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The Marker

Over 3,000 migrants have died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert. Artist Alvaro Enciso is on a mission to mark the places these people died in a way that honors his "neighbors" and creates a visual remembrance of their struggle.

AIRED: January 04, 2022 | 0:12:38
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TRANSCRIPT

[ Leaves rustling, footsteps crunching ]

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[ Scraping ]

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Enciso: So, what you do when you find a dead body --

immediately, you call 911.

Usually, they pick up a body within an hour.

They take pictures, they mark it with a GPS,

and then the medical examiner opens up a file for this person.

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When I moved here in 2011, I had no idea

that people were dying out here in such big numbers.

Those deaths never made the news,

never made the newspapers, so I had no idea.

Nowadays, news happens so fast,

and we get bombarded with news from all over the world.

So what's happening here, it's not a big story.

You know, unfortunately, it's not a big story.

But it's a big story for the families of those people

whose -- whose loved ones died out here.

And it's important to me.

And it is my job as an artist

to do whatever I can to let these deaths not be forgotten.

You know, I need to keep them constant.

I need to keep them visually active.

So I decided that I was going to mark these sites

with a Christian cross.

Well, it was something that looks like a Christian cross,

but it's not -- it's just a marker

to show where a person died.

A person that had a name and a life

and dreams and plans

and feelings, just like all of us.

He or she was not different from us.

Just a human being looking to improve his or her way of life.

I've been working on this project for six years.

Every Tuesday, I go out to the desert and put markers.

[ Water running ]

You know, I'm not a religious man,

but going out to the desert

to put markers where people have died,

walking in the footsteps of the person who died there,

it's my practice --

it's my religious, my spiritual practice.

It's my -- like, my day to deal with faith

and hope and compassion.

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I started reading about the cross, you know.

And I learned that the cross was used by the Roman Empire

to kill people,

to kill enemies of the state, enemies of the empire,

false prophets, common criminals.

They used to hang them out there in the sun,

without any water, until they died.

That is exactly what is happening here

in the Sonoran Desert.

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I have a team of helpers. I cannot do this by myself.

You have the map?

Woman: I do. It's here.

Because I need to carry concrete, water, crosses,

shovels, topographical maps,

and water to leave out in the desert.

We leave water at the sites

'cause a gallon of water can save a life, or two or three.

We need about 4 gallons of water to leave at the site,

so please grab 4 gallons of water.

Or a cross. Or both.

Enciso: Yeah, this person was found this year.

Most of the people in the past couple of years

are mostly unidentified.

Nowadays it's too dangerous to cross Mexico,

so you don't carry any kind of ID's,

because if you carry ID's, that will open you up for extortion.

Are you guys ready?

Okay, the only rule that I have here

is that please try to be quiet because this is --

you know, we're going to a site where someone died.

So let's avoid the chitchat at least for...

from here to there.

Go ahead. Woman: Ready?

-Did you mark the car? -I did.

Enciso: Okay.

You don't leave your shoes behind.

This area is getting a lot of traffic if two people died here

this year, in the last three or four months.

That means that a lot of people are coming through here.

Right here?

Alright. Right in here.

Thanks.

Okay.

Say when.

Is that good? Okay.

Enciso: Let's put this water that we have with us.

Put them on trees off the ground

so the animals don't get to it right away.

You know, these crosses do not really belong here.

You know, I'm desecrating the desert

by putting these markers here.

I hate to do that.

But they have to be here to remind us

that this was a person who died here.

You know, it's not -- it's not my idea to come here

and put crosses in the desert just for the fuck of it.

This chapter of American history

is going to be a very sad chapter

and a very embarrassing chapter

because we didn't treat our neighbors right.

You know, we let them die out there.

This project will never be completed.

I will die before I get close to finish it.

So far, I have put over 900 crosses.

I know that I will never be able to finish this project,

because I don't have enough life in me to finish it.

It will remain incomplete.

But the idea is already out there.

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