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

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.