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Border wall art simultaneously expresses hope and resistance

Presbyterian Border Region Outreach celebrates 35 years of ministry

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Jenea Sanchez, an artist and community college instructor, used flora and fauna to help design and paint a mural on the southern side of the border wall in Agua Prieta, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

AGUA PRIETA, Sonora, Mexico — Raised in both Douglas, Arizona and nearby Agua Prieta, which is just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, artist and community college instructor M. Jenea Sanchez has an interest in the kind of public art that’s a simultaneous expression of hope and resistance.

Hence the colorful, eye-catching mural that she and about 20 workshop attendees designed and painted on the Mexico side of the border wall in Agua Prieta Friday as the opener to “Responding to an Exodus: Gospel Hospitality and Empire,” which celebrates 35 years of Presbyterian binational ministry that now occurs at four other sites outside of Frontera de Cristo in Douglas and Agua Prieta.

Those sites are:

The five make up the Presbyterian Border Region Outreach, formerly Presbyterian Border Ministry, in which Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ministries work in partnership with Christian communities, other faith organizations and secular entities to create a kinder, more just and equitable world.

Frontera de Cristo hosted the three-day conference, attended by about 150 people. Watch for further reporting this week by Presbyterian News Service.

About 20 workshop participants added colorful symbols of hope and resistance to the southern portion of the wall. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Sanchez and her workshop partner, Carolina Aranibar-Fernández, used descriptions and pictures of birds and flowers from the nations represented by people who wait along the wall as they seek asylum in the United States. Images now adorning the wall’s southern side include the dahlia from Mexico, plumeria from Nicaragua, the scarlet macaw from Honduras, the resplendent quetzal of Guatemala, chamomile from Russia, and the sunflower from Ukraine.

“It’s a way to capture the imagination, by capturing it visually,” Sanchez said. “There is power in art.”

As the mural took shape Friday afternoon, Sanchez admired all the effort put in by people attending the workshop — a number boosted by about eight of her own students.

“It’s a flock of flora and fauna, traveling together,” she said, eyeing the still-wet mural.

Dawn Proudfoot, a member of Community Presbyterian Church in Payson, Arizona, helps the mural take shape. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Carolyn Stupin, a member of the Mission and Social Justice Committee at First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was painting a bird in flight as her contribution to the mural. “It’s easy to generalize” the challenges that migrant people face, she said, “so I wanted to see it for myself.”

“I travel a lot in Mexico and I love the people, although I speak bad Spanish,” she said with a laugh. “Most people can piece together what I’m trying to say.”

“I need to learn more about immigration,” she identified as her reason for attending the conference, which included worship, talks, a number of delicious meals and a Sunday afternoon cross-planting in the Sonoran desert. “It’s long been a concern of mine.”

At her church, Stupin sells bags of Café Justo coffee produced by a grower-owned cooperative based in southern Chiapas, Mexico. The company was formed to address poverty and migration challenges. Those attending the conference had the chance to sample the company’s delicious products at the Café Justo coffee shop in Agua Prieta.

Not lost on Sanchez is the way that both flora and fauna can flout borders. The former grows according to where its seed is spread; flying fauna can easily scale human-made walls.

“We picked these flora and fauna as a way to honor immigrants,” she said. “All of us here care deeply about migrants in general. This is a way to show that.”

“There’s something really powerful,” she added, admiring the new mural, “about showing it publicly.”

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