I first came across the U. S.–Mexico border when I arrived in Tijuana, when my family moved from Tampico, Mexico, to live in San Diego, California, over twenty years ago. When I first saw it, it was a monster’s tail that seemed to never end, running across the terrain. On the Tijuana side everything was dusty, loud, colorful, whereas the U. S. side was green, oddly quiet, and muted in color. My family and I were able to go back and forth across this fence to visit our family. It wasn’t until 2004, when I had moved to San Francisco for college, that my mother introduced me to Friendship Park, where the border fence trails into the Pacific Ocean, splitting the waves into two countries. It was here where I first met migrants sleeping on the beach, attempting to cross via the water. It was also here where I witnessed families coming together across iron bars to share meals, caresses, hugs, laughter, and anything they could to physically connect with their loved ones.
I began doing performances along the fence, such as sweeping the sand, or mopping the beach, attempting to clean up the political filth that seemed to issue forth in a never-ending polemic. I watched and witnessed all the women in my family doing this type of work in Mexico, inside the home; unnoticed, taken for granted, forgotten as laborers. I wanted to illuminate migrants and the work they did.
I had never actually touched the fence until I personally heard stories of families being separated in 2011, during the Obama administration, and watched as Friendship Park outlawed any human contact across the wall. This was when I finally decided to touch the fence for the first time. Until then I had been too afraid. One morning soon after, I woke up with the idea to erase part of the fence by painting it sky blue. I went with my mother to paint early in the morning. Fifteen minutes in, I was almost arrested by the border patrol. Wearing my black dress and stilettos, I persisted in talking with the police, and after a forty-five-minute argument, persuaded them to let me finish.
After a year, my work was censored, and we returned to repaint it sky blue. The community was happy to see it. Every time I go to touch it up, people who live there tell me that it speaks to them. We forget that, unlike a scar on our body, we can remove this scar on our public landscape. One woman told me, “I live down the street and there are always protests and signs, but it wasn’t until you painted the fence that I saw it for the first time, and realized I had never imagined this area without a border.”