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Dear Mexico, will you Seesaw with me? Love, America

Throwback to our youth or are there more sinister undertones?

When someone asks you to go on a seesaw you know they’re either six-years-old, incredibly inebriated or just super fun. What you don’t expect is to be taken to three monster pink seesaws straddling the huge gate separating New Mexico from Mexico. 

Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, professors of architecture and design respectively, created and unveiled a pink seesaw that sits across the border of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and America at Sunland Park, New Mexico in July. 

These professors figured they would use their skills to bring “joy, excitement and togetherness” to those on either side of the border between New Mexico and Mexico. On Instagram, Rael wrote, “The wall became a literal fulcrum for U.S.-Mexico relations and children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side.” 

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One of the most incredible experiences of my and @vasfsf’s career bringing to life the conceptual drawings of the Teetertotter Wall from 2009 in an event filled with joy, excitement, and togetherness at the borderwall. The wall became a literal fulcrum for U.S. – Mexico relations and children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side. Amazing thanks to everyone who made this event possible like Omar Rios @colectivo.chopeke for collaborating with us, the guys at Taller Herrería in #CiudadJuarez for their fine craftsmanship, @anateresafernandez for encouragement and support, and everyone who showed up on both sides including the beautiful families from Colonia Anapra, and @kerrydoyle2010, @kateggreen , @ersela_kripa , @stphn_mllr , @wakawaffles, @chris_inabox and many others (you know who you are). #raelsanfratello #borderwallasarchitecture #teetertotterwall #seesaw #subibaja

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I watched the videos of kids and adults bouncing up and down either side of the monolithic gate and was surprised at how effective the installation was. The symbolism of the seesaw is so simple, subtle and hard-hitting. Rather than, let’s say, two fax machines, which could just have easily symbolized cause and effect, the seesaw encompasses our childhood and the importance of co-dependence at the same time.  

The seesaw is a throwback to our youth and it reminds us of friendship rather than fear-mongering and the inhumane treatment of immigrants. Mexico was once again just another kid in the playground that America played with, got in fights with but ultimately co-existed with. Reductive maybe, but the images taken of the adults and children swinging on it on either side reminds us of mutual compassion that we just haven’t seen in the news for months. 

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) has expressed similar admiration for the installation and the symbolism of connection it brings forth.

“Art is such a powerful vehicle for change…We are all connected. We are all one.”

However, Rael and Fratello showed sinister undertones with this choice. The seesaw represents more than a brotherhood or sisterhood. It recognizes the unfortunate power America has over many of the immigrants running from Mexico, other Latin American or South American countries, all of whom need lawyers or representation. To operate a seesaw, both players need to do their own work. If Mexico needs something, they need America to take the other seat. If not, Mexico will just stay where they are. Real-life consequences affect people much more deeply than the relative ease of pushing off the ground. 

Prior to the Trump Administration, immigrants could find work and obtain a temporary permit to live in the U.S. while they waited for their court case. Now, migrants are sent back to Mexico while court proceedings drag on and are allowed back only for their hearings.

Since the implementation of this administration, 23,000 migrants have returned to Mexico or other countries.

Even if a family manages to cross the border and receive a hearing, only 1.3 percent of petitioners have been recorded receiving representation. People are trying to represent themselves in another language while hearing aids are handed out to provide clumsy translations…What America does to help Mexico will probably make or break these immigrants futures. With resources overwhelmed, it seems less and less can be done for these families in crisis.

The seesaw installation is heartwarming but thought-provoking. Though a physical wall facilitates an “out of sight out of mind” philosophy, this art installation contributes to personifying immigrant’s struggles. Watching American families use the seesaws to enjoy themselves with those who are barred from entering the U.S. is quite simply a powerful image.

Let’s applaud the designers of this art installation. It doesn’t pull any punches in reminding us of the reliance one state has over the other. It paints a picture of togetherness that, contrary to what doomsday media outlets might have us believe, we have hopefully not forgotten.