WATERBOUND is an on-going transmedia project that explores the symbolic and actual role water plays in our border community. 

Water affects every aspect of our lives: naturally, practically, ritually/spiritually, and geo-politically. We need it to survive. The Rio Bravo/Grande is the primary source of life for our border community, it unites us. But unfortunately our border community has come to understand the river as something that divides us. The U.S. side and the Mexican side. Something that naturally brings us together is being used to divide us through the effects of militarization and commodification.

Rivers are veins and arteries.

In La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua says that the border is an open wound. If we hope to mend this wound that divides us, we must mend our relationship with the river. Waterbound is an attempt to understand that relationship. To gather our stories and ideas about water, so that we can gather around water and connect through collective understanding, memory and ceremony.

This project explores the symbolic and actual roles water plays in border communities and migration.
— Zeke Peña


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.