The faces of immigrants confronting jail time for crossing the border and the voices of journalists who risked death for doing their job are the centerpieces of “The Documented Border” archive on exhibit at the University of Arizona library.
The multidisciplinary project brings together work from associate art professor Lawrence Gipe with interviews conducted by Celeste González de Bustamante and Jeannine Relly, associate professors at the School of Journalism.
The exhibit also includes material from the library’s Borderlands collections.
Gipe’s sketches capture participants in Operation Streamline, a fast-track court program meant to discourage illegal immigration by giving prison sentences to those detained at the border.
No cameras are allowed inside the federal court, where up to 70 people a day go through the program, so the illustrations offer a glimpse into a rarely seen aspect of life in the region.
It is these little-documented or untold stories and events, taking place “during a time of unprecedented change” along the border, that the archive was created for, said González de Bustamante.
“By unprecedented change, I’m talking about the increase in violence, the politics of migration and the militarization of the border,” she said.
She and Relly contributed oral histories from journalists to the archive. Many of those interviewed have been threatened or had colleagues killed in the last decade as a result of decreasing freedom of expression in northern Mexico.
“They have had to change dramatically the way they practice journalism because of the power of drug cartels and corrupt government officials,” she said.
The material included in the archive is unprecedented and offers a unique perspective few have access to, said Verónica Reyes-Escudero, Borderlands curator for the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections.
“We tend to hear the stories these journalists report on, but we don’t get to hear their own voice and what that means to put those stories out there,” she said. “The same with the sketches. We don’t get to see the people going through these processes, so professor Gipe has in a way given them a voice, even if it’s a silent sketch.”
The archive, funded by the university’s Confluencecenter for Creative Inquiry, is also available online and officially launches Wednesday. To celebrate the unveiling there will be a presentation by Luis Alberto Urrea, the author of “The Devil’s Highway,” a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction that chronicles the deaths of 14 immigrants in the Arizona desert.
González de Bustamante said the archive is meant to be expanded, and she expects other colleges on campus and members of the community will contribute to the project.
“The border is such a unique place, with such a rich history and culture, and a lot of that gets overlooked,” she said. “What we hope is that these initial deposits will be the start of something much bigger in the future.”