In the desert outside of Arivaca, Arizona, just a few miles from the Mexican border, several plastic jugs hung from the branch of a tree against the backdrop of a low winter sun. Humanitarian aid workers had put them there, filled with water, for migrants making their way through the harsh, inhospitable terrain. But coming closer we could see that something was wrong. All of them had been slashed—by local militia groups, we were told, eager to protect the “homeland” by making survival as hard as possible for people crossing into the United States.
That was in the winter of 2015, while I was leading a group of my classmates on a trip run by the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education at Santa Clara University to learn about immigration policy and its effects. Months later, while viewing Richard Misrach and Guillermo Galindo’s joint exhibit, Border Cantos, at the San Jose Museum of Art, the image of the slashed jugs came back to me. Border Cantos (now showing at the Pace Gallery in New York City through August 18) featured Misrach’s exhaustive collection of photographs from the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as recordings of Galindo’s musical compositions, played on instruments handmade from debris gathered in the area. The combination of image, sound, and sculpture summoned the same uneasiness and anger about the cruelty I’d witnessed in the Arizona desert.