SIGN OF THE TIMES on the Borderlands

THE NOISE arts and news July 2010 Clair Anna Rose
THE NOISE: Arts & News July 2010 issue

Sueños de Aztlan; A visual odyssey With Raechel Running

Walking the borderline between Arizona and Mexico Raechel Running looked down the long. ominous fence as the sun was setting. She and Gil Gillenwater, founder of Rancho Feliz, a bi-national organization, were catching the last golden light of the day. “I kept thinking of country songs trying to cultivate the mood for the shot I wanted to make. Kris Kristopherson’s song, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and Johnny Cash’s, “I walk the Line” kept playing over and over in my mind as I directed Gil,” Ms. Running remembers. “The cadence of his step changed and the magic moment we wait for as photographers began to reveal itself. I was sitting on the dirt road for the low angle, the shadows stretched long on the Mexico side when a guy who was watching the fence for different reasons all of a sudden broke the spell and spoke to us, “You know I read on the wall somewhere that the fence is a scar on the earth.” Sometimes perceptive words come from the most surprising places. We paused. We all stood there just looking at the fence together for a few shared moments. Each of us with our own thoughts, reasons and meanings for being there. The light grew brighter as we shook hands and the young man disappeared into the deepening shadows of an abandoned building. Something moved in my soul. I felt compelled to the kiss the scar almost 2,000 miles long. I wondered how in the world could I ever make it better? The scar on the land; battle worn, cold, ugly steel, screaming without sound as I watched the flags of both countries I love blowing in the distance on either side. The faces I’ve known; friends and the expression of faith I have been photographing, the beauty of the landscape, the horror of the news media, the history that has crossed this land; the futility of it all flashed instantly before my eyes as I closed them to hold back tears and kissed it and got back to the work at hand.”

“My role as a photographer and as an artist is to make signs and help people to connect to the bigger picture. I want my work to be a cultural bridge especially in these times; whether it’s personal or within a larger community context across the borderlands,” Ms. Running tells me as we catch up over the phone. It’s been half a year since she last filled me in on the things she’s been doing between here and Mexico. Ms. Running has grown to be an advocate for people who need a voice. She uses her photography to help people see the world through a different lens. Her heart has led her to speak out for the human rights of the Mexican people; in Mexico; her community in Casas Grandes, Chihuahua and in her home state of Arizona after the new SB1070 law recently passed during her last visit home.

Last November when we sat in her basement studio in downtown Flagstaff, she was excited to have just purchased her ticket to Mexico City to participate in the annual pilgrimage of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Raechel with one of the Aztec Dancers on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mexico City.

One of the best things of traveling is time to write in my journal and eat food like this at the local market in San Miguel Allende. All of this deliciousness for less than $4 us- healthy, real food that's good for you!!!

She was also inspired to see the pyramids of Teotihucan that share mythic connections to the southwestern Ancient Puebloan migrations over thousands of years. The symbols of the T-door, the plumed serpents, the Hero Twins and the sacred ball game; the complex cosmology expressed in architecture, art, pottery and spirituality are seen throughout archeological sites of the region some call the Gran Chichimeca, or the mythic place of Aztlan that is inclusive of the ancient southwest, northern and Central Mexico. It has been an adventure not only in history but also in cultivating the future of community projects on the borderlands.

Six months later she has come back with tales from her December excursion. Her last trip was a whirlwind tour to Mexico City, Teotihucan, San Miguel Allende, back north to Copper Canyon; Agua Prieta, Sonora, southern Arizona, home to Flagstaff and back south of the border again for a bi-national archeology conference of the Northern Cultures of Mexico and the Greater southwest.

There are stories of hope on the borderlands and this has been the focus of Ms. Running’s recent work. “In my recent documentary work in Mexico and my travels south I have seen how people are working together as Americans and Mexicans effecting change through community service. They are small NGO’s of like minded people who are building homes, creating educational opportunities, job training, recycling projects & community food networks, wild land and cultural preservation efforts.”

“The experiences I am documenting on the borderlands are just as real and as important as the mental onslaught of the media’s portrayal. I acknowledge the reality of what is happening because of policies that were created, like NAFTA, that didn’t take into account the long term human effects of it’s model. In an AP article 2 days ago the government spent $800 MILLION dollars for 53 miles of the border fence! Think about what if this money was spent on education; on supporting bi-national programs for community farms and developing work permit programs that would allow people to participate and be a part of the American fabric legally. Mexicans are NOT aliens. It is completely ignorant when people tell Mexicans to go back from where they come from because they are exactly where they’ve been from for thousands of years. Look how the cultivation of corn has contributed to the world. It is a vital part of the creation stories shared by the Native Americans up and down the spine of the Americas. I believe, with our human potential there can be positive change through viable solutions for the benefit of the greater good for the world. I hope there can be a shift from fear to cooperation. I sometimes wonder if the day is going to come when we will need to tear down the walls because we are going to have to actually work together in the future. So why not now?”

RanchoFeliz and Douglaprietaworks meet to discuss community garden projects in Auga Prieta, Sonora.

Ms. Running has worked with the Tucson Community Food Bank and the newly formed grassroots organization through a grant from to document a Healthy Foods, Healthy Future conference of people working in Southern Arizona and border towns to create healthy food networks cooperating bi-nationally with health and community groups in Mexico. “I met who began collaboration with to establish a community garden. It is a regional effort beyond country borders. It is for the future of the children. It comes down to the basic human needs of food, shelter, clothing, and education as the vehicle for change.”

“I met Gil Gillenwater, founder of Rancho Feliz, two years ago at an art event in Flagstaff. Gil asked me to join their team in January to help create visuals to help communicate their philanthropic works in Chihuahua's Copper Canyon and in Auga Prieta, Sonora to document the Rancho Feliz community.

These opportunities are not one time hand outs, but have been a concerted group effort over 23 years of cultivating relationships in Mexico and in the United States. It is an amazing effort comprised of a network of family, longtime friends, business partners, volunteer church groups and students ; people who don’t necessarily know each other but are helping one another. I really was drawn to the philosophy of their organization as compassionate redistribution of opportunities merging Buddhist ideas with education. Rancho Feliz provides over 100 scholarships for Mexican students. They have built an education center, a children’s day care center, and a community for forty families in Agua Prieta. Last fall their extreme bike ride across the Navajo Reservation “Ride the Rez,” raised over $750,000 to facilitate projects in Arizona on the Navajo reservation and in Mexico. RF provided a seed grant to One Heart to establish a prenatal care program in Copper Canyon. Gil met Arlene Samen, founder of One Heart World in Tibet three years ago in the high mountain regions, where she had established culturally sensitive prenatal clinics. They shared a dream to establish a prenatal clinic to aid Rarámuri women in the remote Copper Canyon where the infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. Their next project now in the works is to build a computer learning center in Batapillas, the orphanage at the bottom of Copper Canyon, and facilitate learning opportunities for people to have access to higher education from their native homelands.

Funds are being raised to facilitate a new computer lab at the Batapillas Orphanage to replace outdated donations.

“It has been inspirational to see families, in their quest for a better life through support of education and opportunity to be able to thrive and contribute within their own communities and country without having to cross over and become separate from their families and the homeland that they love.” “I believe that food is going to be a huge link in the future. Someday we’re going to need to break down these walls because of food. When we get connected to the land and what we eat, how it’s grown and how we grow it, we’ll have the ingredients for a healthier society. It’s a dream for the future.”

"The supreme object of education is to raise man to his highest power, to develop him along the lines of his noblest nature so that he will be not only keen, sagacious and shrewd but broadminded, evenly and sympathetically balanced, tolerant, sweet, and charitable." Said Fabian Garcia, 1871-1948 developer of the New Mexico Chile no. 9, a hero a Ms. Running’s.
Fabian Garcia; Mexican Pioneer Horticulturist

Ms. Running plans to collaborate with the Flagstaff Photography Center this August to install a show of her photography, along with the art works of Casas Grandes artists.

To be continued…

OPENS: 1ST Friday Art Walk August 6th
Celebration of Mexican Culture across the borderlands
Featuring Flagstaff's own traditional Mexican music group: Los Compadres
Mata Oritz Pottery
Mennonite Quilts

Artist workshop: Saturday August 7th 3pm Milagros and pocket prayers
Events: To be announced
Archeology Talk with Dr. Kelley Gilpin Hayes
Documentary film The Renaissance of Mata Ortiz: The amazing
Documentary film pre screening:Rancho Feliz; Neighbors spanning borderlands

At Least $800 MILLION on 53 MILES for Border Fence
Studying Relations Between Peoples of Arizona and Chihuahua translated from Spanish
Teotihuacan: Archeology


Bran said…
Excellent artwork, gratias!
David Seals

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