SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — On the first floor of the University of San Diego’s library is a new exhibit with a wall coated with 1,500 manila and orange tags.
Each represents a migrant who has died while trying to enter the United States since 1994.
The manila-colored ones list an identified migrant while the orange tags denote unidentified human remains.
“This project was originally meant to visualize the deaths in the Arizona area,” said Meghan Donnelly, an assistant professor of anthropology at USD.
Donnelly and colleague Marni LaFleur decided to research and depict the number of migrants who have died along the California-Mexico border.
“We have 1,500 that are represented on this map,” said Donnelly. “In San Diego, there are many people who have never been down to the border, this issue feels like an issue that’s far from them and what this exhibit does is show them this is right in their backyard.”
Donnelly says migrant deaths along the southern border started to pile up in 1994 when the federal government decided to fortify urban areas along the border.
“They pushed migrants into the more dangerous and deadly areas of the desert and the mountains. Certainly there are more people that have died who we’re not representing, people have never been found,” she said.
The exhibit is called “Hostile Terrain 94.”
USD says the exhibition is interactive and also the product of the Undocumented Migration Project, which according to its website, is a research-arts-education collective that seeks to both raise awareness about migration issues globally while also helping to reunite families with their loved ones who have gone missing crossing the US-Mexico border.
“Putting these names on the walls makes you take a step back and ask yourself, ‘Am I OK with this,” said Griffon Hooper, an anthropology researcher with USD.
Hooper helped set up the exhibit, going as far as to write down the information on the tags.
“Transcribing the data from an Excel spreadsheet to a tag makes you realize some of these tags are the only identification these individuals have in the world; their parents, siblings, their sons and daughters have no idea what happened to them,” said Hooper.
While experiencing the displays, visitors will also notice a wall covered with butterflies and handwritten messages.
“They’re just symbolic of the freedom, in some cases to those who have passed, well wishes of their suffering and that their pain is over.”
The exhibition will run through May 17 at USD’s Copley Library during regular hours and is free to the public.