We like to say that the United States is a land of immigrants. Yet few of us, including myself, have ever lived the life of an immigrant and, it is unlikely that we ever will. Most of us will never experience what it is like to be a migrant. Nor will we know what it is like to be left behind. And we will never experience the gradual disappearance of our communities as more and more of our neighbors depart.
On returning home to Teococuilco de Marcos Pérez, a small village in the Sierra Norte in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, Alejandro Santiago found that half the population of the village had migrated to the north, many to the United States. The reasons for the migration were varied, but most of the population had left to look for work in order to survive. Teococuilco, formerly a self-sustaining village of farmers, had fallen on hard times in the wake of the effects of NAFTA. Santiago, a sculptor and painter with an international reputation, decided to “re-populate” his village with clay sculptures that would represent those who had left. It was his plan to replace each of the 2500 migrants with a clay sculpture. One additional sculpture would represent himself. And so, he called the project “2501 Migrants.”
Santiago began this mammoth project in 2001. Although supported by major art foundations and museums in both Mexico and the United States, it took six years to finish the sculptures. The first show for the project was held in Monterrey in 2007. The figures were next transported to a location near the U.S.- Mexican border for display. Many have now returned to the city of Oaxaca where they rest in the plaza in front of the Santo Domingo de Guzmán church, as shown in the photo above. More information about this remarkable project can be found at Alejandro Santiago’s Web site, and at another site dedicated especially to the 2501 Migrants project. Finally, a video describing the project, beautifully directed and produced by filmmaker, Yolanda Cruz, is available for personal and educational licensing. If you visit the video site, be sure to watch the trailer.