Toe Tag Art Exhibition Highlights Migrants Who Passed Through Arizona Desert | WDVM25 and DCW50


EDINBURGH, Texas (Border Report) – An interactive art exhibit in South Texas features toe tags depicting where 3,200 undocumented migrants died trying to cross the desert in Arizona.

The exhibition, Hostile Terrain 94, is currently on display at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on the Edinburgh and Brownsville, Texas campuses.

On October 14, 2021, Dr. Sarah Rowe, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, explains an interactive art exhibit, Hostile Terrain 94, at the university library in Edinburg, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez / Border Report)

It is data-driven art that is as part of the Undocumented Migration Project, a nonprofit research organization led by anthropologists to shed light on the remains of migrants. It combines the geographic location of where the migrants died with community participation to create massive wall-sized pieces that are installed around the world.

The UTRGV joins around 150 institutions on five continents to present the exhibit, which is carried out with the help of the community and student volunteers who manually fill in the location, date of discovery of the remains and, if available, the name, age and country of origin of deceased migrants.

In doing so, it helps personalize migrants and make them more than just a number, Dr Sarah Rowe, associate professor of anthropology at UTRGV, told Border Report.

“The Hostile Terrain 94 exhibit is kind of a moment of remembrance and to document those who died in migration to the United States,” Rowe said this week as she browsed the exhibit hung in the campus library. of Edinburgh.

Sarah Rowe, associate professor of anthropology at UTRGV, identified the exact location of the 3,200 migrant remains found in the Arizona desert for the Hostile Terrain 94 exhibit. (Sandra Sanchez / Border Report)

The exhibit was designed by anthropologist Jason De Leon of UCLA who drew on data from remains found scattered around the Arizona border region. The majority of deaths are due to a change in immigration policy implemented in 1994, which is why the exhibition is called Hostile Terrain 94.

“The 94 in the name of the exhibit refers to the year a border policy called Detention Through Deterrence was first enacted. And, what this policy did was strengthen enforcement around urban areas in order to push undocumented migration to less populated and more rugged areas. So in the case of the Arizona border, that means the Sonoran Desert, ”Rowe said.

The exhibit is on display at the UTRGV in Brownsville through November 12 and at the Edinburgh campus through November 12. (Sandra Sanchez / Border Report)

The toe tags are color coded. Identified remains are on manila tags; the unidentified ones are on orange labels.

While filling in the 4-inch labels, community members and students in the Rio Grande Valley sometimes added personal messages to the backs of the cards as well.

Messages included: “May you rest in peace; “You are in Heaven now; “” Fly with the angels; And “You are not forgotten.”

“No matter how you feel about immigration, it’s lifetimes and sometimes it can be very easy to forget it when we hear about the numbers involved,” Rowe said.

In some parts of the desert map, hundreds of markers are superimposed.

A handwritten toe tag for a migrant teenager whose remains were found on tribal lands in Arizona in 2011 is part of the Hostile Terrain 94 art exhibit at UTRGV. (Sandra Sanchez / Border Report)

A tag shows 17-year-old Jesus Salvador Nunez Acosta, who was found on February 21, 2011 in the Tohono O’Odham Nation in southern Arizona. His skeletal remains had a “gunshot wound” and, according to the label, he was shot in the back. When his skeletal remains were found, they were “decomposed”.

An interactive online component of the exhibit also allows visitors to scan QR codes to watch and hear videos of family members of some of the deceased, as well as project organizers.

“Seeing and reading how each one died definitely brings a different meaning to it all,” Rowe said. “Here we have the end of their story but we don’t have the context of their story. We have no idea what hopes they had for the future or what difficulties they faced in the past. So that part is still missing, but that’s what 25 years of a single immigration policy have led us to.

The project includes data on migrant remains dating back to the mid-1990s. And that’s only for Arizona, which has an organized centralized reporting system for migrant remains that makes it easier and more efficient. complete to document.

Texas does not have such a system and to get such data one would have to call the coroner’s office and the municipality, Rowe said.

Rowe said the exhibit took three weeks to fill out the cards and pin them in Edinburgh. It was a bit faster at the Rusteberg Gallery in Brownsville, which is on the UTRGV campus.

The exhibition is on display in Brownsville until November 12 and in Edinburgh until November 19.


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