Artist Alvaro Enciso lives in Tucson, Arizona, on the southeastern edge of the Sonoran Desert. The walls of his house are covered with his colorful art; many of the current pieces are made from old tin cans left behind in the desert by migrants who crossed the border into Arizona. The fence surrounding his garden has the rusty brownish color and look of the old border fences still used in some parts of California and Arizona.
One can’t miss the many crosses displayed in and around his home and workshop when visiting Alvaro. For over 5 years now, once every week, he has quietly gone out into the Sonoran Desert, placing a cross in each place where the remains of migrants who died in the desert after illegally crossing the border into Arizona were found by the border patrol. The County’s Medical Examiner provides him and his volunteers (members of the Tucson Samaritans) with updated maps that lists the exact location of nearly 3,000 human remains, found in the Arizona desert since 2001. The number is continuously growing; the crosses he and his team placed during my visit were for two of this years casualties. Alvaro has placed over 800 crosses alread, his project, titled Donde Mueren Los Suenos / Where Dreams Die, is ongoing.
For Colombian born Alvaro Enciso, who came to the US when he was 20 years old, the effort is not a religious one, it is a project (Donde Mueren Los Suenos / Where Dreams Die) that he just needs to do to respect the dead and make them visible right where they died by placing a cross, the universally recognized sign of mourning. The deceased are heroes to him who risk their lives for a future that most of them can’t have in their country of origin. He does not accept any financial donations for his work, at times he receives free paint for the crosses.
During their weekly missions members of the Tucson Samaritans, on this day another artist, Ron Kovatch, and philosopher Allen Buchanan, leave clean water at or near the locations where a cross was placed.
Being out in the Sonoran Desert with Alvaro Enciso has an enormous impact on most visitors, including this photographer. The thought that the remains of about 3,000 people have been found here already and the knowledge that there are many hiding out there right now in a 110 degree heat, walking the 60 miles from the border to the nearest city through this unforgiving desert only at night in fear of being detected…
The despair lies over the (incredibly beautiful) desert like a blanket.
Alvaro Enciso on Instagram here
A short interview video with Alvaro by Tucson based photographer Bob Torrez here
Tucson Samaritans here
All photos and text © Stefan Falke