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Calle 13 Arts Group Fights to Save Border Murals

Calle 13, a collective in Mexicali that had painted 35 murals on the old border fence, had been trying to save its artwork as the barrier was replaced.

U.S.-Mexico border
A painting of the Mexican flag with a warrior in the middle along the U.S.-Mexico border in Mexicali. /Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post originally appeared in the Oct. 15 Border Report. Get it delivered every other Monday. 

The construction of a new border structure in Calexico was recently completed, the Union-Tribune reports.

Calle 13, an artist collective in Mexicali that had painted 35 murals on the old border fence, had been trying to save its artwork as the barrier was taken down and replaced. We paid a visit to them back in March and recently checked in on the status of the murals.

In March, the art collective had tried to arrange an agreement with Border Patrol officials and the construction company building the structure, but weren’t having any luck. Two months later, construction workers began tearing down and destroying several art pieces.

Thomas Gin, who grew up in the neighborhood along the Mexican side of the fence and founded Calle 13, tried to physically drag one of the pieces across the border to save some of the murals. When that didn’t work, he climbed on top of another one and refused to come down. A La Cronica photojournalist captured the tense moment.

When Gin wouldn’t come down, Border Patrol officials fired tear gas in his direction, which caused him to lose his grip – but he managed to avoid falling off completely. Officials then tried once more to talk things out with Gin. They promised to meet with him soon to see how Border Patrol could help save the murals.

Gin agreed, and climbed off.

“These murals are a part of Mexicali’s history,” Gin said. “It’s something we can save without any violence.”

In the next couple of days, Gin said he didn’t hear back from Border Patrol, but did hear from the owner of SWF Constructors — the company in charge of the project — who ordered his employees to help preserve the next mural on the chopping block.

Out of the 35 pieces, the mural of Aztec leader Cuauhtemoc by local artists Pablo Castañeda and Eduardo Kintero was the only one spared. The piece is currently displayed in the art collective’s studio just a couple steps away from its original location, but Gin said he’s working to find a permanent home for it.

“I put my life at risk, but it was worth it,” Gin said.

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