These Artists Drove Across the Country To Secretly Recreate the 1821 US-Mexico Border

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Perhaps no one better described the complex situation of Mexican-Americans living out west than the San Jose-based Norteño ensemble Los Tigres del Norte. In the opening lines of their classic “Somos Más Americanos,” the singer reflects on the countless times he’s been told to go back to Mexico then quips, “Yo no crucé la frontera, la frontera me cruzó.”

It’s a playful but potent metaphor for the fact that the vast majority of the American West was actually once part of Mexico. From Louisiana to Oregon, passing through Kansas and Wyoming, the old Mexican territories actually contain some of the most important population centers in the modern United States – and they are ironically home to some of the strongest xenophobic sentiment in the union.

And while most North Americans are hopelessly ignorant of this fact, Mexicans on both sides of the border hold the collective memory of this massive territorial loss close to their hearts. So in an effort to make this whole situation more explicit, the cross-border artistic duo of Marcos Ramírez (aka “ERRE”) and David Taylor recently set out to demarcate the old extension of the US-Mexico border according the the 1821 boundaries established by the Treaty of Adams-Onís.

An exhibition related to the project, called “DeLIMITations”, is currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and museum goers can find photos, videos, and examples of the landmarks used by the duo on their cross country artistic road trip. But the real meat of the project lies along the thousands of miles that once separated the two young nations before treaties, shady purchases, and war ceded most of Mexico’s vast territory to North American hands.

The artists’ border recreation consists of 47 steel obelisks that the duo mounted across national parks and private properties in places as unlikely as Dodge City, Kansas and Medicine Bow, Wyoming. As they dodged park officials on their guerrilla artistic mission, the duo’s goal was to invite reflection on the fluidity of borders at this time of increasing tension, but as Taylor recently explained to the Los Angeles Times, they also learned some unexpected things on their journey.

“There’s a talk radio rhetoric that’s not based in fact and somehow that passes for a legitimate portrayal of what our country looks like,” he reflected, referring to the remote locales they visited along their way. “But then you have a conversation with someone you don’t think you have anything in common with, and you find that you have a lot of overlapping ground.”