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Bi-National Effort Saves Community Mural

NOGALES, Ariz. – A community mural painted on the border wall separating the U.S. and Mexico was saved from the scrap heap this month through a bi-national effort, and an artist who was integral to its creation and salvation says he hopes the artwork, which represents popular resistance, will one day rise again at its original location.

The 60-foot-long mural, titled “Vida y Suenos de la Canada Perla,” or “Life and Dreams of the Perla Ravine,” was painted by people from both sides of the border in 2005 on the Sonoran face of the landing-mat fence running through Ambos Nogales, a few hundred yards west of the DeConcini port.

It’s a replica of a mural painted in 1998 by Tzetzal Indians on the façade of the community center of Taniperla, Chiapas, to represent their lives and dreams after declaring themselves part of an autonomous Zapatista revolutionary municipality. However, on April 11, 1998, a day after the mural and the autonomous municipality were inaugurated, the Mexican Army retook control of the town, destroyed the mural and jailed the man who had directed its creation, university professor Sergio Valdez.

The mural: Community members from both sides of the border painted a replica of “Vida y Suenos de la Canada Perla” on the landing-mat fence in Nogales, Sonora, in the spring of 2005.

Nogales, Sonora-based artist Guadalupe Serrano, who along with his creative partner Alberto Morackis brought Valdez to the border city for the re-creation project in 2005, said that after U.S. crews replacing the 2.8-mile-long landing-mat fence with a taller, stronger barrier reached the downtown area last month, city officials warned him that the “Vida y Suenos” replica might also be destroyed.

At the same time, he said, he learned that wheels had also begun to turn in Arizona in an effort to save the mural.

“What happened was that in Tucson, there’s an organization called the Sierra Club, and a guy from that organization named Dan Millis got in touch with Congressman Raul Grijalva,” Serrano said.

Grijalva responded by dispatching staffer Ruben Reyes to coordinate with the Border Patrol, who then worked with contractor Granite Construction to arrange a safe takedown and handover of the mural panels to Serrano.

Early last Thursday, Serrano and members of his art collective Taller Yonke (Junk Studio) showed up at the border fence with a trailer and some tools to dismantle and haul off the mural panels after a Granite Construction crane lifted them off their footing in the United States and laid them on the ground in Mexico.

“We saved the whole mural,” Serrano said. “There were just two pieces at the end that were already gone.”

The idea for the mural project, he said, came when he met Valdez during a trip to Mexico City. Serrano knew the history of the original mural, and how communities from South America to Europe had re-created it in public spaces as a show of solidarity and resistance. So he asked Valdez to help with a re-creation on the border wall in Nogales, “for what the mural means and what the wall represents,” he said.

Aided by a patron in Hermosillo and an art collective called La Linea, Serrano and Morackis invited people from across Sonora and southern Arizona to paint the mural in the spring of 2005.

The centerpiece of the colorful painting is a depiction of two doves holding banners reading “Chiapas,” “Peace” and “Mexico,” as a campesino man and woman walk toward them. Above, Emiliano Zapata, the land-reform hero of the Mexican Revolution, rides a horse and sports a bandana reading, “La tierra es de quien la trabaja,” or “The land belongs to the person who works it.”

The mural’s political imagery perhaps didn’t have an immediate connection to Nogales and its border wall, Serrano said, but the history of its creation and the efforts to re-create it did.

“More than anything, it was that it was a form of resistance and a representation of what the community could accomplish,” he said. “The social issues don’t have a lot of direct relevance here, but as a representation of civil resistance, that makes it significant.”

Grijalva said the cross-border community effort that created it in Nogales, Sonora also made the local version of the mural significant, and worth saving.

“This mural tells the story of our border community just as strongly as any words,” the congressman said. “One day we’ll look back on this work of art and thank ourselves for preserving it when we had the chance.”

As for the future, Serrano said, once the fence construction project finishes, he’d like to mount “Vida y Suenos de la Canada Perla” against the newer, bigger border barrier that replaced its original canvas.

“We’re going to wait for them to conclude the work, and then we’re going to have to talk with the Border Patrol to see if we’ll be able to install it there again,” Serrano said, though he noted there may be resistance to the idea.

Photo Credit – ap Photo Courtesy lil mattingly
Cutline – This 60-foot mural painted on a former landing-mat border fence by the community in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, was taken down from its latest location along the border. It is expected to be restored, perhaps at the same location.