By Mario A. Cortez
Last summer, scholar Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana led a group of 15 volunteers in pasting up a mural on the border wall in the beachside enclave of Playas de Tijuana which features the faces of immigrants and deportees who arrived in the United States as children and have lived their entire adult lives in the United States.
Each profile has a QR code linking to a YouTube video that shares the respective person’s story when scanned on a smartphone.
The large-scale piece is part of De La Cruz Santana’s doctoral dissertation at UC Davis and has been the focus of much attention, both locally and abroad, due to its highly visible location and use of technology in storytelling.
“People want to know why their faces are here,” De La Cruz Santana shared. “The mural is a great conversation starter about subjects like migration, deportations, and the paths people have taken in getting to the U.S.”
However, the mural requires regular maintenance as it is affected by the elements and occasional vandalism, but due to the state of emergency caused by the spread of the novel Coronavirus, De La Cruz Santana has chosen to end her field work in Tijuana and return to her hometown of Fresno.
“We have to look out for people’s wellness first and foremost,” she said of the situation.
In addition to this, Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego office announced on Monday, April 20, an extension to the nonessential travel ban put in place to curb cross-border spread of the novel virus. Tijuana authorities have also cordoned off access to streets near the mural’s location, after locals continued to pack the site in previous weekends to enjoy the sunny weather.
The inability to make regular repairs to her work south of the border is frustrating, as the rolling waves affect the panel paintings and QR codes are often peeled off.
“I think we have implemented the QR codes on the mural like three or four times now and since he codes link people to the personal videos it’s harder to communicate these stories when they get pulled down,” she said.
De La Cruz Santana and her team repaired weathering and vandalism during a visit in February of this year. A new portrait was added to the mural and new QR code stickers were affixed to their corresponding individuals as well. Work that would have been done in the upcoming weeks included some retouches to portraits and applying new QR codes once more.
Other field work her team would have engaged in included recording more testimony from repatriated childhood arrival cases and collecting resource information for MigriMap, a humanitarian aid map application for migrants and deportees in Tijuana.
An expansion to the mural, planned for late summer, includes the installation of seven portraits and corresponding upkeep. While it is still unclear if De La Cruz Santana and her team will be able to work on the site by then, she is thinking about how to make the mural’s digital content more accessible.
“A project like this can bridge academic spaces and public spaces people visit every day with people around the world, so we can really really challenge perceptions of who can be deported from anywhere the materials are seen,” she stated.
Materials related to the Playas de Tijuana Mural Project can be found online HERE.
More testimonies from DACA recipients and other childhood arrival cases are also available through the Humanizing Deportation YouTube channel.