‘A Beautiful Community’: Painting Sends Message of Hope at US-Mexico Border

As drivers cross the U.S.-Mexico border via a bridge near El Paso, Texas, signs surround them. Some are there to provide direction. Others offer a greeting: “Welcome to Mexico.” But one of the largest signs — a towering 26 feet by 72 feet — has little to do with border logistics. Instead, it’s a painting by 23-year-old Mexican artist Paloma Vianey, who for four years crossed the border almost every weekday to attend the University of Texas at El Paso.

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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
As drivers cross the U.S.-Mexico border via a bridge near El Paso, Texas, signs surround them. Some are there to provide direction. Others offer a greeting: “Welcome to Mexico.”nBut one of the largest signs — a towering 26 feet by 72 feet — has little to do with border logistics. Instead, it’s a panoramic painting by 23-year-old Mexican artist Paloma Vianey, who for four years crossed the border almost every weekday to attend the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
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“I want to remind those people from the United States and from Mexico that there is peace,” Vianey said.
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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
Her message comes as President Donald Trump is weighing whether to close some or all entry ports in response to an influx of migrants who are entering the country. As experts and fellow Republicans raised concerns about how a closed border could cripple the economy, Trump responded Tuesday, “security is more important to me than trade."
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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
Vianey said the border isn’t the war zone people imagine it is. In fact, she said, it’s usually boring. Before Vianey graduated from UTEP in August 2018, she lived in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and would line up at the border every weekday, show an official her passport and go to school in the U.S., where she studied art history and painting. Her commute was between 30 and 40 minutes, with a minute to 20 minutes tacked on at the entry point.
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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
At one of the bridges that connect Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, a huge, oxidized structure near the entrance to her country made Vianey uneasy as she commuted to and from school. She decided she wanted to fill the space with a message to people entering Mexico from the U.S.
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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
“I am from the border, and although I’m not a U.S. citizen, I have spent a lot of my time in the United States,” Vianey said. “I appreciate the U.S. so much that I wanted visitors entering from the U.S. to feel welcome.”
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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
After getting permission from the Mexican government to install her work in the massive, decaying frame, Vianey raised funds for her project through companies and institutions in her community. Finally, in fall 2018, she began her work.
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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
For a month, she labored from dawn to dusk every day, hoisted more than 32 feet up on a boom lift, she said. From that vantage point, she watched cars cross both sides of the border.
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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
Vianey finished her painting in November. Titled "Juárez Es Fuerte," it shows a girl blowing bubbles, each of which materializes as an iconic image of Juárez. The work is about peace and nods to the U.S. and Mexico’s bicultural relationship, Vianey said.
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Courtesy of Paloma Vianey
Vianey warned that, were Trump to shutter the border, it would mean the end of education for some people who go between the two countries every day, as she once did. For others, it would mean unemployment. “Really, for me, the border is a beautiful community of people who love each other on either side and are crossing back and forth with no problem,” Vianey said. “And it terrifies me that that might not be — that that might be discontinued.”
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