Reclaim The River

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Text + photos: Zeke Peña

The river has always been the foundation of life in this area and although water now comes from our faucets, it’s worth remembering that we live in a desert and the river is the reason we survive here. Bravo/Grande is the first phase of an on-going collaborative arts project about the river and the significance it has had in our lives, and the growth of our area.

Bravo/Grande focuses on the middle Río Grande/Río Bravo and transnational community of the El Paso, Juárez and Ysleta region. Through creative collaborative efforts, this project raises awareness about the current state of the river and explores changes in government policy, border militarization and climate change.

Over the years we have seen significant changes to the river in an attempt to make it function as a border. In fact, we live in the place where the river becomes the border. A wide river flows south into the American Dam near ASARCO and transforms into the concrete canal we know as the U.S./Mexico border. The convergence of the border and river has detrimental ecological, social and cultural effects on the entire region but most significantly on indigenous communities and the community in Juárez overall.

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We need the river to survive, but the river also needs us to protect it in order to provide.

The coalition of community stakeholders involved with this project hope to remember how much we owe this sacred river as the provider for our survival in the desert: water for crops, water in our homes, recreation and cultural/spiritual practice. We think it’s important for our community in the United States to learn more about the treaties and policies having significant effects on Mexico as well as sovereign indigenous communities.

We also think it’s important to learn more about how the river is managed and allocated. In the U.S. we have the ability to speak up about these issues and therefore have the responsibility to do so while also taking action to improve them for the welfare of the entire region and future generations. We need the river to survive, but the river also needs us to protect it in order to provide. We intend to reconnect with the river, protect this source of life and provide equitable access and distribution management to all communities. We also intend to improve the relationship between our transnational communities and manage our river more sustainably.

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The Bravo/Grande interpretive exhibit is currently installed at the U.S. Chamizal National Memorial Cultural Center and will be open through October 13, 2016. The cultural center is open everyday from 10a – 5p. The exhibit features work by myself, Zeke Peña a native to this area and a visual historian & storyteller. The exhibit includes 3 paintings with augmented video & audio made in collaboration with Augment El Paso, a preview of a short documentary, photographs and drawings. There will also be a closing event and screening of the video in the Chamizal Theater October 12, 2016 (time TBD) with a discussion about the project. The entire El Paso/Juárez/Ysleta community is invited to share in this on-going discussion and project.

More info: www.zpvisual.com/river  //  @zpvisual

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