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For 3,000 miles, Central American refugees ride on a train known as “The Beast” in hopes of making it into the United States. The frequency of kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, rape, and homicide puts Central American migrants’ plight in Mexico atop the list of the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian emergencies. It is reported that six out of ten women are raped and over 20,000 immigrants a year are kidnapped. Refugees from Central America are demonized as invaders while the root causes of this migration remain hidden from our current news feeds and circles of discussion.


In October of 2014, EDELO traveled to two different immigrant refugee safe houses at the southern Mexican border. The first, where we lived for one month, was a rehabilitation center for immigrants suffering from lost limbs and serious injury. We acted out collaborative performances with over 40 immigrants based on their recent lived experiences and together painted two murals within the refugee homes. Through the mural painting we established a working relationship and created an atmosphere of co-authorship and enthusiasm while transforming the architectural environment. We also visited the Suchiate River and collaborated with Central American children crossing by raft in an all-day public performance. These sculptural performances allowed us to revisit the ritualistic aspects of migration in a theatrical form and use materials as a vehicle for collective and individual expression.

LA 72

One of EDELO Migrante’s first Arte Urgente projects was Walking the Beast (2014), which Duarte, Rollow and Kak developed with migrants/refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras traveling through Mexico. Walking the Beast emerged from workshops that were held at two migrant/ refugee safehouses, La 72 in Tenosique, Tabasco, and Albergue El Buen Jesu´s Pastor in Tapachula, Chiapas, located at Mexico’s southern border. According to Duarte, Fray Toma´s, the lead organizer of La 72, wanted to make the cause of migrants/refugees from Central America more visible within the town, which he thought could be done through dramatic public performances. The artists lived at each shelter for two weeks, during which time they collaborated with migrants/refugees painting murals, recording stories, and sharing meals.


This collaboration was inspired by the broader political goals of Fray Toma´s, who dreams of “a radical, mobilized migrant collective,” which also involves artistic production.  As he states, “Here we’re creating a new world, to give migrants ...a new political identity ...So we have to work towards this political identity, of migrants as collective subjects and bearers of rights capable of revolutionizing the world.” Indeed, at La 72, art plays an important role insofar as “every wall, every color, every mural, every message is made to revive this new inclusive

identity among migrants.” Fray Toma’s philosophy stems from his knowledge of liberation theology, which emphasizes the power of popular movements, and he describes La 72 “with some irony as ‘liberated territory.’” The authors of the Hemisphere Institute’s Dossier on Art, Migration and Human Rights (2015), who interviewed Fray Toma´s, contend that he thinks of La 72 “as an autonomous zone like a Zapatista community,” and “seeks to help them [migrants/refugees] realize their power to resist and organize against the forces that would claim to have power over them”.

EDELO’s collaborations with migrants/refugees at La 72 and Albergue El Buen Jesu´s Pastor took place as the United States gave Mexico US $86 million to develop Plan Frontera Sur (PFS) as a means to deport migrants/ refugees from Central America at the Mexico-Guatemala border. The Mexican government developed PFS in 2014 as thousands of unaccompanied youth and families from the Northern Triangle fled their countries to the United States. It also increased checkpoints on roads, and constructed a border wall between Mexico and Guatemala, which prompted migrants/refugees from Central America to cross in more remote locations. PFS overwhelmingly increased the number of apprehensions of migrants/refugees from Central America at the Guatemala-Mexico border, leading to mass deportations and decreasing the number of migrant/refugee youth reaching the United States.

During the Arte Urgente workshop, some young migrants/refugees acted out performances while waiting for the cargo train—referred to as La Bestia (“The Beast”)—that carries migrants/refugees from Central America through Mexico. As part of Walking the Beast, a group of teenage boys were part of a performance that involved crossing the Suchiate River on the GuatemalaMexico border by raft. They painted their bodies bright colors, including the pink and orange paints used for the murals, representing themselves as similar to the commercial goods that move freely across national borders. While the piece involved performing the capitalistic circulation of commodities enabled by agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and CAFTA-DR, it also challenged forms of border control established by the United States at the Guatemala/Mexico border as part of PFS. This public performance was dramatic and surreal, and the paint made the migrants/refugees more visible as they crossed the river, highlighting the ways that, as Duarte notes, they already stand out as migrants/refugees in Mexico. Yet the paint also obscured their identities, representing a form of protection through art as they crossed national boundaries. The piece thus narrates the contradictions between the ways that these nation-states attempt to constrain people’s movements across national borders, which contrasts with the free flow of goods in a river located between two nations. The teenage boys’ embodied performance and emphasis on mobility and migration across national and colonial borders also challenges the policies of settler states that Harsha Walia refers to as “border imperialism.”

-Excerpt from The Work of Arte Urgente - Performative Acts of Political and Artistic Imagination by Rebecca M Schreiber

Chiapas Mexico 2014

EDELO Collaborative lead by Caleb Duarte, Mia Eve and Saul Kak

La 72 & Buen Pastor Refugee Safe Houses, Suchiate River Border

Three-Month Residencies, Community Workshops and Performances


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