WATERBOUND is an interdisciplinary community-based project that explores access to water for people crossing the U.S./Mexico border. Policies like prevention-by-deterrence have significantly contributed to a shift towards harsh migrations routes in rural desert areas and an increase in migrant deaths because of dehydration. Referencing actual events and stories the narrative images portrayed in this project encourage us to understand access to clean drinking water as a human right not contingent upon citizenship. The first presentation of this project took place at the historic site on the U.S./MX border known as the El Paso Del Norte river crossing. The project elements include 4 paintings, a series of 5 pastel drawings, a video installation, a web page, participant surveys and a participatory element asking the audience to engage migrants crossing the border by writing messages on water jugs.


Waterbound Painting I   48" x 48", Oil on raw wood panel, 2015
This painting depicts a pregnant woman in transition of crossing from one side of the border to the other. Many women chose to cross into the United States to have their children in hopes that they would have a better opportunity and a better life. Many women make a rigorous and dangerous journey through harsh conditions to cross over. One woman even gave birth to her child while crossing the bridge to the United States.

Waterbound Painting II   48" x 48", Oil on raw wood panel, 2015
This image depicts a family from the El Paso community that helped in the development of the Waterbound project. The family is taking the water as an offering to people in need on the migration route.

Waterbound Painting III  48" x 48", Oil on raw wood panel 2015
This image depicts the story of a young 15 year old boy from Ecuador who attempted to cross the Texas border and lost his life due to lack of water. The boy was making the journey to help make money and provide medicine for his ill mother. The boy was only identifiable by a phone number written on the inside of his belt. This painting imagines this boy's transition from life to death.

Waterbound Painting IV  48"x48", Oil on raw wood panel, 2015
This image portrays a young daughter praying for the safe arrival of you her father making a long journey across many borders. This father traveled crossed many borders in dangerous conditions to be reunited with his daughter and to see his grandson being born. His daughter would pray with water to keep him safe crossing many rivers. She would think about his rough hands and holding them again.



36" x 48", Pastel on paper, 2015
22" x 30", Pastel on paper, 2015
22" x 30", Pastel on paper, 2015
22" x 30", Pastel on paper, 2015

This series of pastel drawings tells the story of a 36 year old man that died from heat and dehydration. The man was found in the desert near Santa Teresa, NM. He was found with an empty bottle of water and his boots. The large pastel drawing imagines his family performing the rites of his passing and funeral with water.






I am deeply in love with this page. Honestly, I am. Zeke Peña has so much talent his work, quotes, painting are beautiful, and you can see the power they have. The stories he tells are sad but so true. Without water, there is not life, there is nothing. Since I was a little girl, my mother taught me how important water is. Therefore, I understand the concept and really think that what these organizations that put gallows of water in the desert or across the river is so touching and important. My mother is an immigrant. She crossed the Rio gunfire more than 20 years ago when she was pregnant with my brother. With tears in her eyes, she tells us how harsh it was. I see her pain through her eyes of the things she had to do to survive.

“cuando mexico, no es tu mexico lindo y querido. cuando nacer al otro lado, cambia tu mundo. cuando un madre sacrifica su vida y la tuya por darte un pasaporte azul” — Sandra Iturbe I love this quote. What she said is powerful and true. My mother did that for my brother and I. She sacrificed. She recalls her thirst and picturing death was near to her. Water is our fountain of survival. Water gives us energy, Water gives us life. - Mayra G.

This page is just not for drawing, for painting, he is expressing himself. He is trying to send a message. How he sees things are happening. One of the examples us about immigrants, how they want to be kind of free, coming here for a better life and sometimes the border patrol kills them or they is trying to cross over here. Another thing he does is represent Hispanic culture, about how Hispanic pregnant women come to El Paso and give birth so that their kids have a better life. He is representing almost all this with gallons of water, expressing what he thinks by writing on it, an expression. He is not just talking about taking care of the water. He is talking about a culture, how beautiful and difficult it could be sometimes. Another thing, too, is in one of his paintings, he is talking or trying to give an expression about that with the water. He is trying to clean the death or bad things that happened before. -Ashley D.

Zeke Peña’s art is one of the most inspiring pieces of art I’ve ever seen. He uses objects and scenarios so well to represent the things people from the border and even here in El Paso go through. Water, being one limited source, since we live in a desert, is world wide and important source, Peña uses this route to symbolize not just the need but the importance of it.  -Ruby M.



Water is the fountain of life. I love water because it gives me energy and makes me feel good.
A memory I have about the river is a story my mother always tells us. My mother always recalls the day she had to swim the Rio Grande 27 years ago while being pregnant with my brother. She literally almost gave birth in the water. -Mayra Gomez


I remember childhood memories of going out the the simplest places like rivers or canals to go swimming with friends and family.
We went out to the river and enjoyed some family time and hang out by the cool water and enjoy the nature around us
The river next to our city is like the blood that runs through our veins. It flows and keeps nature growing and fills our hearts with strength. -Lizzle Banegas


As a young girl, I would have to wash dishes with a limited amount of water. Water has always been precious to me. We were fortunate to have a water pump to get water from, but sometimes we would drive to a filling station in Socorro and get water to fill a 5 gallon container.
In my teens, sometimes going to the levee with my friends, hanging out, enjoying a nice summer evening. 
My husband learned how to swim on the Rio Grande. My in-laws would tie a rope around his waist and let him swim. They would be enjoying a Sunday afternoon picnic by the Rio. -Mary G. Hernandez


I haven’t gone to the river but I live in Mexico and I study in El Paso, so I get to see it 5 days a week. The River separates half of my family, so it is very significant to us. -Omar Aguilera


My first memories of going to my family’s village is going and getting water from the mana (well). Early on I learned there wasn’t enough and what little there was, was not to be asked, played with or taken for granted. The women and girls from my mother’s village would gather all the dirty clothes, load them up on baskets and on to the horses and donkeys and make our way out to the rio to wash it all on the river rocks, sharing stories, sharing laughs. At the age of fourteen, my mother, her cousin and friend crossed with spare change and one change of clothes on their backs, they ventured north, al Paso para poder comer y trabajar. -Claudia Ley


The first time I tried swimming, I didn’t realize how beautiful but dangerous water could be. I was immersed in it so much, I almost drowned but it gave me new light in how important water could be. My fondest memory is in a river in Mexico where my family resides, how wonderful it was to be with my familia gathered around, swimming along with the fish, having a wonderful time being together. It is a river that separated our families, though I have hardly ever seen it full, it still provides life for most of our families - Lisa A. Felix

EXHIBITION at U.S./Mex. Border Wall

The first installment of Waterbound was an exhibit that featured four large paintings, an installation and a video projection staged about 200 yards from the new Border military wall. This is a sacred site for the indigenous community and a complicated national historical site where the Conquistador Oñate crossed the Rio Bravo. Oñate named the area EL PASO DEL RIO DEL NORTE. Oñate also brutally conquered people of the area. For more Oñate History.  The opening & closing ceremony honoring water and our river was lead by Sandra Iturbe with participation by Dr. Anna Lisa Banegas Peña, Marilisa Banegas Moore, Rebecca Rivas, Pablo Hernandez & Jacqueline Barragan. Participants were invited to contribute to the installation and have their own stories about water documented. Participants were asked to write messages on water jugs to migrants in urban communities and migrants crossing the border. The water jugs or water offerings will be distributed to various location in the border area. Kiko Rodriguez Glenn provided original music about the border and migrant experience. And the event was documented by Andrew Joseph Perez & Yaeko Hernandez. Other contributors and sponsors included: Stephen Osborn, CJ Johns, Norbert Portillo & Tabla Restaurant, Cafe Mayapan, The Rivas Family, Rachel & Martin Guitierrez, Claudia Ley, Jennifer Lucero & Hijas de Su Madre, David Figueroa & Augment El Paso, The Smiths, Lisa Chavira, Rogelio Lozano, Ramon Cardenas, Christian Pardo Cardenas & Marcel Rodriguez Lopez. 

This exhibition and the work presented was made with the support of the City of El Paso Museum and Cultural Affairs Department and The Texas Commission on the Arts. 

Saturday, August 09, 2014 - 5pm -9pm

La Hacienda Restaurant - Courtyard : 1704 West Paisano El Paso TX 

FREE ADMISSION  |  Refreshments provided


With the support of the City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts. 




The plastic jug has become an iconic image on the US / Mexico border. It is the life line for migrants crossing the harshest terrain in our geographic region. They carry as much as they can hold which is almost never enough. Many die from thirst and heat stroke for lack of water. In some cases these deaths are attributed to misdirection by their coyotes claiming the journey is shorter than it actually is. In other cases people drinking water which is more of a green sludge from cattle tanks and almost certainly leads to death. In desperation these people will drink anything. Steve Johnston of No More Deaths in Tucson says "One of the things that's most moving when I'm out leaving water is to find that the water we've left is gone and jugs of cattle tank water are left behind in their place."  No More Deaths has delivered water to drop points in the desert to end this death and suffering for 10 years. But even this life line can be corrupted by militia groups like the Minute Men and even Border Patrol agents (See Videos Below). These rogue militias and agents feel that these people crossing our borders do night have the right to water because they are breaking US law. They have been documented puncturing holes in the water jugs left behind or kick them over. This compounds the obstacles people crossing the border face. But it's clear that there is one key element to their survival: water. 

Please support these organizations that provide water for people in need:

LINK: No More Deaths  

LINK: Tucson Samaritans

LINK: Humane Borders


In communities and desert areas along the U.S/Mexico border there is a long tradition of leaving retablos or small devotional paintings for family, friends, or loved ones either crossing or being left behind. These are usually painted for a migrants safe passage. Images and words are used to illustrate a story, usually in prayer to a saint or spiritual deity. In the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico & Texas this tradition has evolved into one that uses water jugs instead of scrap pieces of wood or tin. 

Waterbound takes the practice of water jug retablos a step further to engage the El Paso del Norte community by asking them to write messages, prayers, and well-wishes on water jugs to leave them for migrants and other people in urban spaces. This is not only a symbolic connection with desert migration but a reminder that there are real people that struggle in our urban communities because of inept border & immigration policies. 


Derechos Humanos has documented missing persons on the border through their Missing Migrant program. From Derechos Humanos website: As a non-governmental human rights organization, we are deeply concerned about the continued deaths that have occurred on our borders.  We are particularly concerned about those deaths that have resulted from attempts to cross our desert, which are often due to exposure and/or are heat related.  Since border policies were implemented in the 1990s, it is estimated that the remains of more than 5,000 men, women and children have been recovered on the U.S.-México border. These are tragedies, and we feel that such a human rights crisis needs a viable solution.

LINK: Derechos Humanos

No More Deaths AZ Youtube Channel


Anonymous account of a true story:

When I think of that day, that birth story, I remember the desert heat, the desperation and the  frantic wails of the woman... The scent of salty amniotic fluid and blood from her sweat pants, her parched lips. A thirst for relief, for water, for a different destiny for this new being. I would like to feel the thirst being portrayed. I see her brown skin trembling from the hormonal shift that occurs after birth,  from her body coming back from the shock and a baby free of if all, healthy and pink and transitioning into this new world. Imagine what it's like to push a human being out of your body, already an act of wildness. In a car. In between two countries, knowing very well the consequences of it being born on the "wrong side".

cuando mexico, no es tu mexico lindo y querido.

cuando nacer al otro lado, cambia tu mundo.

cuando un madre sacrifica su vida y la tuya por darte un pasaporte azul
— Sandra Iturbe


The desert and river shape our lives & experiences.
— Dr. Yolanda Chavez Leyva

Dr. Yolanda Chavez Leyva: We are water, we need water to survive, so water is precious. [In El Paso Del Norte] the river we see now is not the river of my youth. It's not even the river of 300/400 years ago. But people have come to this place to settle for thousands of years. There were people at Hueco Tanks 10,000 years ago because of the presence of water. To be by a river shaped the history of this borderland and shaped the history of our communities. 


When I see myself among all those thirsty hands, I think about where I come from and why my heart strings hurt so badly when I think of the tens of thousands of children crossing borders, risking violence, hunger/thirst, rape and death... my heart is bruised. There is the "being human" part and then there is the "plucking at my ancestral heart wounds." I may have not been there for most of the struggle that my parents went through, because I wasn't alive yet, but I have inherited these wounds; their stories are entangled in my DNA. I, like many El Pasoans, am a daughter of immigrants. My parents did not have to cross the border the way so many Mexican and Central American kids are crossing today, but they did leave their families behind and risked so much to have their children born in U.S. territory -- a land that was once ours. I am just one generation in, living in a border land that was once the home of my ancestors. I know what it's like to leave so much behind and, later in life, go back to reclaim what was lost. One of my prayers for the children who have risked everything on their journey to this country, is for them to never forget who they are, where they come from. I live with the consequence of that ritual and systemic forgetting. So many in our community have turned their backs on THEMSELVES, it's illogical. My prayer is that they take their roots and the beauty of their culture with them across the border and never feel shame in who they are, the language they speak, what they eat and how they pray. 

Who's that Sandra in the painting? She represents the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, on this side of the border fighting the lucha through prayer and action, defending human rights. Refusing to seeing the most recent arrivals to this desert 'shore' as detainees, and instead seeing them as the children and mothers and fathers they are, people fleeing violence and poverty. She represents that force on this side, la mujer y la madre que les regalaria agua, un beso y un abrazo.  

She goes back to inlak'ech. Tu Otro Yo. 

We easily see ourselves in them. Somos de la misma raiz.



  • The Treaty of February 2, 1848 established the United States‐Mexico international boundary. The treaty of December 30, 1853 modified the boundary as it exists today.
  • The Convention of July 29, 1882 established another temporary commission to resurvey and place additional monuments along the western land boundary from El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua to San Diego, California/Tijuana, Baja California.
  • The Convention of November 12, 1884 established the rules for determining the location of the boundary when the meandering rivers transferred tracts of land from one bank of the river to the other.
  • The Convention of March 1, 1889 established the International Boundary Commission (IBC) to apply the rules in the 1884 Convention and was modified by the Banco Convention of March 20, 1905 to retain the Rio Grande and the Colorado River as the international boundary.
  • The Convention of May 21, 1906 provides for the distribution between the United States and Mexico of the waters of the Rio Grande in the international reach of the river between the El Paso‐Juárez Valley and Fort Quitman, Texas. In the
  • The Convention of February 1, 1933, the two governments agreed to jointly construct, operate and maintain, through the IBC, the Rio Grande Rectification Project, which straightened, stabilized and shortened the river boundary in the El Paso ‐ Juárez area.
  • The Treaty of February 3, 1944. Water Treaty for the "Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande" distributed the waters in the international segment of the Rio Grande from Fort Quitman, Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. This treaty also authorized the two countries to construct operate and maintain dams on the main channel of the Rio Grande. The 1944 treaty also changed the name of the IBC to the International Boundary And Water Commission (IBWC), and in Article 3 the two governments entrusted the IBWC to give preferential attention to the solution of all border sanitation problems.
  • The Chamizal Convention of August 29, 1963 resolved the 100 year old boundary problems at El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, known as theChamizal Dispute. The Commission relocated and concrete‐lined 4.34 miles of the channel of the Rio Grande so as to transfer 437 acres to Mexico.
  • The Treaty of November 23, 1970 resolved all pending boundary differences between the two countries, and provided for maintaining the Rio Grande and the Colorado River as the international boundary. It provides procedures designed to avoid the loss or gain of territory by either country incident to future changes in the river.


Two border villages cut off from one another since the border was sealed after 9-11 were reunited for one day this weekend. It was an event filled with tears of joy and reflection on a decade of separation.

In the rural border areas of Texas, seven so-called ‘informal crossings’ were shut down following Sept. 11. These were border villages and rural economies that thrived on their interdependence. The actual border was invisible. But the shutdown destroyed that connection. Recently, two border villages were reunited briefly for a single day celebration.

For one glorious moment, real world geopolitics was forgotten. Paso Lajitas, Mexico and Lajitas, Texas were again united — not cut off from one another as they’ve been in a post-Sept. 11 world.

With good wishes from law enforcement in both countries — and advice that no laws would be broken if people met on and literally in the river — the Rio Grande was crowded after a separation of 11 years.

 Lorne Matalon for Marfa Public Radio |  LINK to full story: Lajitas Reunido: For One Day, Two Villages Reunited


Chalchihuitlicue en una de sus presentaciones. Ella es la que rige las aguas horizontales como rios, lagunas, mares, arroyos, manantiales. No les llamamos diosas o dioses ni siquiera deidades, simplemente energias o generadores de vida. Honramos en este espacio a Chalchihuitlicue, que significa La de la falda de jade, porque el agua es un elemento vital que esta presente en nuestras vidas y este elemento estara presente en todas las curaciones y terapias que realizemos en el centro. Cada elemento es parte esencial de nuestro trabajo. Chalchihuitlicue es la protectora de las mujeres en parto y su fuerza va dirigida por Nana Meztli que es la Abuela Luna.

Chalchihuitlicue in one of her presentations. She is the one that rules the horizontal waters such as rivers, lakes, oceans, water streams and water springs. We do not call them gods or goddesses, not even deities, simply energies or generators of life. We honor Chalchihuitlicue- the one with the jade skirt in this space, because water is a vital element that is present in our lives and this element will be present in our healings and therapies. Each element is part of our work. Chalchihuitlicue is the protector of birthing women and her strength is directed by Nana Meztli that is grandmother Moon.


Indigenous people from all over the world have regarded water as alive, sacred and essential. Movements to reclaim our connection to mother water are on the rise. In Canada "Healing Walk" people are moving to protect water by organizing peaceful pilgrimages to bodies of water that have been damaged, polluted and mistreated.

It’s time for the Healing Walk to shed light on other communities, other extraction practices, other bodies of water, and other places that have been sacred since time immemorial.

In order to tell the story properly, we have to tell the whole story. In order to stop the destruction, the healing has to start everywhere.

Groundwater Is Drying Up Fast Under Western States, Study Finds

The Colorado River Basin, which supplies irrigation and groundwater for most of the West, is drying up faster than expected. Part of the problem is a drought-driven over-reliance on groundwater.


Our drinking water is a high-quality, carefully manufactured product.
— El Paso Water Utility


With the support of the City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts.