Lloronas of Juárez by Albert Orozco and Edward Rivero

28th of September 2020

“Lloronas of Juárez” is a narrative of the ongoing violence against migrants, specifically women and children, that is enacted through national borders by settler-colonial states. Through an intersectional analysis, we leverage protest art, historical narrative, and landscape urbanism to re-imagine what the ecologies around the Mexico/U.S. border can become if we move toward more relational ways of connecting to the land. Specifically, our project critiques racist immigration policies, gendered ideologies, and xenophobic logics that converge in the design and construction of borders and prisons. We call attention to the urgency of abolishing detention centers that imprison migrant communities throughout the United States through a story of struggle and resistance portrayed by the protagonists of the story. We hope to dream in solidarity with migrants, immigrant rights activists, critical scholars, artists, designers, as well as other community organizers, who continue to resist empire-building toward the development of a future without borders.   

3:33 am

Ma, Ma, Mama!
Where are you mom?

Juanito woke up from a nightmare on the cold ground floor covered in sweat. His thin space blanket laid a few inches from his grasp and his dilapidated sleeping pad had slipped underneath his feet. Auntie Margarita, who slept next to him, woke up to his screams and began to caress his shoulder.

“shh...shh...shh, everything is going to be okay,” Auntie Margarita whispered.

“I saw La Llorona, the wailing woman, in my dream Auntie” cried Juanito. She was wearing a white dress, trailing me through the Rio Grande in our old city of Juárez, screaming “oh my children, where are my children.” She caught up to me, grabbed me, and then I woke up. Ay! Auntie, I am so scared!”

“My dear boy, there is nothing to be afraid of,” Auntie Margarita assured him. “You know that the story of La Llorona is nothing but a tale adults tell their children to keep them out of the streets at night. I am here with you. Do not be afraid.”

Margarita gazed out into the dark space of the detention center, lost in thought, and focused on the countless children sleeping next to her. As the moonlight danced around the holes of the wired fences that caged them in, Margarita thought about La Llorona’s pain; the pain of losing her children and wandering for an eternity in search for them.

“Auntie?” Juanito asked perplexed by Margarita’s daydreaming. “Isn’t La Llorona an evil witch that kidnaps children?”

“No Juanito. Women are always villainized in these myths created by men. Let me tell you a different story of La Llorona. Remember the maquiladoras, the factories in Juárez, where your mom used to work before we journeyed to the United States? Well, your mother and other maquiladora workers are gathering to come up with a plan to rescue you and all their children. They call themselves “Lloronas of Juárez.” They are a collective of mothers who have been separated from their children by the border patrol. When their bosses go home, they gather in these factories to work on projects that call for the abolition of detention centers and that reimagine the infrastructure along the border.”

Juanito confused, “But aren’t maquiladoras just places to make clothes?”

Yes, but they are more than that now. At night, the Lloronas of Juárez transform the maquiladoras into an after-dark studio. They create art and models that seek to heal the land and restore the natural flows of life. Remember when your mother used to say “water is life?”

Water is life
The waves of the ocean
A sonic potion that calms souls
Flows of river currents so powerful
Carve paths through stones

La Llorona emerges from the lake
Tears drip like rain drops
Her wails thunder throughout the darkness
We feel La Llorona’s pain

Margarita continues “we are all connected by the cycle of water. In fact, you and I, and everyone around us is made up of mostly water. Without water there is no life. Throughout history, empires have built structures to control water systems and carved the land to establish their borders. The Rio Grande, which once ran majestically across what we call the borderlands, now sputters polluted wastewater on the Juárez side of the border. Dams and canals have dismembered the natural flow of the river and Man has named it a border between the U.S. and Mexico. Juanito, this sacred river which provided life and nourishment for thousands of years is now used to divide people from their families.”

“But what does this have to do with my mother and the Lloronas of Juárez?” Juanito wonders.

“Well, as I was saying, the mothers congregate to develop plans that seek to restore the damage done to the Rio Grande and the environment around it since the creation of the U.S./Mexico border. They demand justice for the land, the river, and for migrants like us. I heard from the other women in the detention centers that they have come up with an alternative vision for the borderlands.

The lines that divide will be woven into the cities’ landscape to bring water back to the people. The various tiers that it creates from the center of the river to the other edge will host layers of parks, agriculture, plant reserves, and animal habitats where different life-forms can merge upon a central point: reimagining the current intersection where the border wall, el Rio Grande, and the river border collide. Over the centuries, the borderlands have been dismembered into many pieces by nations created by men. The women believe it is time to restore the land by dismantling the border that scars the earth and restoring the natural order of life. They are meeting with immigrant rights community organizations and there is even a congresswoman from New York that met with some of the women to talk about their vision. The goal is to rejuvenate the landscape along the Rio Grande and reclaim the borderlands as a place of reunification. They plan to create places of mutual exchange alongside the river where families can gather for celebrations and for special ceremonies like Day of the Dead. Rather than serving as a border, the Rio Grande will once again come to life and become a place of unity.

“Juanito, do you remember the pollution and trash all along the Rio Grande?”

“Oh yes auntie I remember. And that awful smell” says Juanito while pinching his nose.

Yes Juanito. The smell of pollution and death lingers all along the rivers’ banks. Buried underneath the soil of the Rio Grande are the memories of all those that lost their lives to the might of the river. We must respect the river and honor all the souls that are now a part of it. The Lloronas of Juárez imagine a landscape along the Rio Grande full of life and flowers. They dream of a reunited river just as they dream of reunited families.

“Juanito, Juanito, Juan.” Margarita whispered to him as she quietly shook him.

Juanito had fallen into a deep slumber. Margarita relieved tugged him close to her and held him in her arms. As she positioned herself to sleep, she smiled and stared at the corner of the cell. For a second, she began to believe her own story. In the three months of being in the detention centers, she heard stories of families on the outside plotting to help them escape from these concentration camps. Day after day, she held onto the hope that her sister Maria was doing all she could to get them out. As she held Juanito closer, she could only wonder where her own children were. Were they okay? Margarita wondered if she would ever see her children again. The two were only five and six years old. They did not know her phone number or have an address to locate her. Worst of all, ICE was not preoccupied with keeping families together and had not given her any means of contacting them. In spite of this, Margarita knew she had to remain hopeful and strong for her nephew Juanito. As she closed her eyes, she held Juanito even tighter and wept:

“Oh my children, where are my children?”

The wailing women
Plant marigolds for fallen souls
The Rio Grande now reconnects
Families separated by border patrols

What happens when mothers’ pain
Interweaves with grassroots work?
A dream blossoms
From collective hope

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