In 2018, the United States enacted a “zero tolerance” policy which criminalized the act of seeking asylum. In June 2019, the inhumane conditions in detention camps across the border were revealed, and several weeks later the BORDERx project was established.
BORDERx: A Crisis In Graphic Detail is a comic anthology that examines the border crisis from a variety of points of view and narrative formats, featuring 70 contributors from all over the world. Proceeds from the project go to South Texas Human Rights Center. Why address the issue with comics? How did we accomplish this enormous project in months instead of years? What were the financial considerations? What are the next steps for BORDERx? How can this platform serve other social issues?
This talk walks us through the project from origin to completion. Mauricio Cordero, the project founder, will discuss the journey with Prof. James Paradis, offering insights and examples from the work.
About Mauricio Cordero
Mauricio Cordero has worked in the arts and underground scene since the 1980’s. He established the fanzine, CAUTION! and served as the education coordinator and program director at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (ICA). In France, he opened his own art gallery in Tours. Returning to the U.S. he served as executive director at the Revolving Museum and was also a founding co-director of Mill No. 5, an indoor Victorian streetscape.
Cordero now teaches comics primarily and is a part-time lecturer at MIT. He is currently teaching Making Comics and Sequential Art and lecturing in The Visual Story-Graphic Novel.
His work has been published in Double Nickels Forever, Dollars and Sense, MIT’s GradX Comix series and Fashion Institute of Technology’s Black Stories Matter. BORDERx: A Crisis In Graphic Detail is available at all major online retailers and through the website www.border-x.com.
The following is a transcript generated by Otter.ai, with human corrections during and after. For any errors the human missed, please reach out to email@example.com.
Scot Osterweil 00:45
Starting with my routine and that’s what I’m welcoming you to the colloquium. I’m Scot Osterweil, creative director of the MIT education arcade. Welcome to tonight’s colloquium and just to again to go over the ground rules with zoom. We run this as a webinar, which means that the members of the CMS graduate program and faculty are on as panelists just so that they can participate in the conversation after the presentation. If we recognize you as somebody from the MIT community, we will try to promote you to panelists as well. If you remain a guest, you’re also welcome to participate. We just asked you to ask questions in the q&a. But you’re more than welcome to be here this weekend, every week for the colloquium. with that I will turn things over to Professor Vivek Bald who’s going to actually introduce tonight’s colloquium.
Vivek Bald 01:40
Thank you, Scot. Well, it’s it’s really a pleasure to be able to, to welcome Mauricio Cordero to the colloquium. It’s been a pleasure to to have morito as part of the CMS community for the last few years and just a little about Mauricio. He has worked in the arts and underground scene since the 1980s. He established the fanzine caution and served as the education coordinator and program director at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In France, he opened his own art gallery in Tours returning to the US he served as executive director at the revolving Museum, and was also a founding director of mill number five, an indoor Victorian streetscape, which I’d like to hear a bit more about in the q&a. Cordero now teaches comics primarily and is a part time lecturer at MIT. He’s currently teaching making comics and sequential art, and lecturing in the visuals story graphic novel. His work has been published in double nickels forever. dollars and cents. MIT’s graphics comic series and Fashion Institute of Technology’s black stories matter. BORDERx, A Crisis in Graphic Detail is available at all major online retailers and through the website. borderx.com and we’re gonna hear about BORDERx.
Mauricio Cordero 03:19
Okay. Oh, I think I’ve lost audio. You can hear me. Great. Okay, so I’m just gonna let this roll. Yeah. Hi, I’m Mauricio Cordero. I’m a lecturer at MIT. I teach a course on comics production. I’m also the founder and the editor of BORDERx. Today, I’ll be in conversation with Professor James Paradis, as well as Professor Warren Binford, who is the president and the founder of Project Amplify. We’ll also hear from several of the artists who contributed to this volume. And first we’ll hear a special message from someone whose actions really inspired me to take action that Senator Jeffrey Merkley from Oregon.
Senator Jeff Merkley 04:23
Welcome to today’s presentation of the BORDERx project. I’m Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. And the topic is one I’m personally very invested in. Two years ago, just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s zero tolerance policy, which criminalize refugees and purposefully traumatized children for fleeing persecution, and unspeakable violence. I flew down to the border to see the situation for myself. I walked through a Customs and Border Protection patrol station, where I saw rows of chainlink cages filled with young children. I stopped in front of one where young boys were lining up by hike the youngest in front. He was just knee high to a grasshopper maybe four years old at most. I couldn’t believe what I saw in that facility. I could not believe that our government the US government was deliberately traumatizing children, ripping them out of their parents arms to discourage refugee families from seeking safe harbor in the United States. It still haunts me today, it should haunt every American. I also went to visit another facility where I’d heard that hundreds of boys perhaps as many as 1000 were being held who had been separated from their parents. I couldn’t imagine 1000 boys incarcerated in that former Walmart and I couldn’t imagine the experiences they’d gone through the hands of our government. I wanted to find out the details. The onsite manager agreed to come out side and talk to me. But instead, he called the police to have me escorted off the policy of the property. Well, when he did that millions of Americans were watching on Facebook Live. And those Americans wondered, just as I was wondering, what is our government hiding behind those locked doors? Never before would I have believed that our government, the United States of America would plunge ahead with a strategy of traumatizing children deliberately, but it was real. By the end of the year, more than 15,000 refugee children were held in camps across our nation. Today, at this moment, our American government has still been unable to reunite more than 600 of them with their parents. And all of those children. All those many thousands still have to live with the trauma of their experiences inflicted at the hands of our government. But child separation was only the beginning of the Trump administration’s war on refugees. As we all know, there are many more pieces to that policy. But it’s up to us now, with Trump heading out the door, to confront the pain and suffering to do all we can to remedy the pain and suffering of those children and do all we can to restore fairness and justice to the immigration system. We need to ensure that policies like child separation never, ever happen again. I know that that’s why many of you have come to this gathering today. Thank you. Thank you for working to understand the cruelty unleashed our southern border, and how we can work together to end it. Working together, let’s relight Lady Liberty’s torch.
Jim Paradis 07:53
Why don’t you say something about what got to, you know, thinking about comics and borders?
Mauricio Cordero 08:01
The origin was really anger and rage that I was feeling. And I hadn’t felt this angry since I was a teenager, you know, rebelling against Reagan and Bush. And living growing up in DC and around politics. I mean, that was or meat and potatoes down there. We thought about politics all the time, even as a high school student. And, you know, back then the rage was directed towards music. So I realized that, you know, if I was going to bring any sort of substantial record or evidence of my rebellion, it had to be in the form of a comic book. And so I started to directly contact a few friends and say, you know, hey, what do you think about this, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
Jim Paradis 08:56
But I was just curious if there was some set of episodes or something that set this off.
Mauricio Cordero 09:03
I think the the first incident was Senator Jeff Merkley, trying to get into the detention camp and being turned away. And it wasn’t at all what he said on camera as he was turned away. It was the absence of footage from inside the border camp, seeing how much the political structure in our government had caved into this new doctrine. That was very, I feel racist, very anti asylum. These are people who are in most cases fleeing a situation that is unlivable untenable for them in their families, and they’re trying to make a better life. But, as we know, the person who is in the white house right now referred to them as rapists and murderers. Some drug dealers, not having a view inside the camps concerned me knowing that just about everything that comes out of that person’s mouth is either projection or just a lie. My tweets weren’t going anywhere. And certainly didn’t satisfy that rage. And so, you know, that DIY punk rock spirit came back to me. And I said, Well, I’ve got to make all this concrete and found out about Project Amplify, who published testimony of migrants that were presented in Flores versus Barr.
Jim Paradis 10:39
The construction of artistic work requires a kind of a suspension of rage and some of the, the emotions that might lead to starting it. So how did that work?
Mauricio Cordero 10:55
Well, when I opened up the project to the world at large, I realized I was getting a lot of rage back. And that’s when I installed a ban on the word Trump. And that is where the rage turned into productivity, you know, it started with rage, and then quickly became compassion. And then I realized I had to steer the ship,
Jim Paradis 11:19
You can only raise so much in a piece before becomes too literal to be art, and then becomes a form of almost propaganda or something like that. There’s this long history of Americans trying to figure out how they’re going to exist in a world that is way more complicated than some may understand. As far as indigenous, there are hundreds of indigenous people on every continent, of every continent of the globe. And this is one focus that you have on this particular location, but it it sort of stands does it not for, you know, a kind of universal problem that has to do with borders?
Mauricio Cordero 12:15
Absolutely. In at the very beginning, I made the decision to include science fiction, and fiction, as one of the sections that we would have in the final work. To get to the universal truths in this struggle. We need fiction, we need science fiction, we need allegories that go beyond the headlines and beyond this moment, and even beyond this planet, in. And so I really enjoyed curating that section and finding the artists, it was wonderful to get so many different points of view looking inward. And modalities, you know, science fiction, straight documentary, some report.
Jim Paradis 13:05
So maybe in person, since you’re, you’re bridging on some of these these questions, maybe say a little more about the process of making this? How does a person decide and then go about making a collection like this?
Mauricio Cordero 13:22
Yeah, well, when you get to the point where the rage outweighs common sense, I think that’s, that’s where you get started, I found myself kind of alone at the beginning. And then people did step up as the project grew. So I guess the first step is deciding you’re going to do it, and defining it, and scale it to what your abilities are. Or the way I did it was naively scaling it way above my abilities and having to grow into those abilities. So, you know, I have experience in producing comics and putting them together, I know all the tech specs, etc. But there’s a much greater learning curve in terms of hurting 70 contributors.
Jim Paradis 14:22
And these contributors sometimes, I mean, a comic is, is not always done just by a single author. And generally it’s just done by there’s an anchor, there’s a colorist or someone who deals with the the actual narratives, the bubbles and all the things that so how did that all work out that it did most of these get done by I noticed that almost all of them have multiple, multiple constructors that are there multiple people involved.
Mauricio Cordero 14:59
Right, well that was a part of what took a lot of legwork at the beginning was playing matchmaker. Now, there were people that came with a team, and we’re ready to go. A few in a few cases, there was existing work that we could just take and reprint where the artists had all the rights to reprint. So that happened. But I did play matchmaker and really took time to read scripts, pass them along to penciller are artists. And, you know, at that point, we determined whether the artists would take on the entire project, or if I had to go out and find a letter or colorist, I’m so really trying to find what a comfortable or doable workload was for each participant. There are a few people that were just really helpful. Raul Torres, for example, was one person who stepped up and helped a lot with the editing. And he got a lot of teams together found a lot of tied up a lot of loose ends.
Jim Paradis 16:17
I’m curious about the organization, which I think is very, very effective. But you have the exhibits, which are sort of, you know, reviews, interviews and things of that sort that were captured. These are testimonials. But then you have the response. And you have the context, and then ruminations and then a series of posters. So I’m just curious about that, that collection, which I think is a rich variety of possibilities for this this form.
Mauricio Cordero 16:57
As the work began to arrive, a sub-pattern emerge, and the patterns strengthened over time into what seemed like for good sections for the book. The four sections are the exhibits the response, the context and ruminations. So I felt that the factual and most heart wrenching work should appear at the beginning of the book to establish what what we’re talking about when we say migrant crisis. These exhibits are based on verbatim transcripts of migrant experiences in the detention camp. And these testimonies were presented to the Supreme Court in ongoing Flores vs Barr case, to mitigate the just devastating nature of these testimonies. I chose to highlight agents and agencies that are working to create hope by aiding migrants in in the field. And so the response section collects a few of those stories. Then the context section collects personal reflections and historic accounts to try to offer a broad contextual background for the volume. The last section, the ruminations offers fiction, allegory metaphor, and adaptation to get at some of the underlying themes and universal truths that we can find in the crisis. And closing out the volume. There’s a small section of posters that were created, especially for the collection in the vein of sort of works, Works Progress Administration, sort of war-era posters,
Jim Paradis 18:51
Do you have any kind of expectations for the impact of a piece of work like this? Or is or is it kind of more diffused? So kind of cultural, just awareness? Or how do you how do you think about impact,
Mauricio Cordero 19:08
One impact I’d hoped for is precisely what we’re talking about today. sharing this model, with the public in hopes of inspiring the replication for other social causes. Another is to create a graphic history of this moment, so that we don’t forget these atrocities that are being carried out in the name of the US. Also, bearing witness to the suffering and torment endured by the subjects of in this book, who’ve they’ve got so much to offer, or society yet they’re treated like criminals for seeking a better life. Asylum is not a crime. Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor, yet it seems like they’re being punished for a felony or some other serious crime. We set out to help a nonprofit. And the one we decided on the south Texas Human Rights Center is a really good example of an organization with an extremely modest budget, and they’re creating a real benefit to society, and the funds we’ve collected, and the proceeds that we continue to generate, have gone to help them carry out their mission. And we’ll hear a bit more about the subtext of Human Rights Center later on in the presentation.
Jim Paradis 20:36
How does distribution work and things of that sort?
Mauricio Cordero 20:39
The question about distribution format came up immediately, should I try to find a publisher and potentially wait years to see any sort of result, or take a risk and self published and rely mostly on word of mouth, I chose the latter. And despite many difficulties, delays, complications, some of them due to COVID. In the end, I think it was the best choice. By using a print on demand service, we had a lower risk than vanity printing. And we were able to get the volume into production, eight months after the start of the project. So that’s eight months to contact all the contributors, create the content, edit, design, layout, and get it to print and distribution. Also, by serving as the publisher, we can continue to generate profit, which goes to fund the South Texas Human Rights Center. And the title is currently being distributed worldwide. So it’s available for about the same cost as buying it here in the US. So I’d say the benefits are similar to the traditional publishing route, but with a much higher revenue stream and lower risks.
Jim Paradis 22:00
It gives, it sort of gives a new meaning to public art, you know, the creation of and collaborating together to try to address issues that are really outstanding and urgent, and we need more of this not less. This is a pioneering effort, I would say, just from what I know about comics, so you’ve kind of invented a new process. It’s,it’s, it’s a, it’s a really brilliant project. So I think, you know, very, very glad that it happened. And, you know, I hope, I hope you continue.
Mauricio Cordero 22:48
Let’s get started. So, Warren, can you tell me a little bit about the origin of Project Amplify? how it got started, white got started, when it got started and what the mission is.
Warren Binford 23:08
Yes, Project Amplify was started in the summer of 2019, after approximately a dozen of us left the clinic Border Patrol facility where we had discovered over 350 children being kept in a windowless warehouse, a loading dock, jail cells, and tents in the desert. The children were hungry, they were filthy. They have been severely neglected. There was no one supervising them. They were sleeping on concrete floors, concrete blocks next to open toilets. They had been taken away from, you know, family members, and and were basically left alone to take care of each other. But there was widespread illness, there was a flu and respiratory illness that was going around, there was a licensed destination. And we went to the public about what we have discovered because the situation has gotten so dangerous and so extreme under under President Trump’s administration in the year leading up to that summer of 2019. At least seven children have died in government custody or shortly after they had been released from government custody, and we were afraid that more children were going to die. The President denounced it as fake news said that our accounts were grossly exaggerated. He and Vice President Pence assured that the children were well taken care of which was not true. And they put Vice President Pence both on the Sunday talking head shows and then Air Force two and flew him down to Texas, where he toured another facility. They dress the children and government issued brightly colored sweat suits and then have the children pose for the camera and wave and give a thumbs up that they were being well taken care of. And we realized that there was a false counter narrative that was being advanced at the highest levels of government and wondered how it was that we can counter that narrative so that these children’s experiences and their histories were not erased. And we decided to create a website and post all of the publicly available testimonies of the children on that website so that any member of the public who wanted to inform themselves could go and read the children’s accounts, and, and discover for themselves what the truth was what the children said, in their own words. And then we call out to artists, and writers and musicians and everyday Americans and ask them to read the children’s accounts and find ways to amplify their voices. What was different in 2019, than previous years? Yeah, so I started visiting the camps in 2017. You know, sometimes children are in cages, and sometimes they’re in jail cells. So it’s hard for people to understand that there are many facilities in which these children are being kept. And none of them that I visited are appropriate for children. And what was different about what happened in the last four years, is the number of children who are being held the length of time in which they were being held, the number of children who were being removed from their families, including their parents, and the the level of abuse that we’re experiencing, and the number of deaths prior to the children who died in 2018. And 2019, no child had died in the, you know, no traffic, no immigrant child in our childhood migration and died in government custody in almost a decade. And we saw approximately seven children that we know of, you know, there may have been more, but we don’t have seven children who had died in the year leading up to our visit to plant in June 2019. So that’s what we were saying conditions so bad that children were literally dying. And, and it was theater last year, a lot in 2019, there were approximately 69,000 children who have been detained by the US government. And that was a significantly increased number, from what we’ve seen in years past.
Mauricio Cordero 27:10
So are they committing a crime by crossing the border?
Warren Binford 27:14
It depends. When someone comes to United States for the purpose of claiming asylum, they are not required to have documentation. So people who are coming to the United States to claim asylum for that purpose are not committing a crime, they have the right to do that, under US law, they have the right to do that under international law. However, if someone is coming to the United States for the purpose of, for example, getting a job, they are committing a crime, and that crime is a misdemeanor, it’s the equivalent of playing your radio too loud or music too loud. And so what that means is when the Trump administration implemented the zero tolerance policy and said, we’re going to take children away from anybody who crosses the border, you know, without consideration of a, you know, whether or not they’re coming for asylum, they were essentially violating the law. And then when they took children away from people who weren’t here, finding asylum, but for jobs, literally, they were taking their children away for a misdemeanor that was suitable and playing their music too loud. starting in January 2019, they started to implement what’s called the migrant protection protocols, also known as remained in Mexico. And, and many of the children and families that normally would be in the United States, while their asylum claims are being heard, are being sent to these very dangerous border towns in Mexico, where that are controlled by gangs that are controlled by cartels, where there’s a lot of human trafficking. Remember that Mexico is one of the lead source countries for human trafficking in America. And rather than keep the children in the United States, with their family, their parents, other loved ones, they’re sending them to these really dangerous border towns, and then keeping them there for what could be a 2, 3, 4, 5 year process and march 2020, the Trump administration basically started to block all arrivals to the United States, and blamed it on COVID, which is so ironic, because this administration doesn’t recognize, you know, the severity or danger of COVID. The hundreds of children that we do know about are actually being kept in black box locations, such as hotels, and so we’re having a really hard time tracking those children isn’t worse, you know, being an attempt in Mexico with your parents for several years. You know, we’re what’s likely to be, you know, several years or is it worse to be separated from your parents for, you know, 89 days, which is the average was the average under the Trump administration until recently, and kept in Border Patrol facilities you know, or Walmart, but then reunited with your family after that. And and I guess what I come down is that both of these are horrible. And neither one of them is acceptable. And what we really need to do is under a new administration, and with the new Congress, we need to create legal protections to make sure that the brutality that children have been subjected to under this administration never happens again. And I’ve already spoken with Senator Merkley’s office about working together to draft legislation that makes sure that this never happens. Again, we need to get to the root problem, part of the root problem is, is trying to support security and the children’s home countries so that they don’t need to migrate. But for those who do need to migrate and make sure that they are treated humanely throughout the asylum process, we also, you know, Michael Bochenek of Human Rights Watch, and I also are working on a policy piece that describes how to undo all the damage that’s been done by the Trump administration. And we hope to have that published in January. And I mean, we’re already seeing such a severe drop in students, foreign students coming to the United States to study and it’s a huge brain drain, frankly, that that’s something that that you you know, this you work at MIT, you know, this is something that we’ve relied on for years, which is, you know, an open academy globally, so that people could come here, and then there could be a vibrant exchange of ideas. This is what the whole Fulbright program is about. And so they really are, you know, creating a tremendous impediment to enrichment of America by having, you know, an open flow of global ideas and global talent. So, you know, what we know, is that when you isolate people, they go quite mad. You know, we see this with the unabomber. We see this this with other isolationists that human beings are inherently social creatures, who need interaction with others, we need interactions in order to be exposed to fresh ideas, we need interaction with others in order to inspire creativity. We need to not lock ourselves up in a basement for so many reasons. I mean, literally, we’re already going quite mad, just, you know, in in the months that we’ve been in lockdown, and in the months that we’ve tried to, you know, change to a closed society, when you look at what’s happening as we create these echo chambers, and how insane family members are, that we’ve talked to for years, but now that we are starting to close ourselves off and not engage with people who have different ideas than then we have, it has become so unhealthy and so toxic. That I think it’s, it gives us a vision of what life would be like in the United States, if we continue to further isolate ourselves, both as a country and as different groups within the country who have political ideas that might not be consistent with others.
Mauricio Cordero 33:20
Why? or How can art help? Yeah.
Warren Binford 33:26
It’s so interesting, because I’m not an artist, I’m not particularly creative. And yet, I can look at a work of art, and feel it resonate. In every pore of my being, there are times when I can’t read another sad story. And yet I could look at a picture and be completely open and absorb the story, or the image that that art conveys. artists can simply create an image, create a sound, tell a story. And that can silence the noise and allow a truth to be known. And and I appreciate the courage that they have to do things like read the stories of the you know, read the declarations, the testimonies of the children who have been abused at the border, allow that trauma into their being and to transform the child’s trauma. Through secondary exposure, trauma of the artists in order to help get the children’s stories out is
Mauricio Cordero 34:36
the news media in particular, helping the situation at the border.
Warren Binford 34:42
So so I have to say that I think that the news media has really helped us with certain getting the truth out about certain stories, so the separation of children from their parents and making sure that the public knew about children who were being abused and The Clint Border Patrol facility and neglected down there, the media has really disappointed me as far as, you know, educating the public about what was going on with the children who are being sent to Mexico who are not Mexican. And, you know, including many who don’t speak Spanish, I wish that the media understood better, that the children in Mexico are in reconstructive us custody, because they have asylum hearings pending, you know, that they are asylum and to the refugees basically, and, and that they 89% of them have families or other loved ones in the United States who can keep caring, take care of them in regular homes and send them to schools, while their asylum claims are being heard. And instead, they’re being kept intense. And, you know, car cartels control the areas, you know, to have the children that a colleague of mine and his team interviewed. They were killed before the interviewers plane had even left the ground, you know, in Tijuana, and so that these children’s lives are at risk there, they’re not receiving access to education, which they have a right to. And there is the likelihood that they will remain there. For years, you know, the entire world has recognized that children have a right to all these things that children have a right to family integrity, that children have a right to be in a safe and secure environment that they have a right to, to education, and that they have a right to, you know, safety, you know, from prosecution, and to be free of abuse and neglect. And whether you’re talking about the US facilities in the United States that I visited, or whether you talk about, you know, the camps and other facilities where children are being sent by the US government, to Mexico, none of these meet the children’s rights that have been recognized under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which has been ratified by every every country in the world. But one, the people who have been, you know, who have seen border acts and have seen some of the other projects have expressed so much appreciation, and such a strong emotional response to these different projects. And they’re so appreciative of all the artists who have contributed to them, I think that they have played a key role in helping to motivate people to get off the boat, and to call for a change in leadership. I think that, you know, the mistreatment of children in migration and their families has been identified as a key issue that is akin to, you know, suburban women in in, in, in swing states. And I think that to the extent that those women, those voters find out about come to understand what’s been done to these children and their families, that it can have a positive impact on the selection. So every artist, every musician, every writer, everyone who has put up the children’s one of the children’s quotes on a long, long sign people who have done street art in in Philadelphia and elsewhere, the sky writers who have sent messages, you know, in the skies behind their planes, during major public events, I think all of these people should know that, at best, they may have contributed to change the outcome of this election. And in doing so changing the course of history, they have helped to make sure that there is an accurate history of what was done to these children. And in doing so they have not only honored our nation in making sure that we understand what we’ve done, and you know, and what we have tragically allowed to happen. But that these children’s identities and experiences are honored and amplified. I just appreciate so much the role that comics have played and the comics artists have played when I first reached out and asked the public to do this. I did not imagine the overwhelming support that we’ve seen from comics artists, you know, from South Park to BORDERx to the illustration, the children’s book and I am so grateful to all of you for contributing your your talents. So thank you so much for amplifying your voices.
Mauricio Cordero 39:32
And thank you so much. When I started BORDERx I had not yet heard of Project Amplify it was really the the linchpin that brought a lot of people in that couldn’t commit to longer pieces. And it really helped us get those first few comics that then grew out the rest of the project. So thank you so much for all your work with Project Amplify and everything else that you’re doing. Oh, thank you, Maurcio.
Warren Binford 40:00
I appreciate you so much.
Mauricio Cordero 40:01
Eddie Canales 40:02
Hello, this is Eddie Canales. I’m the director of the South Texas Human Rights Center that is located in Brooks county and falfurrias is the county seat of Brooks County. Brooks county has demonstrated to be over the last 10 years, the apex of migrant deaths. And we have a humanitarian crisis of margen bodies and scelta remains being recovered and Brooks county this year it has been to date has been 3032 bodies that have been as killed the remains that have been recovered. This demonstrates a humanitarian crisis that exists on the US Mexico border. And in that note, that crisis is is demonstrated by the BORDERx comic book anthology in comic book form. And it has been well received by a lot of my colleagues and members of our organization. Individuals and our universities, NGOs that are are reviewing and taking the ontology and using it in their classroom and using it to educate the community and also decision makers and stakeholders without the BORDERx, we would not have the tool that that has been developed by Mauricio Cordero and his colleagues in terms of highlighting the crisis that exists at the border and the different issues that that are, are very prevalent. Thank you very much for your attention on this short video. If you need any questions called our look at the South Texas human rights in our Facebook page and our website, thank you very much.
David Lasky 41:57
Hi, my name is David Lasky. I am a graphic novelist. I’ve been making graphic novels and comics for about 30 years for BORDERx, I adapted the testimony of a 15 year old girl who was detained seeking entrance into the US and placed in giant cage with many other children at the Clint border facility near El Paso, Texas. In one page, I tried to give a visual Look at her experience, and amplify her voice in this way. Because I am outraged that the US is separating children and parents putting children in cages and then not able to reunite them with parents. It’s disgusting. And as an artist, you know, I wanted something I could do besides just signing internet petitions. So this was a way to use my skills to try to help and I hope it will make a difference for children like this girl just want a better life in our country.
Brian DeLay 43:35
My name is Brian DeLay, I teach the history of the US Mexican Borderlands at UC Berkeley. And I had the good pleasure of meeting Mauricio Cordero last year in 2019 at Stanford University where I was a fellow and we got to talking about our shared love of comic books. I been a big fan my whole life and managed a comic store for a few years before I went to graduate school. And he mentioned this remarkable exciting project that he had been spearheading border acts to raise awareness and, and and raise money. For me it writes on the border. And he invited me to think about whether or not I might be able to come up with some kind of a short piece based in history. And after thinking about it for a while, I decided that it would be interesting to write a short script about a remarkable Mexican figure. He was a general and a scientist named Manuel de Mier y Terán. And in the early 1830s, he tried to convince his superiors in the Mexican government that something terrible was about to happen in Texas, that the colonists that the country had invited into Texas, we’re going to rebel and that the country that Mexico is going to lose Texas forever. And he failed. He failed to convince them to take the action that they needed and he killed himself. So it seemed like a relevant story for thinking about the crisis on the border today. Because in Manuel de Mier y Terán’s time it was an immigration crisis. It’s just that the immigration crisis was coming from the United States. So I came up with the script and to my great delight, Mauricio agreed to do the artwork himself. And so the finished product is the piece in BORDERx called Texas killed him. And it was a great experience, working with Mauricio and being part of this wonderful collection.
David Martin Davies 45:45
I’m David Martin Davies.
Yvette Benavides 45:47
and I’m Yvette Benavides, we are proud to have contributed our journalism to BORDERx a crisis in graphic detail.
David Martin Davies 45:55
In my story, water stations save lives, Consuela Tara’s incredible artwork brought to life the story that I found in South Texas, where Eddie canalis, founder of the South Texas Human Rights Center, built and maintains water stations in the desert. Without them many more immigrants would die of thirst.
Yvette Benavides 46:16
“Kittens in Cages” is my story which documents how children are forced to represent themselves in US immigration court, and the utter lack of concern for their safety and their lives. Chris doorways artwork captures the array of emotions that I experienced while covering the story. Without a doubt more people need to see these graphic journalism stories and gain a better understanding of the atrocities that are happening on America’s southern border. Many thanks to Mauricio quartetto for spearheading this ambitious project and making it a reality.
Samantha Stephenson 46:57
Hi, I’m Samantha Stephenson, and I’m one of the contributors to the BORDERx comics anthology. It was important to me to be part of this project as an immigrant, I wanted to help in some way. And this gave me the opportunity to to help in raising money for the South Texas Human Rights Center. And also to help raise awareness about what’s happening at the border. I think for myself, sometimes it’s it’s even acknowledge the what’s happening can be so deeply and profoundly distressing. That sometimes we just turn away because we just don’t know what to do. It’s I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a politician. I’m an artist and musician. So to be given this opportunity to actually contribute, in some way to help was just just great. And the process of reading the declarations was deeply disturbing, to really see what is happening there. And I think it’s important that art, whether it be the performance arts, the visual arts, the creative process, to be able to bring these things to light is very powerful. Also, I think it’s it’s really interesting to have it as a comics Anthology, because it’s, it’s something that you can hold in your hand, you can read in the quiet of wherever it is that you are, it’s not a news report, in someone else’s voice, that barrage of words being thrown at you. And I find that perhaps there’s a certain connection that can happen there. That can be pretty, pretty powerful.
Donna Barr 48:49
Hi, this is Donna Barr, and I’m speaking for Mauricio Cordero’s project his BORDERx that will help support actions against the treatment of asylum seekers in the United States, and on our borders, and I’m the author of the desert peach and stance. And I’ve done a lot of work in comics many projects over the years. And I thought this was a very worthwhile project. My one page that I did, has to do with the fact that we are well on our way in to the same processes used as in Nazi Germany, in the treatment of asylum seekers or people of color or women or anybody else. It’s the same processes. And so that’s what I wanted to emphasize in my page that I did for border x.
Tracy White 49:43
And comics are really good, medium for activism because you can take very complex ideas, boil them down and express them simply and directly and concisely using words and images. For example, I think about Those little cards that are sometimes in restaurants or in posters about what to do when someone’s choking, there isn’t even language, but they’re essentially a comic that is expressing something very complex, simply to a wide audience. The same is true with activism and comics, where you’re trying to get an idea across to an audience, a variety of ages, a variety of languages. And this medium allows you to do that it also allows you to disseminate the information electronically, it can, you could do it in paper. And I think that comics really taps into the visual language that people are used to, and can consume easily. When I first approached the safe passage project, the idea for this comic I thought it was going to be about their clients coming to America. So I set up a roundtable interview with five of their lawyers. And over the course of those interviews, we identified specific topics that would be important to their clients had, of course nothing to do with them coming to America, they already knew about that. What they didn’t know was, what is a pro bono lawyer? Why should I trust a pro bono lawyer? What do I do if I get suspended from school? What do I do if I get a ticket? Very specific questions, very specific concerns for their client base. After I had all those interviews, I had them transcribed. Then I read over them, and using highlighters highlighted the things that I thought would be the most important. Once I took all of those highlighted things, I boiled them down into a comic script into a thumbnail, and I handed them off to Peter Cooper, who was the person who drew the comic. And then together we made the comic. This comic was then disseminated within courthouses to sister organizations across the United States, and could be available digitally and in comic book form. Think BORDERx is doing a such a great example of comics and activism. Because there was an idea, I want to help immigrants, there was an organization that was identified to raise money for them, the word went out within the comics community who can help me do this comic, many people, myself included, can’t want it to contribute. And then you have all these stories. And of course, stories are the building blocks for empathy, and without empathy, we can’t really move forward.
Tom Hart 52:29
Hi, I’m Tom Hart. I’m the executive director of the sequential artists workshop. We’re a grassroots comics organization, we’re online and in person in Gainesville, Florida, we teach comics and support any, any literacy and other projects in the medium. I’ve never been a very good activist, I’m afraid, I’ve always, half of me is always wished I could be a better activist. But the other half of me always stays in the art world and became an artist because I believe in what people have to express, and believe in something really innate and beautiful and interesting about the complexity of people believe in what people are allowed to do, I believe, I believe that when people are allowed to be themselves are allowed to flourish when they have the safety and the permission and the guidance, and some inspiration that they do most, the most profound, interesting, beautiful things. And so my story in BORDERx was strange. It was not a report Taj, it was not a documentary, it was not trying to show some stories that haven’t been already seen. It was trying to investigate some of the emotions, and some of the backstory and all of my stories have been fueled by rage. rage that this that people aren’t treated like people, mostly that people aren’t treated like. They are something valuable that they have something valuable to contribute. I’ve always believed that people do and that people, empowered by their community by their broader world will shine beautiful things provide beautiful things create beautiful things, and the constant destruction of people’s spirits and their physical bodies is The biggest harm anyone can do. And we do it constantly as a culture. And so my stories as strange as they are, the one in border acts as wild as it is, is fueled by that rage and that belief that we should be providing for each other.
Vivek Bald 55:32
So we’re going to, as Scot mentioned, there is a QA that that folks who were attendees from outside MIT can can write their questions into and, and we’ll be opening up to questions for from everyone on screen right now. First, I wanted to just step in and ask a question to start things off, Mauricio. And that is, uh, you know, I’m thinking about the the posters that were that you showed, early on in this presentation from the DC punk rock scene that you were connected to, and particularly the poster, the rock against Reagan poster, that was a series of shows that happened all over the country really, in different punk rock scenes. And I really have two questions connected to that. And one is just about what you what you learned, and what you have sort of brought forward as an artist from from those origins within the DC punk scene, which was a particularly politically engaged scene, you know, compared to others across the country. And the other is actually on a broader political level thinking about Reagan and thinking about what the the kind of activism that so many were involved in at that moment. To tie that to the border crisis right now, because, you know, I think, sometimes what gets lost in press accounts is, is the the historical depth of, you know, why people are fleeing from Central America to cross the border, which, of course, does date back to the Reagan era. So I was wondering if you could, you know, the two very different questions from looking at that same poster, but if you could talk about those to start off.
Mauricio Cordero 57:39
Sure. Um, so I was lucky enough to grow up in the punk scene. And like you said, it was not like, the scene in London or New York or anywhere else, it was not concerned with fashion, it wasn’t about having spiky jackets, and, you know, green hair or anything like that. It was really about politics and how young people can resist and, and really rage against politics and try to channel that into creativity in art. Um, so, you know, early on a one show, I was, like, 1415, just standing by the stage and in Mackay, and john stab, and I believe it was Henry Rollins walked up to me and asked me if I was, you know, so and so I don’t remember what the name was. And I was like, No, but you are in, you know, Henry and, and John Stabb, and they were, that those were my idols. And to have them actually just be so approachable, sort of shaped my attitude towards art and music. I, I wanted to patronize art artists who are approachable and sort of down to earth on and also I, I don’t have a problem with going up to someone I admire and asking them for something, especially when it’s for a larger cause. Um, wow, Reagan. Um, so we did have these wonderful shows, right there on the Mall. At first, they’re rock against Reagan on then rock against bush. And so every year, around the Fourth of July, or on the Fourth of July, it was sort of a counter concert, almost like the Chicago DNC, where the MC5 played outside to sort of counter what was going on inside on. And those were those were quite formative and informative concerts in production You know, there’ll be tons of flyers given out but also leaflets on I first learned about the the genocide and Guatemala through a millions of dead cops album MDC. They had an insert that detailed the atrocities and some of the most graphic, disturbing photos that I’d ever seen on things that were just not being promoted in the press, for obvious reasons. I mean, they’re, they’re gruesome photos. And so that’s sort of blunt honesty, and no real tied to commercialism. So the interest was getting the truth out, maybe selling 100 albums, but really changing minds more than having a pop single or getting on MTV. And the radio with Reagan, we could talk all day all night about Reagan in Central America. But really, that was something that opened my eyes, the punk rock movement, opened my eyes to Reagan’s policies, and really drove me to actually visit Nicaragua in 1990, I believe, on a small relief mission, right after the war. But I’m not a Latin American expert. So I’ll just kind of leave it at that.
Scot Osterweil 1:01:39
Thanks. Check. Questions. Ámbar.
Ámbar Reyes 1:01:48
Hi, Mauricio, thank you so much for your talk. I was wondering, there’s, there’s been a lot of conversation about like co creating with communities. And I was wondering, if you, like, why did you choose to, like, create this comic with artists rather than, like, commute? Like immigrant communities, for instance, like, create the art with those communities? Yeah.
Mauricio Cordero 1:02:17
Um, well, part of it is, you know, knowing my skill set and how much time I have. I make comics, I know, professional artists, and I can get into those circles. Um, and I really didn’t expect to spend the entire year focused on this one project on also, I there’s something about engaging people that aren’t engaged in that specific topic. That’s very powerful. I would love to do project with with migrants. And there were some migrants involved in border acts, and even someone who is here without a without papers, but I won’t get too much into that. Um, however, they already know the history, they know what’s happening, what’s happening to them, how they’re seen by society. And so I thought, opening it up to other people who might not know, as Jim points out in the video, there are a lot of teams. And so you know, for some of the comments, we had up to seven people working on a comic, all looking at this topic and all learning from it and really absorbing it. And if I could create a few more advocates for the border crisis issues, I felt that it was a good strategy and and they further reached out to their audiences and sort of got the word much further than I could have done on my own. Does that make sense?
Ámbar Reyes 1:04:17
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.
Scot Osterweil 1:04:22
Javier Barroso 1:04:25
Hello, everyone. Nice to thank you for for your presentation and for for the project. My question is, do you you see any value in perhaps offering a translated version of the Scientology to Spanish? It seemed feasible even or have you thought about it?
Mauricio Cordero 1:04:46
Um, yes. And I’ve done it. So one of the things that I didn’t fit into the video is that we had a team of translators who I knew one of them when I lived in France and he got a large group in Barcelona to take every single page and translate it. So obviously, um, you know, or audiences Latin American. So they worked with a few editors, I believe in Arizona and one in Mexico, to proofread it to take the sort of Castilian aspect out and translate it into more universal Spanish on. So part of those have a few of those have gone out to artists, the rest are sitting on my hard drive until tomorrow, when I have time again to work on this. And we hope to get a new, all Spanish edition out. Um, I’d like to try to do another fundraiser or somehow figure out a way to fund the printing so we can get them into the remain in Mexico camps, physical copies. So we have a few leads, there’s a nun who’s doing some incredible work on the border on like smuggling, reading materials and things into the camps. And so, you know, it’s it’s an ongoing process, but it’s, it’s not complete. And it’s kind of time consuming, as well to redo the lettering. But luckily, we don’t have to redo the art. So it’ll be forthcoming. Thank you.
Javier Barroso 1:06:30
Scot Osterweil 1:06:35
Vivek Bald 1:06:48
Well, I will, until we have another question. I had another question that was more about process. And that is I’m curious to hear about the relationship a bit more about the relationship between this project the the project, I’m forgetting the name of the woman who was speaking about Project Amplify, and the southern Texas human rights group. And what what were the connections between all three? You know, you mentioned in the, in the talk that you were already working on the project before connecting with Project Amplify, but I’m also interested in the connection with with the South Texas human rights group.
Mauricio Cordero 1:07:46
Feels like I almost woke up one morning, just thinking is anybody paying attention. And as I explored, just google searches and whatnot, I can’t come across Project Amplify. And I think someone might have pointed me the way and I reached out to them. And that’s when we struck up a sort of partnership on part of the box. So they supplied the verbatim transcripts that were presented to the Supreme Court in Florida versus bar. And I sifted through those and gave them out to artists teams to illustrate on and after that, they’ve just been so supportive. Warren binford is someone who I can call at any point and just ask her to try to, you know, get the word out there or other things. She was instrumental in getting a Senator Jeff Merkley on board, he wrote the prologue to the addition. And finally, on the south Texas Human Rights Center, on you know, I estimated that this project would make maybe a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on not much more. And as I was thinking, Okay, so I’ll direct the money to races. Like just days after that they did a Facebook post and raised $12 million off of a single Facebook post. And I just, I thought, I don’t want to take all this artwork, this all these hours of work and raise, you know, a drop in the ocean, I set out to find a very small, very lean, nonprofit. And so I consulted GuideStar and look for extremely small budgets. And I came across an ACLU listing of underfunded projects doing a central work on the border. And that’s when I found three organizations. And for various reasons, two of them just were like comics on and Eddie was just great. He’s like, yeah, gung ho, let’s do it on. And also the mission is it’s a difficult one. And I like problems, I guess. It’s hard to convince someone to fund an organization that provides water for migrants who are crossing the border, but also on forensic recovery. It’s, it’s difficult to talk about, it’s uncomfortable. And you know, it’s it’s hard to pitch. So that attracted me I, I wanted to challenge I wanted people to be aware of what we’re really talking about, and it’s life and death. And so that’s how I decided on South Texas Human Rights Center.
Scot Osterweil 1:10:59
Heather, you had a question?
Heather Hendershot 1:11:00
Yeah. Um, I have two questions. The The first one is, you mentioned early on your decision, to not mention the name of he who must not be named throughout the whole work. And I wonder if you could talk more about why you made that decision and how important it was to the project? Um, and my other question is less political, more just aesthetic, because we saw such an interesting range of styles. And I wonder if you could talk about just a bit more about their decision to use all these different visual styles. And, and you know, one moment I even noticed the back of the current president’s head, and it looks really like Gary Trudeau draws that hair, like, thing, mongoose sort of device on that person’s head. So that was a moment, I saw a direct sort of influence of like, Oh, yeah, I’ve seen work that looks like this before. And other things. I was like, I haven’t seen anything that looked like this, you know, it was really unique. So I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about the aesthetics.
Mauricio Cordero 1:12:08
The aesthetics is simple, I just put the project out there. And I don’t know how I got so lucky. The artwork that came back was just really top notch, and really professional. And the sort of variety that I wanted, I, you know, early on, I considered for about two seconds, doing my own book before I even thought of doing an anthology. And I thought, No, it would be one point of view to be one voice. And it would be limited by my reach my my scope on so I really wanted to, to do the project in a way that had multiple different viewpoints, styles, approaches, and points of view. So that was the aesthetic bit, I’m not mentioning it. Um, so that person thrives on attention. And we don’t need to give it any more attention than it gets with a tweak. Um. Also, I’m just continuously frustrated. So I was going to include this in the presentation, but then it’s just getting too long. For a little while I was doing a comic based on on that person’s antics, and I couldn’t keep it up. As soon as I finished a comic, the issue was irrelevant, because it was replaced by another issue, you know, firing. So if I spent hours drawing this one person, a week later, they’re out of the administration on in the same sort of dynamic was happening with some of these important issues that we were losing the thread on the migrant crisis, because he was doing some other clown show or grabbing a pony and balancing ball on his nose, and all these other ridiculous things that he does to get attention. So I really didn’t want his inclusion in this volume to take away any of the energy or attention from where it should be on the individuals who are actually affected by this crisis. And we didn’t negotiate that. That one image that you mentioned, I think there might be two appearances in the book. And I asked in the artists were very polite and accommodating, to not show his face and to not write him His name out way. And and I’m glad for it. No regrets. I think he’s implicated enough by his policies and actions that we don’t need to name or depict him anymore.
Vivek Bald 1:15:23
there’s a there’s a question from from the chat from Caitlin. Mauricio, thank you for inviting your SAW colleagues to this important discussion. How have the children whose stories are amplified in this project responded to seeing the comics?
Mauricio Cordero 1:15:44
Well, we don’t know. Um, the all the testimony is anonymous, for various reasons for the protection of the children on so I don’t know if any of the children in the exhibits has actually seen the comic. And that is what I had hoped to do on later on is try to find a few agencies that can distribute the electronic version and the Spanish version. Um, but sadly, we just can’t get that sort of feedback.
Scot Osterweil 1:16:30
Other questions? a question over here.
Sajan Saini 1:16:34
Hi Mauricio. I’m visitor to the lecture. Very impressive work. I’m curious, ask your thought having completed the work and looking back at it at this point? How do you situate the decisions that you made for one reason or the other upfront to go with as an independent work? And even thinking at the outset about a sort of a punk rock perspective, if you will, right, governing the aesthetic, but what’s been realized now, the work they have in front of you. I’m curious to get your thought about how you see it having similarity or dissimilarity to the kind of stuff Joe Sacco has done right. years ago. curious to hear your thoughts about that and how you see sort of the elasticity of comics to do this kind of work.
Mauricio Cordero 1:17:18
Oh, wow. Joe Sacco. Um, I think that harks back to, I love his work. I love what he’s done. I’m not a journalist. I’m not trained in journalism. I’m not a historian. I make comics. So I wouldn’t. It just wouldn’t be my my wheelhouse to try to do a sort of in depth project on the border on however, I have opinions, and I have Google so. So I can’t find enough information to provide my viewpoint. But really, going back to that punk aesthetic, it was a very inclusive movement. You know, if you had a band that had been rehearsing for three weeks in a basement in Falls Church or Alexandria, you could be on a stage with minor threat or you know, later on fougasse, or some of the key bands on. So I think this this inclusive spirit, permeated through the BORDERx anthology, some of the artists are actually first time comic creators a lot of the longer pieces. I sort of ripped out of the hands of writers who are like, well, I’ve never written a comic before. And I was like, No, no, it’ll be okay, come on. And so we sort of coach them on how to translate their script into comic book form. For example, Brian DeLay, he had never done a comic, but was really really enthused by comics. So, um, see, I think, by providing a large platform, getting a lot of different voices, and it just harkens back to that DIY spirit. I’m sorry. Did I answer your question.
Sajan Saini 1:19:25
That’s good. Thank you. Thanks. Merci.
Scot Osterweil 1:19:27
Jim Paradis 1:19:36
I just want to make a comment. I think Joe Sacco would love this comic. Joe Sacco has a new workout title paying the land that just came out about a year ago, but this is very much Maurico’s a cousin. This is this is the same realm and I think these two comic artists would be very, very compart compatible. And yeah, so anyway, that’s interesting to mention that because that’s also art that has advocacy. But it’s it’s art that is formed in a different way, but very, very similar. So anyway, it’s it’s worth mentioning. That’s nice, nice comparison.
Mauricio Cordero 1:20:28
If anyone has just Sacco’s address, I’m happy to send him a copy.
Scot Osterweil 1:20:34
So I have a question, Mauricio. I think about sort of having been outraged by the same things you outraged over the years. And one of the things that overall, I’ve come to realize is that, how little at least I don’t know whether it was ever, ever otherwise, but how little accountability there is over time. In other words, no one’s paid. No one’s paid a penalty for what the Reagan administration did in Latin America, no one’s paid a penalty. D for what’s happened in happened in Iraq in the first decade of this century. Any thoughts about whether we can whether I mean, it’s it’s critical that we’re, you’re doing what you’re doing to raise awareness of the the problems? Is there any thought about a role I could have in terms of actually trying to bring people to account I guess,
Mauricio Cordero 1:21:37
I’m sorry, kind of bring people
Scot Osterweil 1:21:39
bring people to account for their crimes? Yeah.
Mauricio Cordero 1:21:42
Wow. Um, you know, it’s tough now with without getting mystical or anything like that I we recently saw a Shepard Fairey on exhibit in Los Angeles. And it was wonderful to revisit scumbags like Nixon and Reagan in all their awfulness on. And so I think that’s part of what artists who create political art do is they, they preserve the ugliness, they look away, they look straight into that storm and say, you know, we’re watching, and we’re recording it. And that was one of the goals with BORDERx is to try to create something of quality that would endure past this administration, and hey, guess what, in just like, what 60 days, BORDERx will have endured past this administration, and it remains an account of some of the atrocities But to be clear, on the border migration crisis has been going on well, before this credit. So, you know, there’s a lot of accountability to spread around there. Yeah.
Vivek Bald 1:23:22
Okay, well, we’re up on 630. So I just wanted to with everyone, thank you so much for your time and and for for the putting together the presentation and and I look forward to being able to to read to read the to read BORDERx. And actually, that’s, that’s a question and to end with it, how how can we all get our hands on physical copies of BORDERx,
Mauricio Cordero 1:23:59
BORDERx? It’s really available through any retailer, mostly online, you know, fully stocked on the shelves. But if you go to www order hyphen x.com on you can order it through the big players like Amazon and Barnes and Nobles, but also through a books through indie bound through all the smaller distributors and their links on the website to the smaller distributors. And the best thing honestly, is just call up your local bookstore and do like a curbside pickup, you know, and, and just support them. They need it, especially the comic book stores. They’re really taking a hit. So if you’re here in Somerville, Kamikaze is wonderful place. They’ve been very supportive. And yeah, support your local worksheets, please.
Vivek Bald 1:24:54
All right. Thank you so much. And thank you, everyone for joining us tonight. All right.
Mauricio Cordero 1:25:01