“These pieces are of course telling very important stories, immigration stories, from our Latino communities, and they are stories that are about transformation,” said Cabrera, who emphasizes that the workshop participants are the authors of these pieces.
“They are stories that talk about their fears, our fears as a Latino community, our dreams, our hopes. They are stories that describe the journey that people have taken to come to the United States.”
Gabriela Garza led the group of mothers from the Scottsdale Prevention Institute. The Navojoa, Sonora, native came to the United States 21 years ago with her husband, living in Los Angeles before settling in Phoenix. She now has her residency.
She points to one side of her saguaro where a figure, with one closed eye showing, has a map of America embroidered on her mind and a map of Mexico with three small white crosses below the heart. She has no regrets about her decision to build her family here and spend 19 years awaiting her residency before she could travel back home.
“When Margarita told us what the materials would be, the [Border Patrol] uniforms, I loved the idea,” Garza said.
Garza, who works with parents in the Latino community, likened the use of the uniforms to the blank slate of children.
“You can see what you want — you can see the green that reminds you of the death, the pain, the sacrifice, everything that represents the power of someone else, their authority, or you can change it and that’s art,” she said.
A Virgin of Guadalupe detail.
Many of the women likened their embroidery to the prickly pear pads on which people carve their names and their loves back home. They’ve embroidered their own experiences of crossing or flying over the border, but also the great rewards they felt from coming to a new country to establish their lives and families.
Lucia Fernandez moves around the room, her piece finished and assembled, to help other women as they trim loose threads and add small blooms to their cactus. She shows a section with a Virgin of Guadalupe, another with a sun and another pad with a moon. She recalls how she felt accompanied by the Virgin when she came to the U.S. and her gratefulness for the sun, which game them heat, and the moon that lit her way through the desert.
“I put my story as well — mostly you leave your family and what divides is a wall ... well, we left our family, and we have to fight for our future.”
She points to a heart. She says half of hers is in Mexico. “We’re divided, I guess.”
She shared the project with her mother and sister back home.
“To remember is beautiful, right? To remember everything that has happened to us.”
Cabrera also works on her own piece, a giant organ pipe cactus that looms in the corner of the room. It is full of small details, images of items found on those who perished in the desert: a Virgin of Guadalupe for prayers, a Bible and a bottle of Vicks VapoRub — someone quickly chimes in that it helps with chapped lips and that they had used garlic to keep snakes away.
The stories are all different. Some like Paola Iniesta, who had never picked up a needle in her life, entered the United States with a visa and initially felt she didn’t have a story to share and was humbled to hear the experiences of others.
“I didn’t cross the desert, I didn’t live through what some of these women lived through and a moment came when I asked myself what do I do,” said Iniesta, who is still here on a visa. “Maybe I didn’t live that experience, but I also had to leave my family, leave my mother and my nieces and nephews.”
She misses her traditions, the food and the mariachis.
“My story, my story is a little bit about leaving the place where we lived, our house and others to come and chase the American dream,” she said.