The cool, black steel of the United States-Mexico border fence stands forebodingly in Nogales, Mexico. Its snakelike structure dominates the city’s landscape.

This is the fence that separates mothers from children, husbands from wives and thousands of migrants from their dreams of a better life.

On Sept. 26, at the Regina A. Quick Center, the fence also became the central focus of an exhibit titled “Solidarity on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Kino Border Initiative in Words, Deeds, and Images.”

The exhibit featured two distinct parts, each aimed at investigating the physical border between the U.S. and Mexico and dissecting the ideological borders that separate citizens of the two nations.

“Boundaries are not just geographical. They exist among us,” said Dr. Janie Leatherman, director of international studies at Fairfield, who introduced the exhibit.

First to take the stage was Rev. Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, a binational organization focused on promoting workable and safe migration between the U.S. and Mexico.

In order to understand the bleak realities that many undocumented immigrants face, “we need to put one foot on each side of the border,” Carroll advised the audience.

Since being founded in 2009, the KBI has aimed to do just that.

Comprised of several organizations in both northern Mexico as well as in Arizona, the KBI has founded three humanitarian outposts in Nogales that provide aid to migrants who have undergone the perilous trek through the Sonoran desert to the border, only to be deported back to Mexico, their hopes of a new life dashed.

According to Carroll, many arrive at the centers in a far worse state than when they first embarked. Some are severely dehydrated, their only source of water being cattle troughs found in the desert. After weeks of walking across the hot sand, many have crippling blisters that leave them unable to walk. Women are particularly vulnerable, and often are victims of assault and rape. Many families have been separated, some members gaining access over the border, while others are deported.

The faces of these unknown men and women become more and more clear as Carroll continued to speak.

“When people arrive at our centers they stare at their feet. Their body language communicates despair, desperation and fear,” he said.

After spending time at the center under the warm care of the staff, being fed hot meals twice a day and receiving medical attention, Carroll says the change is palpable. “They stand straighter, their faces are brighter, and they are ready for what comes next.”

Yet, what comes next for the unsuccessful immigrants may be disheartening. Most return back to their towns and cities, often to circumstances of abuse, violence and extreme poverty.

In a study conducted by the KBI, 12.7 percent of immigrants polled said that violence was a factor in their decision to migrate.

Of people detained, 53.1 percent were separated from their families.

However, bearing constant witness to the struggles and heartaches of these migrants does not dampen Carroll’s optimism.

“We also witness good,” said Carroll. “We witness the inner strength of the rape victim, the reverence of the migrants praying before a meal, and the dedication of the staff.”

Next to take the stage was Pamela Hoffmeister, an artist aiming to give faces to the thousands of undocumented workers in the U.S. that, as she puts it, are “forced to live in the shadows.”

Through her variety of colorful portraits carrying titles such as “Cleaning Ladies,” “Eating at Comedor,” “Possibility” and “Hope,” Hoffmeister illuminates the everyday lives of these workers.

Interestingly, the workers themselves do not dominate the paintings. Their faces are indistinct and often camouflage with the backdrop to the point where they can barely be seen.

“They don’t want to be picked out,” Hoffmeister said.

The exhibit particularly moved some students.

“I was crying,” Lizbel Escamilla ‘14 admits. As the child of two immigrants, she is no stranger to the plight that many undocumented workers face.

“I wish people would understand their suffering instead of just judging,” she added, gazing up at Hoffmeister’s paintings.

Other students expressed feelings of helplessness. “It’s good for students to be aware,” Emma Byrne ‘17 said. “But I’m not sure how much we can do about the problem.”

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