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Planting Another Cross In The Desert: “the Purple Cross, Barely Visible”

Planting Another Cross in the Desert: “the purple cross, barely visible”

Alvaro Enciso is one of the most notable artists in the American Southwest. Among his other work, in recent years he has placed crosses to mark the deaths of more than 900 migrants in the Sonoran desert south of Tucson, each marked with a red dot, like the dots marking the thousands of deaths of immigrants on the “death maps” published by Humane Borders. This is his report from the borderlands earlier this week.


in february of 2019, the skeletal remains of an unidentified female migrant, were recovered in middle canyon wash, a remote area in southern arizona. forensic anthropologists at the pima county office of the medical examiner estimated that her bones had been there 6-8 months. most likely she was part of a group, heading for interstate 10, where their “levanton” had been arranged. the bones were found on one of the banks of the wash where trees provide meager shade and shelter. did she lie under one of those trees and never got up…or was she not able to continue and was left behind by her companions?

yesterday, in the company of rich dillon, tucson samaritans volunteers pete lucero and michelle maggiora, i planted the red cross in her memory. on the way to the death site i came across this old chevrolet riddled with bullet holes. a beautiful chihuahuan raven up on a tree, was probably curious about my interest in such a wreck.

during the monsoon, the middle canyon wash carries a torrent of water from the mountains wiping out a gas pipeline road. on one of the barricades erected to deviate the water somewhat, i saw a small blue painting sitting on it. i was tempted to grab it but i worried that its owner could be nearby.

the purple cross, barely visible, is for marco antonio tapia nunez, a 27-year-old mexican migrant, who succumbed to hyperthermia. i had planted this cross many years ago and i stopped there yesterday to make necessary repairs: this time a cow(her hair was still sticking to one of the nails) had knocked down the horizontal piece. this particular spot where empirita road meets the interstate, was a “levanton” spot for many years, where migrants got rid of backpacks, booties, camo garments, mexican water bottles, etc., so they could pass as local vatos for the last stretch to their final destination. this secluded location was also used by locals for furtive romantic interludes, and also as a place to dump old furniture, broken appliances, etc. yesterday i noticed that some of the trash had been hauled away, and “no dumping, cameras in use” signs had been placed.

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