The migrant trails that lead from Mexico across the Southwest are littered with things travelers leave behind as they surreptitiously seek out better lives and opportunities in the United States.
Worn out boots and shoes of all sizes, makeup, toys, nail polish, children’s drawings, documents and identification cards of people whose fate often is not known are gathered by American citizens as they leave food, water and other supplies for travelers along the trails.
A University of Maine graduate student from Tucson, Arizona, has brought an exhibit titled “Along the Migrant Trails” to the Wilson Center for Spiritual Exploration and Multifaith Dialogue, located at 67 College Ave. in Orono. It is on display through October. The exhibit was curated by Arizona artist Deborah McCullough, who uses some items found along the trails in her three-dimensional artwork.
“I’m a mixed media artist who uses objects found in the desert to educate people about the suffering taking place on the Arizona-Mexico border,” she said on her website.
Sara Lowden, 35, is a working her doctorate in anthropology and environmental policy at the University of Maine. She met McCullough and became familiar with her work through Tucson Samaritans, a group dedicated to saving the lives of those making the dangerous crossing to enter the U.S. illegally.
“These volunteers go out every day with food and water and medical kits,” she said last month. “The Samaritans leave them in certain places on trails that they know are resting points. Others with medical training walk the trails looking for people who might be in distress and need help.”
Their goal is to lower the number of deaths in the desert. That total was 145 last year, according to the group’s website. So far this year, 141 people already have died on the trail.
Lowden said that she wanted to bring the exhibit to Maine to humanize the immigration issue in part because of President Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall along the southern border. Arrests of undocumented immigrants tripled in New England during the first six months of Trump’s presidency, according to data provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“I think Maine is an interesting place to bring the exhibit because it also has a long border with Canada,” she said. “A trainer I worked with in the Samaritans said the real issue on the southern border is systemic racism because the people coming across are poor and brown skinned. We also need to remind ourselves that often times these are families taking a difficult journey together. You can see that in the exhibit.”
Lowden said she brought the exhibit to the Wilson Center instead of some other location because of its emphasis on social justice and interfaith dialogue.
The Wilson Center was the Protestant presence at UMaine for more than 100 years. Originally called the Maine Christian Association, it was renamed in 1983 in honor of Dorothy Clarke Wilson and her husband, the Rev. Elwin Wilson, a United Methodist minister. The couple lived in Orono for many years.
In 2015, the center’s board of directors adopted a multifaith/spiritual mission to better serve the needs and identities of 21st century students. The Rev. Lauren Seganos Cohen was hired in July as the part-time director for the center.
“We wanted to have some conversations about immigration here,” Cohen said last month. “This exhibit helps us talk about it in human terms, not just as a political issue.”
The Wilson Center for Spiritual Exploration and Multifaith Dialogue, 67 College Ave., Orono, will hold open houses for the exhibit from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct 15 and Oct. 22.