, and three of them visit the baby.
The birth of this tiny human stirs the curiosity of some local desert wildlife... a javelina and her baby and a jackrabbit look on. A bobcat gazes from atop a saguaro behind the mesquite tree. ( Yes, they really do hang out on top of saguaros!) Crawling from the rocks towards Maria's battered shoes is a scorpion - a reminder that life is a precarious journey. (A scorpion logo also appears on many cartel drug packages.)
Instead of a star, there is a Border Patrol helicopter. It is not clear whether it has discovered Jose & Maria's hiding place...
Navidad en Arizona is part of the vision I seek to portray through art:
a compassion that can stand in awe of what "the least of these" carry -- rather than stand in judgement of how they carry it.
- Linda Magdalena Victoria
The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico's patron saint and is loved and revered throughout the America's. Here, her tears turn into roses that rain down as a blessing on the deceased. (Roses are a key element in her legend, read more about her here.) Roses are also important to the Yoeme (Pascua Yaqui) cultural belief in the Flower World; their spiritual vision of heaven.
The presence of an owl portends death, according Mexican folk traditions. There is an old saying in Mexico: Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere ("When the owl cries/sings, the Indian dies"). The Aztecs and Maya, along with other Natives of Mesoamerica, considered the owl a symbol of death and destruction.
The saguaro cactus has finished its spring bloom and is ready for the saguaro harvest conducted by the Tohono O'odham Indians in late June. From the saguaro fruit they make saguaro wine, jams, and jellies and have a rain feast in honor of the coming monsoon.
The horned lizard at the bottom does not have any special meaning except that they are a beloved endangered desert critter.
Sonoran Arizona remains America's migrant graveyard. Nativist immigration policies have become more and more untethered in recent decades in a lust to grow the new industrial for-profit private prison complex. Meanwhile, the American economy still depends on immigrant labor, now more than ever - to feed us, and do the jobs Americans never have, and never will do.
I continue to find ways where I can honor all those who gave up everything for a better life. It is my intent to show here that we can only hope they are being received into a better place than those they knew in their home countries or in our deserts.
Ca nel nehuatl in namoicnohuacanantzin in tehuatl ihuan in ixquichtin in ic nican tlalpan ancepantlaca, ihuan in occequin nepapantlaca notetlazotlacahuan, in notech motzatzilia, in nechtemoa, in notech motechilia …
Everything I am and do is rooted in love of our land and its people, and our Mother. Her mantle has room for everyone. And 'She Comes for Them'...
Over the past ten years, more than 4,000 people have died while crossing the Arizona desert to find jobs, join families, or start new lives. Other migrants tell of the corpses they pass—bodies that are never recovered or counted.
Crossing With the Virgin collects stories heard from migrants about these treacherous treks—firsthand accounts told to volunteers for the Samaritans, a humanitarian group that seeks to prevent such unnecessary deaths by providing these travelers with medical aid, water, and food.
A blog of inspirations, interpretations-- things that move me in this place where I'm planted.