Side Fence The Other
Flag photographer Raechel Running explores the connections of humanity and crafts a love song for Mexico
By Penelope Bass
Above: A young man tends organic chiles in the Mormon fields near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua. This particular crop was being raised for an organic salsa company in the United States. On average most workers will make less than $15 day. A jar of designer salsa will cost $4. Left: Gil Gillenwater, founder of the binational organization Rancho Feliz, walks along the fence of Agua Prieta at the U.S./ Mexico border. Photos by Raechel Running, courtesy of the artist.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
www.flaglive.com • Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2010
Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2010 • www.flaglive.com
n a land where cultural connections run like roadmaps—where German Mennonites live alongside Mexican farmers, where archaeological ruins mirror those in our own back yard, where chocolate and turquoise crossed paths—our most basic connection, a shared humanity, is suffering, severed by political borders. For the last three years, local photographer Raechel Running has been living and traveling throughout the borderlands of Mexico. With the new exhibit “Sueños de Aztlan: Journey of the Plumed Serpent,” Running is sharing her experiences and her photos from a community and a people who have shown her warmth, kindness and a shared history. Life in the Borderlands
A section of chain link fence covers the large front window at the Flagstaff Photography Center, the cold, gray metal contrasted against several red roses woven through the links. Inside, a collection of photos—selected from thousands that were taken—represents the traditions, compassion and joyfulness of a culture whose people are rarely depicted as anything other than drug smugglers, human traffickers and illegal immigrants in the media lately. “The hospitality and the kindness and the diversity and the richness of the culture is what has really inspired me,” Running explains. “I find that everyday is like a field trip or an opportunity to learn something I have never known.” Running originally traveled to Mexico to
work on a piece for a magazine about master potter Juan Quezada. The story fell through, but Running was invited to stay as an artist-inresidence by her hosts and friends Spencer and Emi MacCallum, who have been instrumental in reviving the arts in areas of Mexico. Running stays in a home in Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, about two and a half hours south of the border on Highway 89. What was supposed to be a three-month stint turned into three years as Running found herself pulled deeper into the culture and its history. “Usually when we learn history we never get the stories, we just get the facts. But by living in Mexico, you get the stories,” Running says. “The place where I live is the place where the first battle of the Mexican Revolution began.
Dennise Acosta stands in front of the Hacienda San Diego, one of 35 haciendas owned by Luis Terrazas before the time of the Mexican Revolution. Her great grandmother worked as a cook for Mr. Terrazas. Bullet holes and imported Italian tiles tell stories within the adobe structure which served as the Capitol of Mexico for one day.
Up the road there is a field where much of the produce that comes to America is grown. Within 930 miles there are all these connections.” The more stories she learned, the more connections she discovered—between Mexican communities and the Mormon settlements, between ancient agricultural practices and current organic farming, between the ruins at Wupatki and those at Paquimé. She studied ranching, farming and conservation efforts. She found herself riding horseback across ancient trade routes. She communicated wordlessly with a small community of Mennonites. “It’s sort of the project that keeps leading me; you could describe it as peeling an onion,” gushes Running in a nearly non-stop stream of
consciousness. “It’s almost like an outline that I keep following in different directions, and it’s been over three years and I still feel that even if I do another 40 years of work I’ll barely have scratched the surface.”
tell these stories and to help other people learn that there are these stories. I really feel that we need to look at where we come from and what our history is and what really happened in this landscape thousands of years ago as we are look-
We’re inundated with this negative viewpoint and I don’t think it’s helping the dialogue at all. What I’ve chosen to photograph is also what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen. I just felt like this was my responsibility, that this is how I could perhaps bring understanding to our community and also be a representative of the people I’ve met.
ing right now—I just feel that if people could learn and be inspired to look beyond and get reeducated and re-acknowledge the history of the greater Southwest, that that could make a change. “When people say things like ‘Go back to where you come from,’ they don’t realize that they’re actually on old, indigenous Mexican lands; that the borders are manmade, but that hasn’t changed people’s relationship to the land.”
Making the connection
When SB 1070 was introduced and signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, outrage She continues, “It’s been really fascinat- ing at the problems that we’re facing now. The spread rapidly across the state and the country. ing to see the story. And part of my work is to fear and the hate and the racism that is happen- Many hailed it for finally taking action on long-
www.flaglive.com • Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2010
Mennonite quilter Justina Fehr of Campo Capulin looks over her recently made woven matts. She and her family have been a part of Emi and Spencer MacCallum’s project to champion a small cottage industry.
Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2010 • www.flaglive.com
neglected immigration policies while others de- perience, it might change your world view. Each cried it for being blatantly racist and furthering of these photographs has an aspect of the story. an environment of fear and hatred. Living down It’s about being open to each other’s stories or in Mexico, Running was afforded a unique per- to learn the story, because that’s when the story spective on the controversial issue. becomes universal.” “The show is kind of to address the SB 1070 Because politics is a slow-moving beast, not through hate, but by showing what is on the Running says she has seen the most positive reother side of the fence; what is on the other side sults in across-the-border cooperation through of hate, on the other side of fear,” Running ex- smaller community groups and projects to proplains. “We’re inundated with this negative view- mote education, cultural arts, health care, houspoint and I don’t think it’s helping the dialogue ing and community gardens. Most recently, at all. What Running has I’ve chosen to been working These activities create beauty and photograph is with two ongofunctionality, and those are things that also what I’ve ing projects: bring the community together and help experienced Rancho Feliz, us to dialogue and learn about each other. and what I’ve which helps to Most people don’t know anything about the seen. I just felt create commulike this was nity relationships people living on the other side of the fence. my responsiand to increase bility, that this the availability is how I could perhaps bring understanding of health care and education, and Somos La Seto our community and also be a representative milla, which is working to find community food of the people I’ve met … they can’t come here solutions. and speak, and part of my responsibility is to “Walls don’t work. What works is providhelp people see these other people—to see our ing people the opportunities necessary for them humanity. The hardest part for me, recently to live and raise their families with dignity in with the passing of SB 1070 is that the every- their own country,” says Gil Gillenwater, foundday people from my community, they ask, ‘Why er of Rancho Feliz. do the Americans hate us?’ And these are older “The work is hopeful and brings people people, and they just don’t understand what the together to create human solutions overcoming racism is because they feel that they are part of the politics and fear,” adds Running. She says this America.” that understanding can come through a reconThe inclusive nature of Running’s exhibit, nection of our humanity, and while her show which includes not only her photographs and does coincide with a political issue, the real story photo collages but also Mata Ortiz pottery and is about people. Mennonite quilts, is an example of the con“Initially, I think I envisioned it being a little nections she discovered and what her mentor more political, but then this is what it evolved to. Spencer MacCallum refers to as “artistic fluo- It is more like a love song. It’s from this place of rescence.” people being in between, like an unrequited love. “These activities create beauty and func- And people wanting to connect; I think there is tionality, and those are things that bring the an aspect of humanity that wants to connect. community together and help us to dialogue and We’re not really taught how to do that, and less learn about each other,” says Running. “Most and less so. When people find it, it’s like water. people don’t know anything about the people It’s quenches something within them and lets living on the other side of the fence.” something else grow.” Ultimately, Running says she hopes that “Sueños de Aztlan” is on display at the people will use her exhibit as an opportunity to Flagstaff Photography Center, 107 N. San look beyond borders, both political and those Francisco, until Fri, Sept. 17. For more info, call within us. “This disaster and this hate is an op- 774-2544 or visit www.flagstaffphotographycenter. portunity for us to become re-educated and to com. For more about Raechel Running, or to see open our hearts to learn how to become more more examples of her work, visit her Web site at human,” she says. “If you get that personal ex- www.raechelrunning.com.