In the center of a roundabout, benevolence triumphs over violence as birds charged with the history of a treacherous border region take flight. Margarita Cabrera, the artist whose work is being featured at the intersection of Country Club and Memory Lane, says she strives to harness the transformative power of art in all her pieces. An immigrant from Monterrey, Cabrera has lived in the United States from the age of 10 and her roots fuel her passion for the border region and her desire to create a conversation about the realities along the US- Mexico border. “Immigrants have a lot to give. They are cultured, hardworking and honest,” says Cabrera. One of her many aspirations is that through her artwork she can create situations where people can see and value the contributions of immigrants to their city. Her desire is for people to walk away, or drive away in this case, with awareness.
After the initial design for the roundabout was denied due to a concern by city officials that the religious connotations were too strong and that taxpayers may find it unsettling, Cabrera was left with only a month to find a new proposal. Cabrera dug deep to create a new unique and inspiring piece. She realized that the only way to create something El Paso would need and appreciate was to involve the community. UPLIFT, the name of the collaborative project that will present the 1,200-piece sculpture, brings together people from all walks of life and allows a conversation about border violence and transformation to begin. Each wing, uniquely designed by locals, carries with it, etched in the metallic feathers, a symbol that represents that individual’s own relationship to the fear and anger that is often associated with violence and their resolve to stand strong and overcome. “I like to bring people together for ‘art encounters,’” says Cabrera. With the help of the Mexican Consulate and many local schools and volunteers, a cooperative partnership was created where citizens from both sides of the border could participate and contribute to UPLIFT. With so much community collaboration involved in the creation of this piece, citizens on both sides of the border are coauthors in a story told by this piece of art.
One of the most unique and symbolic aspects of this artistic tribute is in its very composition. In addition to the recycled metals used to create this piece, there are hundreds of confiscated guns that the El Paso Sheriff’s Department, through the collaboration of Cabrera and Sherriff Wyles, has donated. These weapons, the very items used in violent acts, are being repurposed to represent peace and the end of turmoil. In a final act of defiance against the violent history this border region has endured, Cabrera says, “I won’t be melting down all of the guns. Some are going to be in the talons of the birds being carried away never to return.”
Margarita Cabrera is passionate about the transforming power that art can bring to a community. “Art is a mirror that reflects society,” says Cabrera. Her statement forces us to look inward and ask what our art scene and our grassroots movements are doing to bring more art to more people in our city. What does our reflection reveal? “I no longer want El Paso to be defined as being right across the border from what used to be the most dangerous city in the world or to be the safest city in the world a stone’s throw away from a treacherous border,” says Cabrera. She says we need to start sending out a new message that speaks of new beginnings, peace on the border, and the value of the contributions in the region made possible by immigrants. “We have weathered the storm and have come out stronger and ahead.”
Photographs by Heriberto Ibarra