The Migrant Quilt Project is a grassroots, collaborative effort of artists, quiltmakers, and activists to express compassion for migrants from Mexico and Central America who died in the Southern Arizona deserts on their way to create better lives for themselves and their families.
The public is invited to view this unique and powerful exhibition of quilts at the Loutit District Library (LDL) from August 6 to September 4 during the library business hours.
The Migrant Quilt Project was founded in 2007 by Tucson resident Jody Ipsen to honor the thousands of migrants who have died in the Arizona desert since 2000 and to bring awareness to the policies bound to their deaths.
In 2006, while hiking in the Huachuca Mountains with a friend, she happened upon a “lay-up site,” where smugglers bring migrants to eat, rest and maybe change their clothes before continuing on their journey. The small clearing was littered with clothes, shoes and backpacks – but also with baby diapers and children’s clothes.
“It was so overwhelming to see those baby items in the desert,” she says. “I was just so completely appalled, but sad. Deeply sad. Because these people were crossing for a better life, but they were also bringing babies and children.”
Deaths in the Tucson Sector surged from fewer than a dozen each year during the 1990s to nearly 300 in fiscal year 2004-2005 alone, records from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner show. Since 2000, more than 3,000 migrants have died trying to cross in this sector and upwards of 6,000 across the entire U.S. southern border.
Thinking of how the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt had brought awareness to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, she decided to turn the clothing into quilts with the names of the migrants who died trying to cross the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, 262 miles from the eastern edge of Yuma County to the New Mexico state line.
Ipsen recruited volunteer artists and quilters to create bold works that would both honor the migrants and draw attention to the policies that pushed them into the desert where they died.
Ipsen will be joined by another quilt artist, Mary Vaneecke, in a free, public presentation regarding the Migrant Quilt Project and each quilt on display. The program will be held in the library’s Program Room A on Wednesday, August 15 beginning at 7pm and will include a guided interpretive tour of the quilts.
Spring Lake resident Linda Rogers, while vacationing in the Tucson area, attended an exhibition of the quilts and contacted Library Director John Martin to suggest the library bring the quilts to Grand Haven.
“Through a generous grant from the American Quilt Study Group located in Lincoln, Nebraska,” said Martin, “we are very fortunate to be able to display this traveling exhibit of quilts. The quilts help tell an important story, one that needs to be discussed.
Construction of border walls, illegal immigration and separation of children from their families are hot topics in today’s news. We hope this exhibition, along with Jody and Mary’s presentation on August 21, will add to the discussion of these important topics. In addition, we thank Grand Haven’s Lighthouse Quilt Guild for providing quilt hangers to properly display the quilts.”