Two Views of Calexico, California, at the Hudson River Museum
Artist Librado “Lee” Romero spent much of his childhood living in Calexico, California, a city on the border of Mexico and the United States, where his father was a railroad worker. The surrounding landscape created memories the artist has since recreated in his work, which is currently on view at the HRM in Librado Romero: From the Desert to the River. Paintings such as Calexico Backyards, 1999, capture the sun-drenched beauty of the city of his youth. The artist states:
“Like all children, we take our upbringing for granted. That we were along the border was no big deal. We never gave it much thought. We enjoyed the freedom of crossing back and forth without documentation. Haircuts were only fifty-cents and tacos even cheaper. We led a carefree life that included camping out in the desert and exploring the mysteries of Mexicali, the sister city to Calexico. The border served as the city limits, north and south. That’s how it was.
As time passed, though, restrictions have risen and it’s a completely different world. Much more complicated and dangerous. Drugs, smuggling, and immigration have all overtaken the idyllic times of our youth.”
Another exhibition, Border Cantos | Sonic Border: Richard Misrach | Guillermo Galindo provides a starkly different view of present-day Calexico and, more broadly, addresses the humanitarian situation at the US and Mexico border region. In Tire drag tracks, near Calexico, California, 2014, photographer Richard Misrach captured the surveillance techniques of Border Patrol agents, including “drag tire” lines, in which heavy objects like large tires, car-wash brushes, and metal chains are dragged behind trucks to create smooth rows in the sand that allow the agents to notice fresh tracks. The migrants, in turn, often mask their footprints with improvised “booties” made of carpet and twine or mattress foam. “As soon as they’re on the other side of the road, they discard the carpet. You find pieces [of carpet] everywhere,” Misrach says.
While Romero’s cherished memories of Calexico remain, he says Misrach’s documentation of the border today “serves as an important and very moving example of the hardships and suffering by so many that otherwise would go unnoticed.”
See both exhibitions on view at the Museum. Border Cantos | Sonic Border is open through May 9 and Librado Romero: From the Desert to the River through June 27.
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Left image: Librado Romero (American, b. 1942). Calexico Backyards, 1999 (detail). Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Right image: Richard Misrach. Tire drag tracks, near Calexico, California (Pistas de arrastre de llantas, cerca de Calexico, California), 2014. Pigment print. 60 × 80 in. (152.4 × 203.2 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.