Feb 24, 2020
Volunteers pose for a photo in front of the completed mural on August 9, 2019, at Playas de Tijuana. (Courtesy of Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana)

Fresno State graduate leads Tijuana mural project displaying art of deported immigrants

Growing up in Fresno, Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana recalls being surrounded by an intense art scene that would later inspire her to commission a mural on the United States-Mexico border wall in Tijuana.

The love for art wasn’t her only inspiration. Her father, from Guadalajra, Jalisco, had also crossed the Tijuana border years ago.

“I wanted to do something different,” De La Cruz Santana said. “In 2016, it was my first time visiting Playas de Tijuana, and I saw all the art work there and wanted to contribute in some way.”

And three years later, she did.

The portraits of six immigrants, who migrated to the U.S. at one point are now painted on canvases at Playas de Tijuana that hug the border’s steel bars.

From Aug. 1 to 9, De La Cruz Santana led her team of artists, including Central Valley muralist Mauro Carerra, to complete the project funded by a fellowship granted by the Mellon Public Scholars Fellowship.

This project is part of her dissertation at UC Davis, where she currently is working on her Ph.D. in Spanish with an emphasis on human rights.

De La Cruz Santana, 28, was born in Compton and later moved to Fresno during her sophomore year of high school. She then graduated from Fresno State with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Spanish.

To add a more personal touch, the mural includes an interactive feature allowing visitors to scan a QR code placed next to each canvas with an iPhone or scanning app to get access to personal stories.

“I didn’t want for people to just see the faces and not understand it,” said De La Cruz Santana. “If you add the QR codes, you can add an explanation of why this is the case. That’s what I wanted.”

The links will take you to a YouTube video about each individual, in which he or she narrates his/her life and situation. In addition, De La Cruz Santana develop ed two digital archives, Humanizing Deportation and DACAmented: Dreams without borders, that include more stories told by various immigrants.

The primary goal of the mural, De La Cruz Santana said, is to pose the question: “Who are the real childhood arrivals to the United States?”

Central to her dissertation, De La Cruz Santana seeks the answer to this question through art and testimonies given by people she personally knows.

Among the six portraits painted on the border are three women and three men.  Two of the women are DREAMer moms and one of the men is a U.S. veteran who, after living in the United States for more than 50 years, was deported when his green card was revoked.

“What I’m really trying to do for the people that I selected, specifically, is to get them some type of legal help,” De La Cruz Santana said.

She recently received a second fellowship and hopes to return next year to potentially touch-up the mural or continue adding to it.

As for now, De La Cruz Santana and her team of artists will commence the second phase of the project on Sept. 14-15 in Playas de Tijuana.

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