What Remains: The Birth of La Trenza

What Remains: The Birth of La Trenza

Weaving international solidarity across the Rio Grande.

JANUARY 2023, NORTH OF IRELAND—We traveled to Derry City to present the photographic exhibition of “What Remains” as part of the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday. Meeting with local community leaders, artists and survivors of conflict, we discovered a shared experience of militarized borders and a common vision of solidarity between communities. Standing on the River Foyle, an enduring symbol of division, we began to understand the connections between the history of our surroundings and the situation unfolding on the banks of our own river, back home on the Rio Grande. (Photographs of La Trenza by Paola Rojo.)

Four creators of La Trenza project hold a piece of the braid
Two months later, Adriana Alvarez, Iris Morales, Mabel Weber, and I were still feeding off the solidarity and strength that we exchanged in Derry City, searching for the next step in our “What Remains” project, and beginning to conceive our most profound piece yet, La Trenza.
Artists braiding La Trenza of found objects in the rio grande
We called on our compatriots from the North of Ireland, New York and San Antonio to reunite, this time in El Paso, Texas, just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
creators braid in a windswept barren desert landscape
We convened in a dry section of the Rio Grande on March 22, 2023, a year after discovering mounds of objects discarded in the desert by children migrating North towards the wall that separates Mexico and the United States.
Declan McLaughlin playing music on the Mexico-US border
There, all together, with no need to talk, listening to Declan McLaughlin’s music, everybody moved in synergy and began to braid La Trenza.
dolls found in the desert tied together into a braid.
The concept of La Trenza emerged through Mabel Weber’s desire to recover the clothes, shoes, and especially the toys that so many children have been forced to leave behind before crossing the border. We preserve these unseen remains and sanctify the trauma of the crossing by weaving together the most intimate momentos from a journey no one wants to choose.  
Adriana braids a section of La Trenza
An internal pause of time and silence, wordlessness. We became vessels serving a purpose through our hands, vessels to contain the intimacy of so many objects found in the desert, of the stories and journeys of migration attached to them. La Trenza began to take form, uniting and connecting all of us…

We carefully braided the rescued toys, shoes, clothes and bags, all tied together, supporting each other in unity and strength, a braid of told and untold stories, of lost dreams.
This is What Remains, this is what we braided. We braided and braided…till after sunset.

Artists standing together in the dry bed of the rio grande
(Left to right) Siddhartha Joag, Declan McLaughlin, Mike Ryan, Adriana Alvarez, Mabel Weber, Julio Morales, Monica Lozano, Michael Marinez and Iris Morales.

MAY 8, 2023, CIUDAD JUAREZ-EL PASO BORDER—Title 42, the World War II era law that granted Presidents Trump and Biden the authority to prevent citizens of foreign countries where communicable diseases are prevalent from entering the United States, was about to expire and the immigrant crisis was intensifying by the minute. Scenes became even more raw and inhumane than they had previously and a heightened sense of anxiety and desperation was felt by many people waiting at the border.

A viaduct that separates the border fences
I arrived at the wall that Monday after dropping off my boys at school. I grabbed my camera and drove along the U.S. side of the wall near El Paso, TX, where I found a mountain of disposed objects.
discarded clothing piled up against a fence.
Distorted questions came raging to my mind as I photographed the scene, simultaneously trying to protect myself behind my camera. I was not prepared to see what was about to unfold in front of my eyes.
woman passes through a gate in the fence with her baby
A gate in the wall opened unexpectedly and a crew of Border Patrol agents and National Guardsmen led a small group of people through. I stayed motionless and completely silent, photographing this historic moment while trying to understand what I was witnessing. 
two women and a man holding a child walk away from the wall
Every 20 minutes, the gate opened allowing a small group of people to pass through, before it was quickly closed and relocked with a thick metal chain. I heard applause coming from the other side of the wall, but little did I know the scenario that was actually playing out on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. 
a line of migrants walking to a waiting bus
Border Patrol agents escorted the new arrivals to a white bus that was waiting for them.
two guards standing at the border fence where the photographer crossed
After an hour painstakingly documenting the scene, a Border Patrol agent came up to me and politely said, “This is nothing compared to what is happening on the other side, inside the river. Do you want to see?” Of course, I said yes, and I followed him to the gate, where he asked a fellow agent to let me through. “Go ahead,” he instructed. “Go down to the river and get close.” 
mounds of clothing piled around two porta-potties in the desert
I did…and then I just stood there, as I had on the other side of the wall, with my feet sinking in the sand. I couldn’t see any faces, I only saw horror. What must reality be like back home for this to be a better life for all these people?
mound of clothing and discarded goods piled next to the border fence.
I witnessed humankind in a state of desperation that I was not prepared to see. Although I know it exists right across the wall from my home, during moments like this—when we found the cemetery of objects in the middle of the desert, for example—the first thing I do is disassociate from myself from my surroundings in order to be able to physically stand there and photograph the apocalyptic, holocaustic reality before me.  
a group of women stare back at the camera while waiting in line at the border
Here it is, history happening in front of our eyes. We bear witness to what it means to say…
queue of waiting migrants near a barbed wire fence
“Come hell or high water.”
Filed Under: Photo & Video


Monica Lozano is a Mexican-American photographer born in El Paso, Texas and raised across the border of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Lozano’s socially-charged portraits speak to the dire conditions of immigrants, displaced peoples, refugees and asylum-seekers in borderlands around the world.

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