The Bordados Project (Non-Fiction Op Ed)

By Alejandra Vargas-Johnson


Alejandra,is a graduating senior at the  University of Souther California studying Sociology and Spanish. She is a DREAMer ally. She has traveled to Tucson Arizona area in March and volunteered with Border Justice activists there. She wrote this Op-Ed about her experience at the Border, and about the Deportation crisis in general.

 Dear USC student,

As you read this, three hand-embroidered tortilla cloths are hanging in the Fishbowl Chapel in the Office of Religious Life. The yellow southern wall of the Chapel brings out the bright magenta, green and blue of the rayon string stitched into the shapes of flowers, rising up above the beige stains in the fabric. The texture and intricacy of their crocheted borders contrasts the rough burlap material wrapped around the 3-Liter plastic water jug.

Many Americans would consider these objects “basura” (garbage), along with the rest of the disintegrating backpacks, shoes and clothing items scattered throughout the Mexican-American Borderlands. Yet the tortilla cloths, also known as “bordados,” and the water vessel carry immense symbolic significance. They represent the survival needs for the hundreds of thousands of people who have crossed the Sonora Desert to enter the United States. Even today people continue to cross into the United States through the most hazardous regions to avoid detention, and even today too many die for their attempt. 71 bodies and counting have been recovered along the Arizona border alone since October 1 2011.  When taken in this context, these artifacts paint a picture of the sons and daughters of the Americas who have departed from their families and taken an extremely dangerous road in search of economic opportunities and family reunification.

The humanity within the bordado stitching cries out, demanding to be seen not as the garbage of dehumanized criminal aliens but as the belongings of people who deserve recognition for their hardship as migrants caught in the crossroads of xenophobia, scapegoating and exploitation.

I know because in March, I walked through the same desert. A cactus needle an inch tall poked through the soles of my tennis shoes. The hot sun beat down, burning my shoulders, granting me the visibility that most migrants traveling by night lack. My mouth was too parched for words, my lips cracked. As a participant of the Alternative Spring Break to the Tucson Arizona area, I experienced a fraction of conditions that migrants go through. I brought the sensations of the border experience back to Los Angeles because I know that the hardships of migrants do not end upon reaching their destination.

The 11 million undocumented people who live in the United States and comprise 5% of the total labor force in this country continuously live in fear of deportation. They do not receive electoral representation, despite paying state and federal taxes. If deported, as over 200 men and women are each night by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they may have no other option but to return to their families and communities in the United States by attempting to cross the border. Mexico’s drug violence continues to divide towns based on cartel factions and endanger young adults, as the March 30th CNN report “Deportations After Dark” shows [1] . Not only do the bordados cry for recognition, they cry for change- a change to the deportation practices that have created a United States refugee camps in the towns south of the Border.

Or so believes the federal public defender Heather Williams who spoke to our group as well as five other spring break college groups after we bore witness to an Operation Streamline court hearing. Every weekday in border counties along the Mexican-American border up to 70 migrants in each county are brought to federal court trial under the Operation Streamline program. How effective is this program? A policy brief from the UC Berkeley Law School cites that Operation Streamline “diverts crucial law enforcement resources away from fighting violent crime along the border, fails to effectively reduce undocumented immigration, and violates the U.S. Constitution.[2]

As I watched 50 men and two women stand before a judge, I appreciated the bordados once again because they kept me grounded in the humanity of the migrants, a humanity that is taken away when all 52 were brought into the court room with thick shackles around theirs wrists, ankles and waists. I witnessed a man who, having had only gone through one year of schooling in his life, could not confirm the spelling of his own last name as he plead ‘culpable’ (guilty) to crossing without authorization. After pleading guilty in unison, he and the five others next to him were led out the side door to await impending deportation or jail time. These migrants, most of who hold no criminal history and are not involved in the drug cartel, are being endangered by the deportation practices and dehumanized by the Operation Streamline program.

As I write this, another Operation Streamline trial begins in Texas. In three hours, 70 more migrants will stand before a judge in San Diego. By tomorrow morning, hundreds will be deported across Mexico, forced to fend for themselves with no cell phones, money, and perhaps without the bordado once embroidered for them by their mothers. They have been rejected from the salad bowl of American society because society has dehumanized them to the status of criminal aliens, and cast-aside their cultural heritage, including tortillas cloths- so they sit disintegrating onto the desert floor.

On the table in front of the three hanging bordados lies a piece of white fabric with a loose thread and a needle. Through the Bordado Project, USC students have begun to embroider their own bordados in recognition of the struggle for human rights taking place along the Mexican-American border, in honor of those who have passed away crossing the desert, in honor of the Samaritans that place water in the desert for the crossing migrants, and, finally, in honor of the 86,000 American citizen families that have been separated by deportations since 2008. What can you do? Check out the Bordado Project movie on YouTube, or visit the Fishbowl Chapel, and begin to stitch together your own web of feelings and
actions to contest the unconstitutional and inhuman practices occurring in your country.




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