Arcata art show explores migrant shelters in Tijuana

TIJUANA A watercolor painting by Maureen McGarry. Submitted photo

Migrant Assistance in Baja Fund 

ARCATA – Two artists collaborated to bring to the public images and textures of migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico. Watercolors by Maureen McGarry, and a recycled/found object display designed by Dennis Houghton are installed for the months of April and May in the front window of Rita’s Margaritas and Mexican Grill at 855 Eighth St. in Arcata. 

“As another cascade of migrants find their way to the US/Mexico border, our new administration finds itself in a newer version of the humanitarian crisis which has existed at our southern border for decades,” says McGarry, who visited Tijuana shelters three times in 2019, and once at the beginning of 2020. “Most of the people I met in shelters were young women and children who feared for their lives and were seeking asylum in the United States.”  

Since she could no longer travel to the border as the pandemic began, McGarry spent the first part of the coronavirus lockdown painting what she had seen and experienced. Besides interactions with migrants, she vividly remembers the textures of one of the poorest cities in this part of the world.

Subscribe to the Mad River Union and enjoy online access to the full print edition for just $40/year!

 She asked Houghton to help her create a display that would include some of the hardness and roughness of those textures inspired by photos she took during her visits there.

“My art has centered around creating sculpture from wood and metal objects found in nature and in the urban setting,” said Houghton. “To me, there is an intrinsic beauty in these objects, whether it be a piece of curly redwood, or a discarded, rusted gearbox found on the edge of the bay.”  

Houghton was impressed how the people of Tijuana utilized objects such as car tires, cinder blocks and random pieces of lumber for constructing retaining walls, steps, and shelter as a necessity. He appreciates how, within the function of the repurposed item, there was “art” in the way these materials were reconstructed into a new useful form.  

“To me, this speaks to the spirit of people who continue to thrive and find joy in the midst of an extremely stressful situation,” Houghton said.

 McGarry wants the softness and vulnerability of the migrants, and of the watercolors, to contrast with the hardness of the environment beyond the steel border wall at the southern edge of our state.

 “The purpose of the display is to also encourage donations to the Migrant Assistance in Baja Fund at the Humboldt Area Foundation,” adds McGarry.  

To contribute, donors can go to, or send a check to Humboldt Area Foundation at 363 Indianola Road, Bayside, CA 95524, with the memo line reading “Migrant Assistance in Baja Fund.” Funds will be used for food and basic supplies, as well as for costs of maintaining shelters.



Related posts