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Border Art: Deportation Stories

Cover image for podcast episode

In a new episode of KPBS' border podcast "Only Here," we continue our series on border art with a mural that's broadcasting the voices of deportees and those commonly known as DREAMers, children brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

From heart-wrenching stories about parents being deported and separated from their kids to first-hand accounts of what it’s like to start a new life in a new country, the mural painted on the actual border fence uses technology to share stories of deportation and struggle.

You can hear the stories when you walk up to the mural in Playas de Tijuana. It's painted on the actual border fence, and you can use your phone to scan black-and-white QR codes printed on little stickers stuck to the mural. Scanning the stickers takes you to YouTube videos.

The stories you'll hear in the videos are from two digital storytelling archives:

Humanizing Deportation: http://humanizandoladeportacion.ucdavis.edu/en/
Dacamented: https://dacamentedarchive.com/

The Playas de Tijuana Mural Project is by artist, scholar and activist Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana. More about the project here: https://lizbethdelacruzsantana.com/mural-project

About the Show:
“Only Here” is about the unexplored subcultures, creativity and struggles at the U.S.-Mexico border. The KPBS podcast tells personal stories from people whose lives are shaped by the tension reverberating around the wall. This is a show for border babies, urban explorers or those who wonder what happens when two cultures are both separated and intertwined.

Who we are:
Hosted by Alan Lilienthal
Produced by Kinsee Morlan
Sound design by Emily Jankowski

Follow Us:
https://www.facebook.com/onlyherepodcast/
https://www.instagram.com/onlyherepodcast/

Support Us:
https://www.kpbs.org/donate

Give us Feedback:
619-452-0228‬
podcasts@kpbs.org

Photo:
A picture of the mural by Alan Lilienthal.

*******Clip 5 alexgomezcriesarrestedinfrontofkids
I was making breakfast for my kids. It was May 15, 2010. It was a Saturday. I remember it. And they did it in front of my kids.
*******Clip 5 alexgomezcriesarrestedinfrontofkids
They slammed me down on the ground and they start treating you like you're. So this is hard and criminal, and I was just illegal reentry…

This was the moment Alex’s past caught up to him and brought him to his knees.

Music Bump: Emo AF
*******Clip 5 alexgomezcriesarrestedinfrontofkids
They slammed me down on the ground and they start treating you like you're. So this is hard and criminal, and I was just illegal reentry….and I'm getting slammed down facing the concrete, a foot on my neck, and it's just a God awful degrading scenario.

Alejandro Gomez Cortez is 54 years old.
From 6 months old to 43, he lived in Oakland.
When he was 17… he joined the U.S. Military… Became a Marine.
But because his adoptive parents had brought him to the U.S. without papers when he was a baby….
He wasn’t a citizen of the country he grew up in and served.
Clips 2 from alexgomezcriesarrestedinfrontofkids
And one of the things that I have to mention at this point there was that my recruiter told me that when I went to the induction center, that when I took my oath to swearing, that I would become a us citizen. And that was not true.
On that Saturday morning with his kids a decade ago...
Alex was detained.
Then deported…
For the second time.
When he was first deported in 2006.
He didn’t stay deported for long.
Clip 4 alexgomezcriesarrestedinfrontofkids
….I came back one day later, and I lasted four and a half years in the United States until I had some beef with a neighbor. And he, uh, he called the cops on me.
That run-in with his neighbor led to the police doing a background check.
That brought up Alex’s criminal record.
It also showed that he was undocumented.
Alex got himself on ICE’s radar because he had committed crimes.
He got caught dealing drugs after he got kicked out of the Marines.
It was his own doing.
But as is often the case.
He had a tough upbringing.
His childhood was troubled.
Trauma after trauma led him straight into the prison pipeline.
Clips 1 alexgomezcriesarrestedinfrontofkids
I was sexually abused by an older cousin. He was 22 I was only six. That whole thing was traumatic enough, but then at the age of seven I finally get the courage to tell my parents and they just beat the crap out of me.
Clips 3 from alexgomezcriesarrestedinfrontofkids
I had a girl back home, and while she got killed in a drive by, she cut to stray bullets that hit her neck and she dies. So I started abusing alcohol …...An yways, I was just young, dumb, and couldn't manage my responsibilities…..

Alex served his time and paid for his crimes.
But when immigration came for him years later.
He had already straightened out his life…
He’d become a responsible family man with a decent job.
Instead of a life in the U.S. with his family,
Alex was sent to live forever in Mexico,
a country he left behind as a baby.
*******Clip 5 alexgomezcriesarrestedinfrontofkids
And that your kids have to watch you get hauled off, like you're so criminal and you're not the degradation and humiliation and the fear that they implant, the fear that they implant, and that's what I'll never forgive him for.
Music Fade: Emo AF
Natsound of ocean near mural: Alan Describing Mural 1 from 0:00 to 45 seconds
Alan describing mural 1 Makes You Wonder Who They Are
It's really a beautiful mural. It seems like a lot of the murals down here, a little more cluttered or not as formal. This one is really technically and aesthetically, just beautiful. Um, there's seven faces in black and white.
Alan describing mural 1 Some people scanning QR codes
There's a lot of people going up to them up to the faces and looking and some people are even scanning QR codes.
Alex’s deportation story is one of many you can hear when you walk up to a mural painted on the border fence... The mural’s on the Mexican side, in Playas de Tijuana…

You can then use your phone to scan the black-and-white QR codes printed on little stickers stuck to the fence.

Scanning the stickers takes you to YouTube videos.

The videos show people talking about how they got deported..

Why they got deported…

and what’s happening to them now.

Record YouTube Video Sound from phone With Mic from Humanizing Deportation Archive, Emily/Alan pick clip in Spanish? http://humanizandoladeportacion.ucdavis.edu/es/2018/10/21/95-los-mejores-anos-de-mi-vida/

Most of these stories are pretty emotional and hard to hear…

No matter what side of the fence you’re standing on when it comes to the immigration debate.

Fade out sound/music

I’m Alan Lilienthal, and you’re listening to Only Here, a KPBS podcast about unexplored subcultures, creativity and struggles at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Today, stories about people who’ve been deported, and an artist who wants them to be heard. It’s about empathy, and how storytelling, and some paint, helps build it.

Midroll 1

Maria Rodriguez felt like she had no choice.

Her husband hit her…

He was violent...

Conunanimal clip (here’s the link if you need more tape, Em: http://humanizandoladeportacion.ucdavis.edu/en/2018/09/04/72-i-want-to-see-gracie/
Con un animal…(Like an animal)

Maria has kids.

She knew she wanted a better life for them.

So...she left Tijuana...and headed north al otro lado.

The side where jobs pay more than just a few dollars a day.

She was just 19… and already a mother of three kids.

While in the U.S., she had 5 more kids. One of them, a daughter named Gracie, has cerebral palsy.

It’s a disability that requires her to use a wheelchair for life.

Sometimes she gets bad seizures.

Notnormal Clip
It was very difficult for me to realize my daughter wasn’t normal like everyone else.

Maria knew she had to figure out her citizenship problem for Gracie and the rest of her kids.

So she started the process.

It wasn’t easy.

She ended up crisscrossing back and forth across the border a few times.

Then, she finally got her chance to make her case to immigration officials.

Onthedayofcourtspanish clip
So, on the day of the appointment, I am very happy because I would explain to the judge everything that happened, if I get that opportunity..

But as that day approached, her lawyer told her NOT to go…

he said the court already knew she’d entered the country illegally.

He said she’d just be detained and deported.

So, Maria skipped it.

Then 15 days later….

ICE showed up at her door.

Spanish Clip 3
Yo les roge, les suplice. Les decía que ahi estaba mi hija tirada, mira como se arrastra mi hija, no me lleven porfavor. Les decia. Mi niña no camina, mi niña tiene ataques epilépticos, yo nomas la cuido…
I begged them, I pleaded. I told them that my daughter was on the ground, look at how my daughter drags herself, please don’t take me I told them. My daughter doesn’t walk, she has epileptic seizures, I’m the only one that takes care of her….

(Alan reacts to the tape naturally: Jesus, I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like…)

Maria was deported.

Now she drives a taxi and sells clothes in Zona Norte in Tijuana.

She says being separated from her kids during the deportation process was unbearable.

She doesn’t want it to keep happening to other moms and kids.

Deportingwomen clip
They are separating families with children more, more the mothers than the men, and they need to stop that nonsense.

Music bump: Explainy

ICE deported roughly 86,000 immigrants from the U.S. last fiscal year.

President Donald Trump describes the people being sent back as hardened criminals.

And sure maybe a few of them are.

But artist and researcher Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana knows there’s way more to the story.
Lizbeth Part 1: Saying Hello
How's it going? Good. Good. I'm just like looking at people like interacting with the wall, you know? Yeah. yeah. It's really nice. Total strangers to them. Yeah. They have an idea. Exactly.
Liz is working on getting her Ph.D in Spanish at UC Davis.

She’s an artist, a scholar and an activist, which is why she launched her “Playas de Tijuana Mural Project” last year.

She saw the interactive mural as a creative way to get more ears on the personal stories that’ve been collected in two online storytelling archives.

Lizbeth Part 1: Explaining What Mural Looks Like
…. And in that sense, we move away, just from the numbers in the digits of. To describe how many deportations we have in the U S and to actually see the human faces and actually to actually have the opportunity to hear their stories through the QR codes.
Liz worked with an artist named Mauro Carrera. They painted the mural with the help of a handful of volunteers, some of them being the actual folks whose faces are featured in the mural.

All of the large, black-and white portraits are of people brought to the United States as children -- the people we call Dreamers.

But the stories the mural links to extend well beyond Dreamers.
You can find all kinds of stories about people who ended up in the U.S. by crossing themselves, and hear why they made the journey.

Liz has put a ton of work and money into the project.

Because for her, the issue of immigration is very personal.

Lizbeth Part 1 Her Dad Crossed Border Here
Alan: what has been why here? Why did you pick here instead of up there or, or another place in the border? Right, right here. So for me, this space is really special. My dad actually crossed through here when he was young. So in one of the crossings that he was able to do to the U S cause my dad would crossed back and forth back in the day. And it was so much easier compared to now. But he crossed through here and I really just wanted to commemorate his crossing because then our life changed because I was born in the U S and then, I mean, our whole family has just been able to just enjoy the privilege of being a U S c itizen in that sense. So for me, it just kind of reminds me, you know, that my dad crossed over here and that his venture to the U S really does affect, you know, how migrant families, you know, work throughout the U S and Mexico and specifically. So it's very personal. It's very, very personal. And I mean, for me it's just. Just doing fuels work. Anti specifically applies if you wanna just, you know, I really wanted to show the faces of people who live here and have been affected by the border here specifically. Yeah.
[sound of ocean]
When we come back, we’ll scan another QR code on Liz’s Playas de Tijuana Mural Project” and hear another deportation story….
Music bump/fade?

Midroll 2 Ad

Clip 1 from Brayan Mandujano dad kidnapped and bullied
Some guys actually put me and my brother, um, in the trunk and crossed us to the States.

[add beat]

Brian Mondojando was just three when his parents took him from Mexico to the U.S.
Clip 1 from Brayan Mandujano dad kidnapped and bullied
I actually study kindergarten, uh, elementary part of my high school in the States. For me it was, you can say my world, you know, cause. Growing up in the States and not knowing anything about Mexico.
He loved living in the U.S.
His parents did well.
They bought a nice house,
built a good life.
But then, in a flash, it was all gone.
Clips2 Brian Mandujano dad kidnapped and bullied
Unfortunately, my parents got deported. They actually, they got imported here in Mexico. It was difficult for us because once we heard that my mom and my dad got deported and we were, with my aunt and my uncle....
Brian’s aunt and uncle helped him and his siblings pack up their things
and move to Mexico to live with their parents.
Brian says the minute he got there,
he felt like an alien.
Clips2 Brian Mandujano dad kidnapped and bullied
I remember that when I came here in Mexico for the first time. It was really a whole different world for me. It was kind of strange. I felt weird. It's something so different.
Here’s one thing that’s different.
Brian’s dad got kidnapped.
Hundreds of people get kidnapped in Mexico every year.
“Express kidnappings” with ransoms of just a few thousand dollars
have even become a thing here for criminals trying to make a quick buck.
Clip 5 Brian Mandujano dad kidnapped and bullied
Imagine not knowing anything about your dad for weeks, for a month, for two months, not even a call like that. Telling us, you know, we have your dad, you have to pay at rescue. I remember that. I was actually still studying high school. I didn't go to school for two or three months. All the family was looking for my dad. You know, we went to the police station. We posted pictures all over the city on Facebook.
Six months later,
His dad was found and came home.
But Now Brian can’t shake his paranoia.
It’s really hard for him to trust the country he’s been forced to call home.
Clip 6 Brian Mandujano dad kidnapped and bullied
Here in Mexico, we have been living, you know, like horrible things, horrible things. Also, you know, I also want to let people know who gets deported out here to, you know, to also to be careful because it's not like in the States, you know, that you can probably walk in at nine or 10 you know, here in Mexico. If. If you're walking on and not at all the times, you know, but you know you can get probably robbed. They will actually take your phone away or you don't know. I don't know. You never know. You know what can happen here? You can probably get kidnapped. I know Mexico is, or culture. I know Mexico is our country. You know where we actually live, but I mean, you're not going to compare Mexico to the United States. But here in Mexico, the corruption is, is the worst thing that you can live here.
Music Bump
Beach nat sound
Lizbeth part 3 215 Stories and keep collecting
We have 215 stories right now, so that's a lot. Yeah, it's a lot. And I mean, we have teams right now in chiapas, jalisco, y juarez and then we're currently working in California too, so, I mean, we're going to get, keep getting stories. I think it's really nice to have people engage with them, specifically here in Tijuana.
The mural and its stories are getting lots of attention. The project’s been featured in the news in both Spanish and English. And Liz is pretty prolific when it comes to promoting the project on instagram.
A loooot of artists say they want their art to start a conversation about one important issue or another.
But honestly, that doesn’t happen very often.
Liz’s interactive mural though is actually making an impact.
Lizbeth part 1 Hasn't Slept
….so people who actually come here, cause people hear about the mural all over the place now. And they specifically come to see it. And I think that makes me feel that this work has accomplished something so far.
****Lizbeth part 1 People Have Cried
I mean, it means that they're interested in this conversation and other trying to understand why we selected these images here, because people would always come up to us and as, why is this person here? Is this person famous? What have they done? And then we explained their story and then they feel very emotional about it. So we've had a few people cry with us sometimes, um, while we were working here. And it just kind of triggers a lot of memories for us as well, like our own personal experiences.
Liz has been back to the mural to fix graffiti and make sure the QR codes still work. She’s now working on a film about the project.

She’s also using the mural and the attention it's getting to raise money for family reunifications.

Earlier this year, she was able to connect a family separated by deportation at a two-day event held at the Mexicali-Calexico border fence.

[Start the family reunion clip here?]

Family members on both sides could see each other through the fence…

They even found a little hole in the wire mesh…

They reached through and held each other’s hands.

Family Reunion Clip/Clips

Next episode teaser

Next time on the podcast….
Show Clip

Only Here….

Show credits

Only Here is a KPBS podcast hosted by me Alan Lilienthal. It was written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is the director of sound design. Lisa Morrissette is operations manager and John Decker is the director of programming.

KPBS podcasts are made possible by listeners like you. Go to kpbs DOT org to make a donation or become a member today.

Only Here podcast branding

Only Here

“Only Here” is about the unexplored subcultures, creativity and struggles at the U.S.-Mexico border. The KPBS podcast tells personal stories from people whose lives are shaped by the tension reverberating around the wall. This is a show for border babies, urban explorers or those who wonder what happens when two cultures are both separated and intertwined.