The Border Wall in Tijuana. Photographic Prints of the Art Oblations/Interventions in Memory of the Dead Migrants 1999-2021

The installation was made at the end of October. It was placed in large letters on a wooden support, with the legend Alto a Guardián in capital letters.

Guillermo Alonso Meneses

El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Tijuana, Mexico.


Guillermo Alonso Meneses, Playas de Tijuana, 1999, autumn.

The images belong to a film (slide) and printed photos, later scanned, obtained with a Minolta DYNAX 500 si Reflex analog camera, with a 28-80 AF Zoom. They correspond to one of the first artistic interventions on the wall in Playas de Tijuana that was made on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the launching of Operation Gatekeeper/Guardian 1994-1999. The installation took place at the end of October. Large letters were placed on a wooden stand, with the legend "alto a guardián" in capital letters. Inside each letter were drawn dozens of calaca skulls; the calaca or skull emerges as an important iconographic and symbolic element. And separately, to the right, several wooden panels painted in white were installed with the names, origin and age -or else, the legend "unidentified"- of 473 migrants who had died in those first 5 years. The installation with the names was reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., where the names of thousands of Vietnam War dead and other Southeast Asian conflicts are inscribed on a black granite wall. As so often before, only the names of the victims and their powerful memory remain on public display.

Guillermo Alonso Meneses, bulevar airport, 2000 and 2004.

This image was taken with a Kodak cx7430 digital camera on May 29, 2004. In the Via Crucis of the year 2000, where the airport road turns before reaching Colonia Libertad, an installation was made with a central cross where a figure made with pants and shirt represented a crucified migrant. On both sides there are three smaller white crosses with the years 1995 to 2000 and at the bottom the number of migrants killed each year at the border guarded by the Guardián operation. The wall is the original, painted in red; and although it cannot be seen in its entirety, below the installation was painted the legend: "how many more?"


Guillermo Alonso Meneses, Airport Blvd., 2003.

Another installation in the same area, halfway between Colonia Libertad and the main airport building, next to the highway, was made by Baja California artist Alberto Caro. At the end of October 2003 he installed nine coffins painted with different colors and motifs, on each one he painted the year, the number of victims and vertically: "deaths". Later he added a tenth coffin with the legend written in black: "how many more?" And in 2004, on top of this last one, three white signs were placed with the year 2004, the number of deceased, which was 373, and in vertical: "deaths". The installation of coffins is an iconographic singularity, it represents the death of migrants, and the statistics reflect the rescued and identified victims who are those who achieve a dignified burial. Its visual impact is greater because of its evident symbolism, by factually linking the wall with death and turning it into a necro-artefact of an opprobrious necro-politics (necro-politics in the descriptive sense; not in the sense of the analytical category proposed by Mbembe). Taken with Kodak cx7430 digital camera on May 29, 2004.

Guillermo Alonso MenesesThe crossroads next to the boulevard or road to the Tijuana airport and on the descent to Colonia Libertad., 2003 a 2004.

Crosses, a Roman instrument of torture and execution widespread in the Latin world of antiquity and re-signified in Christianity as a symbol of Christ [versalitas]inri[/versalitas], a sacred symbol of redemption and forgiveness, were placed on the border wall to remember/denounce the deaths of migrants. "When someone dies, their family brings a cross with their name on it to their grave" (Smith). Also because two of the original celebrations were the Christmas posadas (the pregnant Virgin Mary and St. Joseph as migrants) and the Stations of the Cross of Catholic Holy Week. Since at least 1997 there has been an annual count, for each death counted a white cross was placed with information of someone identified or else, with the legend "unidentified". The detail of the cross has the name and age of a young victim and a postcard with the main motif of the 2003 Playas poster. Obtained with Kodak cx7430 digital camera, May 2004.

Sore and necro-expositor installation

Guillermo Alonso Meneses, airport boulevard and the limits of Colonia Libertad, respectively., 2004.

In 2004, in addition to placing a hundred white crosses on the airport boulevard, Michael Schnorr and other BAW/TAF members painted on four planks, which were anchored to the border wall at intervals and in the spaces of separation, the representation of a bleeding wound with a meaningful phrase: "The border... an open wound. Gloria Anzaldúa had written: "The U.S.-Mexican border is an open wound where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms, it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country -a border culture" (1987: 25). The necro-exhibitor, as a display case and reliquary of mortal remains, consists of a piece of furniture where there are still some wilted and dried marigold flowers (the photo is from several days after the Day of the Dead in 2004). Behind, as a scenographic background, a huge marigold flower in the center of which, as a stanza of a skull: "unidentified... by their government forgotten". On the ground to the left of the image you can see the 2004 sign that reads: "Guardian here began... ten years later, 3000 deaths achieved". On the cross above, a wilted flower from the last celebration and a postcard with the main motif of the 2004 Playas poster. This installation was made in the same place where years ago was the cross with the crucified migrant. Taken with Kodak cx7430 digital camera, May 2004.

Guillermo Alonso MenesesPlayas de Tijuana, 2004.

A significant date was 2004, the 10th anniversary of the Border Patrol's Operation Border Patrol Guardian on October 1, during which time there were an estimated 3,000 victims. The commemorative art installation consisted of three canvases (4.2 meters long by 2.5 meters high) and a wooden plank of "triplay" (2.5 meters long by 2.5 meters high), anchored to the wall, showing a calaca sitting in a desert landscape at the foot of a saguaro tree holding two empty gallons symbolizing death by dehydration and heat in the deserts. On the complementary tarpaulins was written the skull "Guardian... here it began. Ten years later, 3000 dead achieved." The installation was painted by Todd Stands and Susan Yamagata, and funded by CRLAF directed by Claudia Smith and the Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante. The emblematic elements of the iconography are the calaca (a half-body skeleton) and the empty water gallon symbolizing thirst and death by dehydration in the desert. Augé noted: "Memories are molded by oblivion as the sea molds the contours of the shore" (1998:12). The images also show how the steel wall, after more than a decade, was crumbling due to the corrosive power of the saltpeter from the sea, pulverizing the steel into rust. Another metaphor of the memory/forgetfulness dialectic. Taken with Kodak cx7430 digital camera, May 2004.

11 years of Guardian and altar

Guillermo Alonso MenesesPlayas de Tijuana, 2005.

The photographs were taken with a Kodak cx7430 digital camera, October/November 2005. That year the installation of synthetic tarps with printed photos and names commemorating eleven years of Border Patrol operations in the region, and the altar of that year placed against the fence on the sand of the beach stand out. The cempasúchil, braceros to burn copal, candy calacas and candles stand out. Behind a painting with the theme of the desert that ironically shows the presence of civilian vigilantes among the "dead". The year 2005 was the year of the migrant-hunting movement called Minuteman. The wall that can be seen, irregular and imperfect, was built to replace the original one. Months later it was rebuilt.

Border gates

Guillermo Alonso MenesesPlayas de Tijuana, 2005.

In 2005, the installation of three paintings with three gates used for the "Posada del Migrante" (Migrant's Posada) on the renovated fence of Playas, next to the lighthouse, stands out. After that celebration they were taken to the beach, near the lighthouse. Two doors are closed, symbolizing the effects of the wall and surveillance, the third is open, but opens onto the lethal deserts of the border; quite a death trap. Each painting is 2.5 meters long by 1 meter wide. The authors were Todd Stands and Susan Yamagata. Funded by CRLAF and the Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante. The photograph was taken with a Kodak cx7430 digital camera.

Protest against the Minuteman

Guillermo Alonso Meneses, Playas de Tijuana, 2005.

In the spring of 2005, a demonstration was held in the United States against the MinutemenThey had nothing to do with the pro-migrant organizations in Tijuana. The place is the Parque de la Amistad/Frienship Park of binational character since 1971, where the border cairn is located. The paper crosses are a remembrance of the fallen migrants. On a poster board someone painted: "Make Friends, No Fences". As the days passed the wind left no trace. Another day someone hung a synthetic banner with the slogan "No al muro de la muerte/ No Border Wall". Taken with a Kodak cx7430 digital camera, May 2005.

Day of the Dead

Guillermo Alonso MenesesPlayas de Tijuana, 2007.

In 2007 an installation was made in wood, but a windstorm in Santana disbanded it a few days later. The three-dimensional work was constructed in wood and later painted with skulls or calacas with names on their foreheads, representing the more than 400 migrants who died so far this year. It was a collective work made by students of the Border Arts Workshop at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, San Diego, an institution to which Schnorr was linked.

The iconography was formed from calacas that have something of skulls of a "Tzompantli" and the "Catrina", the latter with an aesthetic that goes from José Guadalupe Posada to Diego Rivera, gave a twist. But although these manifestations have genuinely American roots that can be traced back to before 1492 or to Mexico in the 19th and 20th centuries, the fact is that the cult of the dead or the religious and profane symbolization of skulls is ancient. Belting tells us that the so-called Jericho skulls discovered more than 4000 years ago, which were covered with a layer of lime and then painted, are images of death, however much they are painted (Belting, 2007: 181). These calacas, however, intertwine the image of death with the life of memory. Obtained with a Casio EXP600 digital camera.


Guillermo Alonso Meneses, Playas de Tijuana, October/November 2009.

One of the most ambitious, impactful and significant artistic interventions was the 2009 Day of the Dead installation, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Operation Guardian. The Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante and CRLAF promoted Susan Yamagata and Michael Schnorr's proposal to build, paint and place 5100 white crosses, one for each of the deaths of migrants crossing the border in the period 1994-2009. The crosses were placed on the Day of the Dead on part of the wall in front of the lighthouse along a length of almost 50 meters, and on one side the skull written on a board with a frame of fresh cempasúchil flowers: "In fifteen years of Guardian, more than 5,100 dead are going". At the top were still the desert gates of 2005. The art installations were not only an annual ritual, intertwined as they were with the annual calendar of Catholic celebrations, but also had something of a Miccantlamanalli (offerings of the dead). Obtained with a Panasonic DMC-TZ4 digital camera.

Canadian street artist

Guillermo Alonso MenesesPlayas de Tijuana, 2010.

In December 2010 the entire fence of Playas de Tijuana at the height of the lighthouse was replaced; it was a clean slate. The place was unrecognizable and the artistic interventions that coexisted weeks before were destroyed. The first intervention on the current wall was made by a Canadian artist. The subject is a caution road sign found at the beginning of the freeways south of San Diego; it represents three members of a family crossing a highway. The technique used is that of the "stencil" or stencil. Obtained with a Pentax Reflex k-r digital camera and an AF 18-200 mm telephoto lens.

Guillermo Alonso Meneses, Playas de Tijuana, October/November 2010.

In 2010 Susan Yamagata's commemorative painting caricatures Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his harsh and undignified treatment of captured migrants. It coincides in space with the mural Border Angels, A Desert Door from 2005 and the crosses from 2009. Some days they put up calacas of approximately two meters. A juxtaposition of elements began to take place, announcing the struggle for space that took place later and that saturated the wall in 2021. Something that usually happens in street art in privileged and disputed spaces. Obtained with a Pentax Reflex k-r digital camera and an AF 18-200 mm telephoto lens.


Guillermo Alonso MenesesPlayas de Tijuana, 2010.

In 2010, a graffiti entitled Border Angels [Boder Angels is a US pro-migrant organization], with stylized human figures painted in white and with a red cross inside, stands out. The whole is reminiscent of the iconography and strokes of New York street artist Keith Haring. The work has the slogan: "Not one more death!. Reform Now!" It was signed by P. Breu. At that time the space was not contested by other artists or activists and the works could coexist in the space without being totally juxtaposed. Taken with a Panasonic DMC-TZ4 digital camera.

Guillermo Alonso Meneses, Playas de Tijuana, 2012.

In 2012 it can be said that it was the last great artistic installation of these collectives that fight for the defense and memory of migrants, for the Day of the Dead. The new fence had not yet succumbed under the paint of those who fight for the space to print their mark. The place chosen was in front of the lighthouse, near the international boundary marker. A giant calaca and 18 skulls were installed, from 1995 to 2012, and at their feet a small altar with offerings. As well as a sign with the legend: "Guardian... here it began. 18 years later, 5,800 deaths achieved". It was 18 years with the Guardián operation; more than 18 years of struggle. Sponsored by the Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante, the installation was created by San Diego artists Susan Yamagata and Todd Stands. The installation arguably marked the culmination of an era; Michael Schnorr had passed away that same year. Taken with a Panasonic DMC-TZ4 digital camera.

Veteran deportees. Other claims and commemorations.

Guillermo Alonso MenesesPlayas de Tijuana, February 2013.

Deportations began to increase in Bill Clinton's second term and increased in the Bush Jr. and Obama terms. In the summer of 2013, deported military veterans joined together and painted a mural next to the Parque de la Amistad/Friendship Park, next to the lighthouse, in Playas de Tijuana. It was born in remembrance of deported veterans, some of whom had passed away without being able to return to the US. Its presence and boom coincides with a period in which the traditional installations for dead migrants decline. Obtained with a Pentax Reflex k-r digital camera and an AF 18-200 mm telephoto lens.

Deportees 2019 restoring the mural, before and after.

Guillermo Alonso Meneses, Playas de Tijuana, February 2022.

Six years after the first intervention of the deported veterans on the fence in Playas de Tijuana, the deterioration of both the paint and the metal was already evident. It was also evident that the surface of the wall in that place was saturated with graffiti and interventions of all kinds. The images show its restoration. After two decades, with different changes that transformed it materially, the place was no longer a lonely and abandoned corner where a few times a year the dead migrants were commemorated. It had metamorphosed into an iconic place. Taken with a Panasonic DMC-TZ4 digital camera.

The wall as a tourist site

Guillermo Alonso Meneses, 2019.

The process of metamorphosis that the wall underwent in Playas de Tijuana and that turned it into an iconic scenery, soon began to attract local, national, U.S. and other tourists from other latitudes such as China. The wall underwent remodeling and reconstruction. It can be said that there is no longer space for the artistic interventions of years ago to manifest themselves alone. Belting's remark was fulfilled, there are places that become photographic places (2007: 268). From its beginnings, the wall attracted looks beyond those of activists, artists and passers-by, it became normalized as an object-place that attracts photographic cameras and those who look behind them. This had already happened with the Berlin Wall. Taken with a Panasonic DMC-TZ4 digital camera.

Guillermo Alonso Meneses, the wall on the boulevard near the airport, 2021, and Playas de Tijuana, 2022.

In recent years, the wall both in Playas de Tijuana and on the boulevard that runs parallel to the airport has undergone major changes. No one would recognize the stretches where crosses, artistic interventions and graffiti remembering dead migrants and other injustices used to hang. The same happens on the wall in Playas de Tijuana in the stretch of several hundred meters from the ocean. Photo 73 shows the saturation of interventions, photo 74 contrasts with the first photo of this essay, photo 75 shows a migrant jumping over the wall with a metal ladder. After 30 years the wall is still being jumped. The effort and work of activists, artists and organizations that for decades fought against oblivion evaporated. Soon only photographs will remain. Taken with an Iphone SE and a Panasonic DMC-TZ4 digital camera.

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