Watch for the following thematic elements throughout the exhibit.
The Virgin Mary
The presence of the Virgin Mary along migrant trails indicates the importance of spirituality and faith to migrants. The Virgin Mary is a central figure in folk Catholicism in Latin America, especially Mexico. In the Altar Valley, she appears in various guises — the Virgin of Guadalupe, Virgin of Juquila, Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos — suggesting a geography of migration. While the Virgin of Guadalupe is a national symbol in Mexico, the Virgin of Juquila is venerated in Oaxaca and the Virgin of San Juan in Jalisco. Both are sites of significant out-migration in Mexico.
The international boundary is not the first or the last barrier undocumented migrants face. The borderlands are crisscrossed with barbed wire fencing, demarcating division, inclusion and exclusion. Fences symbolize the many ways in which boundaries between “us” and “them” are demarcated throughout U.S. territory, from punishing immigration laws to anti-immigrant narratives. Of course, migrants’ movements in and through borderlands also point to their permeability and how borders constantly are negotiated and reconfigured.
Water bottles point to the physical risks of journeying north without documentation. Undocumented migrants now travel long distances (20–80 miles) through the Sonora Desert to reach their destinations. The human body requires at least two gallons of water per day to sustain physical activity in the desert during summer months. Most humans are incapable of carrying enough water and many succumb to hyperthermia, even within short distances of the political boundary. Water bottles scattered on and off desert trails are poignant symbols of determination, of those willing to take incredible risks to achieve their goals.