The bustling heart of New York City may seem a far cry from the remote deserts and rivers that mark the boundaries between nations, but Dr. Lizbeth De La Cruz, a newly appointed Assistant Professor in Baruch College’s Black and Latino Studies Department, has spent years working on a project that bridges communities and distance through the power of art and storytelling. Her latest endeavor, The El Paso del Norte mural project, captures transnational migration narratives, freshly illuminating the intricacies of U.S.-Mexico migration policies and their impacts on individuals’ lives.

Soon to span a vast canvas of concrete along the Rio Grande, also known as Río Bravo in Mexico, the mural vividly portrays the diverse experiences of Latinx and Black migrants—each with a unique story of migration, incarceration, or deportation. This project, according to Professor De La Cruz, is “not just about creating art; it’s about telling stories that need to be heard, about humanizing the dehumanized.”

The mural features thirteen large portraits, each ten feet by ten feet, bringing to life the faces and voices of deported veterans, asylum seekers, and undocumented youth drawn from the archives of Humanizing Deportation, a community based digital audio storytelling platform. By depicting the Rio Grande/Río Bravo not just as a geographical marker but as a symbol of ongoing socio-political strife, this project endeavors to capture the pathos of the often-faceless statistics of migration.

Equally poignant is the project’s harnessing of the collective efforts of Baruch students, almost 90% of whom are either the children of immigrants, or immigrants themselves. De La Cruz emphasizes the importance of this collaboration: “It’s about layering the skills these students are going to be able to use later on in life—to say, ‘I understand this on a different level than just indifferently studying it. I understand it emotionally.” Students from her classes on the “U.S.- Mexican Border” and “Latinx Communities in the U.S” have been directly involved in painting the portraits, making steady progress each week, turning theoretical knowledge into practical, empathetic application.

A unique aspect of the mural is its interactive component. QR codes accompany each portrait and link to detailed stories of the individuals depicted, allowing passersby to hear directly from the migrants in their own voices. “This digital narrative is crucial,” De La Cruz notes, “because it turns passive observers into active listeners, bridging the distance between the subject of the mural and the viewer.”

By focusing on deported U.S. military veterans and families affected by migration policies, the mural also ventures into the darker sides of the United States’ policies on citizenship, challenging viewers to reconsider the human cost of stringent immigration laws and the realities of deportation. The inclusion of diverse narratives, from young activists to veterans, invites a broader discourse on citizenship, community, and belonging, especially poignant in an election year in which immigration is a hot issue.

With the mural’s installation set for May 2nd, Professor De La Cruz’s vision is nearing its most critical phase—bringing the collaborative creation to fruition at the border itself. In this endeavor, Professor Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana extends an open invitation for all to experience the mural and to engage with the stories it tells.

“Yes, these are stories of extreme hardship,” she said, “but I think they also say something about the enduring spirit of these storytellers to overcome barriers, both physical and metaphorical.” Her project too underscores the indispensable role of art in education as well as advocacy. Once installed, they will provide a site where the personal impacts of migration policies are drawn up in sharp relief against the impersonal landscapes that bear witness to them.

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