Students find art, hope at the border

Shirin Bos (left) and Sara Duque photographing and filming Tijuana’s Mexico-U.S. border wall mural for their Honors Scholarship Program project. Courtesy Photo

By Jazmine Santillana

Honors sophomores Shirin Bos and Sara Duque hoped to return from Mexico with photos and videos of the mural that covers the wall. They brought back much more personal images that tell the story of a family torn apart and reunited at the border.

“When we got to Tijuana, I was very skeptical if [the local] would tell us the truth,” said Bos. “But we got there, and it was completely different. When we stood on the Mexican side, it was colorful and happy, everything was full of art and people.”

Photographer Bos, a German immigrant, and videographer Duque, a Columbian immigrant, spent the first couple weeks of the semester in Tijuana, Mexico. They went to the border three times to create a documentary about the mural that covers the Mexico-side of the fence
for their Honor Scholarship project.

The mother (left), brother (middle), and father (right) of Carla Estrada stand under her 15-foot-tall portrait on the Mexico-U.S. border in Tijuana, Mexico where they meet their daughter to touch hands through the fence. Carla was the only one in her family to stay in America after her brother, a former DACA recipient, was deported. Courtesy Photo

“I myself am an immigrant, so I wanted to see what it’s like to not look European,” Bos said. “When you’re European you’ve got a lot of perks, and it’s a lot easier.”

Fifteen-foot portraits of undocumented immigrants cover the wall in Tijuana. QR codes next to the faces share the immigrants’ stories.

One portrait of Carla Estrada came to life when they met her family at the border.

“We got to know Carla’s family. She’s still in the U.S. but her brother got deported. And the family knew when someone gets deported, they all go. But she stayed behind,” said Bos. “On this weekend, they met again.”

The Estradas’ story was told by the father, Angel.

Angel Estrada. Courtesy photo.

His son, Antonio, was a DACA recipient in California until he was pulled over for a broken taillight. He was arrested when the police found an unopened can of beer in his car. He was held in an ICE facility for five months before being deported to Mexico.

The family knew that Antonio would never be allowed back into the U.S. They quit their jobs to move back to Mexico with him.

The students interviewed the family at the border.

“People say you don’t want immigrants in the United States anymore but that isn’t accurate. You don’t want real humans. You want saints. If you aren’t as good as Jesus, you might as well not apply for asylum,” said Angel Estrada.

Carla remains in the U.S. as a paralegal for an attorney specializing in immigration law.

“They were ‘reunited’ in Mexico when they were able to see each other through the wall and touch fingers,” said Honors Director Wendy Chase who accompanied the students to Tijuana. “They can’t hug or actually sit down next to each other to share a meal.”

The border mural was a collaboration by the subjects, professional artists, and the project creator, Lizbeth de la Cruz Santana.

Shirin Bos (left) and Sara Duque
Courtesy Photo

While in Tijuana, the students also interviewed Santana.

“We were there to meet Lizbeth. She’s only 29 and just a student like me, which is insane,” said Bos.

The students attempted to express the emotions felt in Tijuana through their documentary.

They presented a sneak-peek of their photo essay at Lee campus’s Humanizing Deportation presentation on February 22, where Santana spoke along with asylum interpreter Danilo Castillo and human rights attorney Terry Coonan.

“Heartbreaking and amazing,” Bos said. “When we left, we had mixed feelings because the stories break your heart, but also [seeing] how happy they still are even though some of their family members they will never see ever again.”

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