Rethinking the Border

Memorializing the Dead

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Dreams denied

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.

An awful stream of data

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.

Lethal divisions

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.


Now Showing at Mott CC Library

Traveling Exhibit

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.  


Cultural events program 


Each day of November, UM Flint Art & Art History faculty member Christian Gerstheimer, working with student interns, staged an artistic intervention related to borders and border crossings somewhere in the city of Flint.  The assorted interventions / activities and interviews were planned with students and put in place by students at locations they identified as being a border to somewhere else (maybe a neighborhood boundary or city limit).  Here's more information about Gerstheimer's 'November Project'  including this :

Responses by the public to each performance/ intervention were documented each day at each location using video and photography. The research is the new knowledge generated through these activities and interventions. It was a very busy month, but much was learned about the pros and cons of immigration in the United States and elsewhere.  Please see the calendar of the month of November which corresponds to and has the information about each day's activities and the location in which they took place. In some cases, we changed our planned location because there were not enough people around with whom to speak. We appreciate very much that we were invited to collaborate with the Hostile Terrain exhibition organizers because the collaboration greatly enriched this year's project.


Musical Performance

At the Farmers' Market

El Ballet Foklórico Estudantil will play music at the Hostile Terrain Flint installation site in the Flint Farmers' Market on Saturday from 2:00-2:30pm.  Thanks to the Flint Farmers' Market and the UM-Flint Arts and Culture Research Cluster for helping to make this happen.


Hostile Terrain Flint Exhibition Open

At the Flint Farmers' Market during normal operating hours

November 13-27 (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9am-5pm).


Tag posting day 

Putting up the Exhibit

Volunteers needed at the Flint Farmers' Market beginning at  9:30 AM, to get the wall moved into the Market at 10 AM.  Then we will finish the pinning between 10 AM and 5 PM.  It is really important that we have some sense of who is coming on Friday,  especially at the beginning to help move the exhibit.  (The exhibit is on wheels and will require multiple volunteers.   It would be great if volunteers could fill in the following When2Meet to help with planning on Friday.


Exhibition Opening & Film

At the Kiva auditorium

From 5:00-8:30 PM

Interactive Public Art Discussion and Screening of "Border South" followed by Q/A with director Raúl O. Paz Pastrana

Kiva Auditorium

1st Floor Harding Mott University Center

303 E. Kearsley Street
Flint, MI 48502


Pinning of Tags on Wall Mat

U of M Flint Campus

From 12pm-2pm. You don't have to stay throughout. Drop-ins are welcome.  Contact us for more details.

Flint Theater

In the atrium facing French Hall

373-599 E. Kearsley Street
Flint, MI 48502


Pinning of Tags on Wall Mat

U of M Flint Campus

From 9:30am-12pm and 1:00pm-3:30pm. You don't have to stay throughout. Drop-ins are welcome.  Contact us for more details.

Flint Theater

In the atrium facing French Hall

373-599 E. Kearsley Street
Flint, MI 48502

11/4/2021 & 11/5/2021 

Fill in Toe Tags

Center for Global Engagement

From 12-3pm on 11/4,  fill in toe tags and learn about the border crossers whom the exhibit memorializes.  

From 10am-2pm on 11/5, fill in any remaining toe tags AND bring all the tags back.

Center for Global Engagement

219 University Center

303 E. Kearsley Street
Flint, MI 48502

CGE Website

Filling in Toe Tags

Various Flint Locations

Contact us for more details.


National Immigrants Day

Event with the ICC 

This National Immigrant's Day event will be from 12-2pm in the  Intercultural Center at the University of Michigan Flint.  It will involve the opportunity to fill in tags and record oneself reading tags for a short video that will uploaded to this website.  There will be food. Open to the public.  

Intercultural Center

115 University Center

303 E. Kearsley Street
Flint, MI 48502

ICC Website

Project Development Event

Global Learning Community in 1st Street Residence

Filled out toe tags and learned about the border crossers whom the exhibit memorializes.

Contact us

Please enter a correct email address.

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).