AMY GOODMAN: You always make an image. Or, talk about the kind of icon you have in the middle, that's different for every cross.
ALVARO ENCISO: Yes. I wanted the crosses to be as unique as possible, but to have something that bring them together. And I use the red dot that I found on the map. So I'm bringing the red dot into the desert where the actual tragedy took place.
AMY GOODMAN: The red dot of a migrant death.
ALVARO ENCISO: Yeah. The red dot that you see on the map is here now on the crosses. So the crosses are the container to bring the red dot here.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the pregnant woman who was making her way along the border here in the Sonoran Desert?
ALVARO ENCISO: I learned about that case a while ago. And it was a baby who was born by the side of the road and died by the side of the road. And the fact that baby was born by the side of the road, that made him an American automatically, because he was born in this country. But he didn't have the opportunity to die he died there. And the mother, we don't know what happened. She got deported somewhere.
And when I saw that case, you know, I said, "Jesus, do I have to make a special cross for this baby, or do I need to do something with it?" And I finally had gathered enough courage to go there and put the cross for this baby. It affected me, you know, big time. How could a baby die here? And so, I came and put a cross there, and then I told people that I had put a cross for a baby, you know. And then, little by little, people started bringing toys and started writing poems, and it became a big shrine. And everybody that came here will have to stop there and have a picture taken with this cross that became the iconic symbol of this tragedy here.
But one day the cross disappeared. It was gone. And then everybody started calling me about, "Well, the cross is no longer there. We need the cross, because the cross is now now we don't have anything to" you know, this was the symbol that represented this whole thing. So, I went back and built another one, so that was a second-generation cross. Now it's full of toys again. And now there are people who maintain the area. They pull the weeds and, you know.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Alvaro, you also find bones in the desert.
ALVARO ENCISO: Yeah, I find bones and dead bodies, because I walk areas that are so remote, where migrants die, because, you know, that's the way it is here in this desert.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about working with the Pima County medical examiner, how you find the link between the bones or the dead body in the desert and the family that has somehow made it known that their loved one is gone.
ALVARO ENCISO: Sometimes I work with Colibrí Center for Human Rights. They work together with the Office of the Medical Examiner. You know, they see me on television, or they see me they read an article about me. So I get a call or an email from a family that they want me to put a cross. And a couple years ago, there was a family from Peru. The woman, a woman from Peru, disappeared here, and no one knew what happened to her. And then, one day, a skull was found. The cranium was found. It took a couple years to identify the cranium, and they finally were able to make the connection. So...
AMY GOODMAN: DNA connection.
ALVARO ENCISO: Yeah, DNA connection. So, the family, her two daughters and her husband, came, and I put a cross for them. And it was a magical moment. You know, things like that don't happen in my project. It's always anonymity. You know, it's always and that was very, very special, you know, to be able to have the family there and me putting a cross for her. But those are rare moments that you know, I got an email recently from a woman who wants me to put a cross for her father. And I said, "Well, I'll do that when I come back from Colombia. When I you know, I'll do that." And they asked me: How much do I charge for this kind of service? You know, I said, "No, I don't ask for money. This is what I do. This is my work."
In the beginning, you know, some of the death sites from the early 2000s, we knew most of the names, because people carried IDs, you know, they carried some kind of information, and because they were found not too far from the roads. But nowadays people do not carry any form of ID, because if you carry ID, that exposes you to extortion from organized crime. You know, they can call your family and ask for money. They kidnap people very much. And what good is an ID from Guatemala or from El Salvador or from Honduras? It doesn't do you any good. In fact, it brands you as an illegal person here. You know, I say "illegal," but that's not a good word, you know. Trying to be somebody in life, there's nothing illegal about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you go on building these crosses?