Our America Audio Podcast — Delilah Montoya, Humane Borders” and Desire Lines”

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  • This audio podcast series discusses artworks and themes in the exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In this episode, artist Delilah Montoya talks about her photographs Humane Borders and Desire Lines.

    DELILAH MONTOYA: Hello, my name is Delilah Montoya, and the work that you’re looking at comes from a series called “Sed: Trail of Thirst.” It was done in 2004 for FotoFest in Houston, Texas, and the theme that year was on water, and I decided, with the help of Orlando Lara, to talk about the lack of water or the lack of nutrition. We were looking at that point at the US-Mexican border and decided to go towards a point where there was the most deaths, very heavy trafficking, that was going on.

    Orlando Lara, who at that point, was at Stanford University had been researching the O’odham Tohono Reservation because, in his estimation, and as he pointed out to me, it’s a metaphor. It’s a metaphor for Chicano and Mexican immigrants, or Latino immigrants in general. Basically, because on that reservation, the tribe got split. Half of the tribe is Mexican nationalists, and the other half of that tribe are US citizens. So, the condition that it set up was the border that was created was a very porous border. The tribe was able to go back and forth between Mexico and the United States.

    Actually, that was the metaphor that we were looking at, however what does happen because it is so deadly is that there are a lot of migrations going across that reservation, but we see it because the Migras isn’t there, they can’t, because it is a sovereign nation, and the Native Americans do not want to have federal agencies on their land. It becomes a corridor for the migrations of Latino people coming through, but it’s deadly in that most of the people coming through are from more tropical areas, they’re from large cities, and they don’t understand how dangerous a desert is, and with the lack of water, anywhere from 200-300 bodies are found on that reservation annually.

    So, what we wanted to do was look at the trail, but what I decided was more important was that the trail be emptied. It had a lot to do with this idea that Amalia Mesa-Bains gave me, and the way that so much of the history is recorded in the land. The land holds the history of a people, and so as I looked out on that migration trail, you can see the scarring, right? Of the passing of people. So, even though that they’re not there, their kind of aura or the evidence of their passing is there, and so that’s one of the reasons why you see that kind of vacancy in terms of the landscape.

    The first one is “Humane Borders Water Station,” and that water station that you see comes from a humanitarian group that was able to put these water tanks outside of Baboquivari Peak. The peak becomes a marker between the reservation and US territory. Because the humanitarian efforts can’t happen inside of the reservation, because the Native Americans don’t necessarily want the Migra there, they don’t necessarily want to encourage migrants to come through that corridor either, so what you find is that they won’t let humanitarian efforts happen inside that land as well, so you, what you see is you see the humanitarian efforts happening right outside of where Baboquivari is.

    “Humane Borders” made a pact with the immigration, with the Migra, that they couldn’t patrol around the water stations. What you see is Mike Wilson, and Mike Wilson is a humanitarian, but also he’s a member of the tribe, and so what he’s doing is physically putting water out on the reservation, and there’s controversy about what he’s doing, but since he’s a member of the tribe, he can put the water out, and so what we see on the left-hand side of the picture is Mike Wilson with his wheelbarrow of water, kind of walking out of the frame.