The reasons for crossing the border are many, but they usually are about being able to provide money to loved ones back home or to start a new life in a different country. Each tag shown here represents a real person who had such dreams.
The dots in this graphic represent deaths in the Sonoran Desert section of the southern US border. Hundreds of migrants die each year attempting to cross this region. The toe tags that comprise the Hostile Terrain 94 exhibit that will be at the Flint Farmers' Market from November 13th until November 27th serve as an illustration of this human tragedy.
The weather and landscape of the Sonoran desert are not the only hostilities that impact migrants. The militarization of the U.S. border, xenophobic violence, human trafficking, detentions, and prolonged processing all contribute to this desperate state of affairs. In fact, US border policy specifically pushes migrants towards the Sonoran Desert, ostensibly in the hopes that its "hostile terrain" will deter them from trying to enter the US. It is from this policy, which in practice has resulted in the thousands of deaths memorialized by this exhibit, that Hostile Terrain 94 takes its name.
"They play a game here but nobody watches from a box seat. The players are called wets by those who hunt them. They cross a hot desert, a dry desert, one of North America's benchmarks for thirst and they cross with one or two gallons of water. They walk thirty, forty, fifty, sixty miles in order to score. The goal line here means not six points but a job. Here are the rules. Get caught and you go back to Mexico. Make it across and you get a job in the fields or backrooms. Don't make it and you die."-- Charles Bowden
Hundreds of migrants die per year as they attempt to cross the border into the United States from Mexico. Mostly these lost souls have remained nameless and faceless to the American people. Although the term 'border crisis' is often used to refer to the supposed problem of illegal immigration, the toll of detention and death of migrants and refugees must be considered a crisis that no civilized nation could ignore.
Hostile Terrain Flint is an offshoot of the project entitled Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94), a participatory art project sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a non-profit research-art-education-media collective, directed by anthropologist Jason De León. The exhibition is composed of over 3,200 handwritten toe tags that represent migrants who have died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert of Arizona between the mid-1990s and 2019. These tags are geolocated on a wall map of the desert showing the exact locations where remains were found. This installation will simultaneously take place at a large number of institutions, both nationally and globally in 2021 throughout 2022.
Through the leadership of the the Mott CC Office of Experiential Learning, during early and mid-April the Hostile Terrain artifacts produced for the Farmers' Market display will be on view at the Mott Community College Library, where the hours are Mon&Tue 8am-7pm, Wed&Thu 8am-5pm, Fri&Sun 12pm-5pm.
Hostile Terrain-Flint would like to thank all of the various participants and community partners who have pitched in to make this initiative happen at some point over the past two years. These include, but by no means are limited to: the Anthropology Club at the University of Michigan-Flint; the Anthropology Program at the University of Michigan-Flint; the Arab American Heritage Council; the Center for Global Engagement at the University of Michigan-Flint; the Flint Farmers' Market; the Flint Public Library; the grantees of a CS Mott Foundation Civic Engagement Grant; the Intercultural Center at the University of Michigan-Flint; student, staff, and faculty volunteers at Mott Community College; the Mott Community College Feminist League; former Interim Provost of the University of Michigan-Flint Susan Alcock; the International Center of Greater Flint; the International Institute at Mott Community College; Latinos United for Advancement at the University of Michigan-Flint; the International Students Organization at the University of Michigan-Flint; the Latinx Technology and Community Center; the Office of the Provost, University of Michigan-Flint; the Undocumented Migration Project; and student, staff, and faculty volunteers from the University of Michigan-Flint. Market image copyright Michael Barera (creative commons attribution).