First published: Winter 2007
He discovered that, driven by low wages and lack of jobs, the young people had left the town and disappeared to the United States in search of work so that they could provide for their families. To Santiago, migration is a necessary evil, a consequence of the system, 'an absurd reality, necessary in societies, although the government is at fault for not implementing public policies to stop it.' Those who make the journey to the USA encounter hardship, danger and disillusionment. Many have lost their lives in the attempt to cross the border illegally.
Deeply moved by this experience, Santiago decided to create some sculptures to commemorate those who had left their homes and their loved ones, and he returned to Oaxaca to begin work. However, in order to progress he felt that he needed to have first-hand experience of what the migrants had endured.
He travelled to Tijuana, where he engaged a smuggler to help him. Furnished with false papers, he tried to enter the USA by crossing the desert, but he was caught and returned to Mexico. Santiago was luckier than many: on the corrugated fence that separates Mexico from the USA he saw numerous crosses placed by activists in memory of those who had died trying to cross the border. It was then that he understood the plight of the migrants. Santiago estimated that there were about 2,500 crosses on the fence, and he settled on that number, plus one, for his project, 2501 Migrantes. The extra one, he says, signifies that there is always one more person willing to risk his or her life to cross into the USA.