ONLY ON KOLD: Tucson artist honors migrants who died during journey to US

ONLY ON KOLD: Crosses in the desert

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Alvaro Enciso starts every Tuesday with a drive out of the city.

“There’s gonna be a road here to the left,” the Tucson artist said while behind the wheel of a red SUV.

He, along with a group of volunteers, navigate through the bumpy terrain as the paved roads end and the dirt roads begin.

“Little under a mile … we have to go around this (a mine) too,” Enciso said to his co-pilot and fellow volunteer.

They are fueling Enciso’s passion project, “Where Dreams Die,” something he started five years ago. Every Tuesday, they drive out into the Sonoran Desert to plant crosses in areas where migrants died.

When the car ride ends, the hike begins.

“(We’ll) hike maybe a quarter of a mile, maybe half a mile,” explained Enciso, holding a map as other volunteers peer over this shoulder.

The map guides them to the exact locations where two migrants died while making their way to the United States.

“This is where we’re gonna go today,” stated one of the volunteers, pointing to two red dots on a GPS device.

The volunteers grab their shovels, strap on their gear and hit the trails.

“This is the way they walked,” said Enciso as the group walks through the quiet desert, weaving through desert shrubs and plants.

As he hikes, he often thinks back to his roots.

“I’m a migrant. I came from Columbia, South America," he said.

That’s the reason he started the project.

“What I’m trying to do is give a presence to these deaths," Enciso said. “Give them a name, a little memory.”

The volunteers roll up their sleeves at the first site, dig a hole, pour concrete and place the cross.

“Every time I come to these locations, it’s a reminder that this was a person who had a heart and a mind and dreams and emotions and feelings just like all of us here,” he said.

Once the cross is secure, silence fills the desert air as everyone gathers around in prayer.

“Dear Lord, help us recognize our migrant brothers and sisters,” a volunteer said while standing over a cross decorated with a rosary.

So far, Enciso and the volunteers have placed 800 crosses across southern Arizona.

“Even after 800 crosses, I get a certain sense of emotion (that) affects me in some way,” he said.

In his 70s, Enciso said the project is physically tough at times but mostly emotional.

“Every cross I put affects me in some way because this is a person," he said. “He had a family, he had a dream and the dream ended here.”

Enciso said he hopes the project sheds light on the deaths happening in the Sonoran Desert.

“People are dying out here every day and these are examples of that here in the middle of this beautiful desert,” he said.

A map created by the organization Humane Borders inspired Enciso to start the project. Using information gathered from the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, it pin points the exact location where remains have been found.

Since 2001, more than 2,800 remains have been located with about 120 this year. With deaths added to the map every year, Enciso knows he can’t keep up.

“At my age, I can no longer make long-term plans,” he said.

But for now, he’ll make the drive out to the desert every Tuesday.

“When I go home, I carry these deaths with me and that keeps me going,” he said.

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