“Beauty is not a luxury but a strategy for survival”

“Beauty is not a luxury but a strategy for survival”–Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World.

In these desperate times for so many on our border, Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders (ABB) couldn’t be more grateful for our national textile arts community’s ongoing support of asylum seekers’ familial and cultural arts. It goes a long way in affirming these families’ humanity and dignity.

Donations from across the U.S. mean that we can stock “Maker Bags” with embroidery and weaving supplies for newly arrived asylum seekers in COVID quarantine at Casa Alitas, Tucson’s Lead Migrant shelter. The healing and grace that these kinds of trauma-informed arts and activities provide for families in isolation, who arrive sick and stressed to the max, cannot be underestimated. What a joy it has been this season to be able to help our new families have a moment’s peace and agency, a moment to breathe just a little easier. It has felt like the best gift of the season.

“The maker bags were such a delight for many of our adult guests, especially the single women that were staying with us. It is lovely to see the adults’ faces when they received a little gift along with the kiddos. … and kid-friendly kits keep the kids entertained and also give them the ability to bond with their parents with these crafts. Thank you so much to the volunteers for the love and care put into each of these kits and for thinking of our guests.”–Casa Alitas Staff Site Lead

Cash donations from International Textile Guilds like W.A.R.P. and local Guilds like the Saddlebrook Fine Arts Guild and the Tucson Handweavers and Spinners Guild allowed us to send end-of-the-year supplies (traditional manta cloth & hilo/thread) from Mexico to our bordadoras/embroiderers and tejedoras/weavers now in the U.S. awaiting asylum adjudication.

Tucson Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders now have a standing reservation to compile Maker bags at Tucson’s City Council Ward 6 building, on the third Friday of every month going forward in 2023. Steve K. has been a long-time and continuing supporter of Casa Alitas and other migrant agencies here in Tucson. Scroll down to see the photo, etc.


Here are the 2023 dates volunteers will meet: 1/20/23, 2/17/23, 3/17/23, 4/21/23, and 5/20/23. You are welcome to join us anytime between 9-4 that day. Email Contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders.org if you would like to participate. 

Many Hands Make Light Work

Longtime ABB Volunteers Kat and Mary planning
Magda and Emily compiling donations into Maker Bags for Casa Alitas Guests
Val, Magda, and Halsey packing
Gael Cassidy volunteering with Tucson’s Iskashitaa Refugee Network. Generous donations mean that we can also disseminate handwork materials and supplies to other refugee groups in our area.

Angel Donors

Donors to ABB demonstrate time and again how more alike we are than different. We, humans, create better circumstances for ourselves and our families with our own hands, ingenuity, and creativity. Familial arts like embroidery, sewing, and weaving are homemaking traditions we all share.   

Terry Italia and her son Vinny from New Jersey personify the souls of our donors.  Terri was the daughter of Italian immigrants who came to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Terri Italia sewing

Always creative and enterprising, Terri first started a cake decorating business with a friend – “I can still taste the lemon filling and icing of those cakes,” Vinny writes.  She then moved on to knitting and crocheting blankets (an interest shared with her Mom) for family and friends. After her kids got on their feet, Terri worked in a local craft store.  There she learned about crewel/tapestry yarns and embroidery floss. She was eventually recruited by DMC, the supplier of the world-famous thread and embroidery supplies. Terri excelled as a DMC representative at trade shows and conferences around the country for over a decade.

Like so many women, Terri retired early to become her mother’s caregiver until her mom’s death. All along, though, Terri had multiple projects – embroidery, quilting, sewing – going at the same time. As her own health slowly deteriorated, “she would repeatedly ask me not to throw her inventory away after her passing,” writes Vinny. “She wanted things to go to a good cause and continue the benevolence she lived her life by.”

Terri’s is the largest donation ABB has received to date. The multi-colored crochet thread alone is an amazing gift for indigenous weavers in the U.S. who cannot afford the thread they need to complete their work. 

After Terri passed, Vinny contacted an old friend from college, Mary Hahola Rosell, for help in getting his Mom’s huge stash into the hands of weavers and embroiderers. Mary, who “learned to weave in the early 1990s with Deb Chandler’s seminal book “Learning to Weave,” and helpful fiber friends, contacted WARP, an organization that has always been an inspiration to her. WARP put her in touch with Artisans Beyond Borders in Tucson and the shipping began! The postage needed to send such a large amount was daunting, but Shore Fiber Arts Guild in Ocean, New Jersey, where Mary is a member, raised funds to help defray the costs. 

Vinny writes, “I hope that ABB can use the materials and supplies to create many items which will bring a smile and joy to the faces of the people you are helping. Terri would be very happy.”

More donations from long-time supporter Anita Tokos, also hailing from an immigrant family. Friends from her parish in Ohio added more and helped with the cost of shipping.

And this year, The West, a non-profit needlework and gift shop in Tucson that from 1981 – 2019 gave over $2.3 million to Tucson charities serving women and children, donated extra wool yarns to ABB. Thanks to their generosity, materials for up to three projects with kids can be included in each maker bag.

“Beauty scatters the seeds of Hope,” Joan Chittister

Our Etsy shop Bordando Esperanza is now officially closed as we focus more on service and education but you may find handcrafted items made by asylum seekers for sale through other border organizations tabling at the upcoming annual Common Ground on the Border conference, January 12-14 at the Good Shepherd Church in Sahuarita, AZ. Online, you can find wonderful original embroideries at Salvavision’s new shop benefitting the Esperanza Shelter in Sasabe on the Arizona-Mexico border.

Please continue to support our sister border organizations in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico that actively promote agency and dignity, beauty and hope: Casa de la Misericordia y de Todas Naciones, Voices from the Border, and Kino Border Initiative

Wishing you and your families a healthy, safe, and secure New Year,

Tucson’s Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders

Spread the Love Shop Closeout

Hospitality Mantas embroidered for you by asylum-seekers
Artisans Beyond Borders announces a Christmas Close-out with reduced prices on all inventory (just refreshed) at our BordandoEsperanza Etsy Shop. On Jan. 1, 2023, we close shop. We thank you with all our hearts for your support, which has made our success possible.

Going forward, the Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders are centering our efforts on service and education. Upon request, we may offer limited originals at in-person presentations and exhibitions. To have our Bordando Esperanza/Embroidering Hope exhibition shown in your community, church or seminary, university, or guild, email Contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders.org for info and booking.

As we continue to back trauma-informed arts and activities at the U.S./Mexico border, it remains our mission and our joy at www.ArtisansBeyondBorders.org to promote asylum-seekers as they launch their own small arts businesses in the U.S. Stay tuned for updates on their progress here at www.ArtandFaithintheDesert.com.

We hope that you will also continue to welcome our new neighbors from the global south by directly supporting their artisanal arts as they settle into their new communities. It was the love and generosity of individual supporters around the world since 2020 that gave the artisans hope and made the Etsy shop such a success.

Blessings to all/Bendiciones para todos y todas,
Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders

Fall/Winter Artisans Beyond Borders Newsletter

Bordando Esperanza Exhibition, Devotional Arts workshops, U.S. start-ups, and more.

Bordando Esperanza/Embroidering Hope

If you are in Tucson, we hope that you can join us for our home church exhibition of contemporary retablos/religious and spiritual embroideries independently stitched by asylum-seekers at the border.

“Few can deny how powerful and enduring the role of faith is for individuals and families caught in forced migration. Bordando Esperanza/Embroidering Hope brings their stories to our communities, so that we may see and feel what is true and sacred for our neighbors.” from the viewer guide.

Paty’s hand-embroidered retablo of Jesus from the group exhibition of devotional embroideries.

The core group of embroiderers in the exhibition were stranded together for over a year and a half (2020 through 2021) at the shelter La Casa de Misericordia y de Todas Naciones in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, where they found safety, solidarity, and peace in embroidery.

Maker’s Program at la Casa de Misericordia y de Todas Naciones
Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders support guests to embroider, sew, and weave in the shelter’s dedicated maker space. Esther, staff extraordinaire, facilitates embroidery and teaches guests how to use the donated sewing machines.
Recovering Spirit through the Arts
Shelter Director Sister Lika with Administrator Consuelo at the shelter. On the wall is a grand textile embroidered by the guests and gifted to the shelter. Guests also embroidered the mantas/servilletas available on the table. Next to Sister Lika is a print of her hand-painted Icon of Guadalupe. On this day, Sister Lika wears a huipil woven at the shelter by Cecilia, an indigenous weaver featured in this recent WARP blog post..
Creating ‘Emancipatory spaces and searching for well-being’ in the shade of the mother tree at the shelter.

This summer Artisans Beyond Borders (ABB) was pleased to provide material support (along with grant funding from the UofA) for Elizabeth Gaxiola’s expressive arts project: La Casa de Papel: El Ruido de Tus Voces/Creating Emancipatory Spaces and Search for Well-being in our Borderlands. It was a great opportunity to have Liz working with the guests at la Casa de Misericordia y de Todas Naciones and also at the Kino Migrant Aid Center, as she attended to wounds of the heart and soul.

Liz Gaxiola facilitating trauma-informed expressive arts at la Casa de Misericordia y de Todas Naciones. Photo courtesy of the artist.
On the U.S. side ~ Devotional Border Arts Workshops

In keeping with our educational mission, with advance notice, ABB volunteer art facilitators can provide hands-on engaged contemplation (linking Art, Faith, and Social Justice) for visiting delegations and student groups here for border immersion. In contrast to the bleak politics of the border, Devotional Arts affirm, nourish, and empower.

Devotional Border Arts Workshop for visitors at Tucson’s Shalom-Mennonite Church
ABB volunteer facilitating

“People were so into it, they were working on their projects even in the airport while they were waiting for their planes.” Kat Smith, MCC Border Outreach

Un recuerdo/a memory of one’s own. The personal is political.

With the aid of a grant from the Mennonite Central Committee, which has a history of supporting community handwork that benefits the whole, we’ve been able to provide some of the embroiders waiting for asylum now in the U.S. with start-up funds to develop small craft enterprises. With donations to ABB, we can also source and send culturally aligned made-in-Mexico materials and supplies.

Most bordadoras/embroiderers have already suffered through their first year in the U.S., not being allowed to work. Now that they’ve been here a year and are able to legally be employed, the cost of work permits alone remains cost prohibitive.

Authentic manta cloth from Mexico stacked and ready to be shipped to bordadoras in the U.S.

The holidays give us all more opportunities to support hand-made fair trade and their makers by purchasing their wares wherever they’re sold in the U.S., or in Mexico. Artisans Beyond Borders offers original mantas (when available) at in-person events and exhibition openings, and also on the ABB website for donation. Volunteers with Voices from the Border also sell hand-embroidered mantas weekly at La Posada Farmer’s Market. Online, Salavision has opened a shop that includes beautiful hand-embroidered bags and mantas, and if you are in Ambos Nogales, in Mexico the Kino Border Initiative is now supporting the people’s hand-made arts through their Migrant Aid Center.

To host the exhibition Bordando Esperanza/Embroidering Hope and/or to inquire about Devotional Arts Workshops email: Contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders.org.

If you are interested in being a Friend of Artisans Beyond Borders: compiling maker bags from donated materials, helping to table, or part-time as a volunteer arts facilitator on either side of the border you can also email us at Contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders.org Spanish is helpful but not mandatory.

To keep trauma-informed arts and cultural craft programming going at the border and also invest in new families’ heritage skills here in the U.S., donate directly to www.ArtisansBeyondBorders.org.

La Casa de Misericordia y de Todas Naciones: an Inclusive shelter that welcomes all

To help with basic needs at the shelter – Food, clothing, staff – you can donate directly to the shelter:

To long-time supporters, we thank you! None of this could be possible without you.

Dios te bendiga/God bless you,

Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders

What’s happening now with Artisans Beyond Borders? Adaptation with Migration

Spring/Summer 2022

It has been a busy season for Artisans Beyond Borders. The top story in June is Artisans Beyond Border’s Binational ZOOM panel on “Adaptation with Migration” for W.A.R.P. (Weaving a Real Peace), the International networking organization for Textile Artisans and their initiatives. We lead off a number of fabulous panels, with wonderful presenters from all over the world that you don’t want to miss if you can help it. Panels on Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26 are FREE, open to everyone, and easy to register.  (Scroll down that page to see all the rest of the presenters and descriptions of their panel discussions).

Adaptation with Migration

Panel Discussion with Artisans Beyond Borders

Saturday, June 25th at 12:30 pm US Eastern Time

“Every day around the world, people make one of the most difficult decisions in their lives: to leave their homes in search of a safer, better life. At la Casa de la Misericordia y Todas Naciones – the House of Mercy and all Nations, asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border have a safe place to wait for entry to the US. There, Artisans Beyond Borders supports bordadoras (embroiderers) and tejedoras (weavers). Through the acts of weaving, stitching, and crocheting, these artisans create a piece of home in this new, unknown place. Artisans Beyond Borders and their non-profit partners in Mexico help restore grace and agency through traditional handwork, solidarity among the artisans, and respect for cultural and familial arts across borders. 

The binational Artisans Beyond Borders also works with embroiderers and weavers newly arrived in the U.S., who are legally petitioning for asylum after waiting months, even years, at the U.S.-Mexico border. One of the first things often lost in migration is one’s own cultural and familial art, resulting in deep cultural bereavement and deculturation. What are Artisans Beyond Borders and their partners doing to preserve our new neighbors’ maker tradition(s)?  On this panel, we will hear the stories of Artisans Beyond Borders, their partners, and the artisans themselves. We will discover why upholding handmade cultural and familial arts – pre-and post-migration – is critical now to all of us moving forward.” 


Shelter Mural painted by Sr. Lika

Sister Lika Macias is the executive director of la Casa de la Misericordia y Todas Naciones – the House of Mercy and all Nations, a migrant led shelter in Nogales, Mexico. Hermana Lika is a respected and skilled community leader who believes strongly in the power of art to heal, comfort, and foster solidarity amongst the shelter’s residents. Recently, Sister Lika and staff established a Maker space at the shelter for the resident embroiderers, weavers, and sewers. A talented painter in her own right, Sister Lika studied traditional iconography in Rome, South America, and Russia. 

Esmerelda Ibarra

Esmerelda Ibarra, an indigenous embroiderer from Guerrero, Mexico, is a leading voice in the Save Asylum movement advocating for human rights and the dignity of indigenous people. Esmerelda worked with Artisans Beyond Borders while she and her family were stranded at the U.S. Mexico border for almost two years, and now in the U.S. as she and her family await asylum. Esmerelda’s indigenous embroidery, carried by the United Nations Association Center in Tucson, has also inspired the Global Initiatives program at the Parsons School of Design. “At the border, I was able to embroider again and it made me remember my beautiful childhood. It brings me love and much tranquility inside my heart,” she says. 

Katherine Smith

As the Border and Migration Outreach Coordinator for the West Coast Mennonite Central Committee and the co-coordinator of Arizona’s Casa Mariposa Detention Visitation ProgramKatherine Smith is dedicated to working with asylum seekers and teaching others about immigration and border realities. After college, Kat spent a year volunteering with the Women’s Co-op ANADESA in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala and lived with her host family of traditional embroiderers. Back in the States, she served as the Site and Volunteer Coordinator for Casa Alitas (House of Wings), Tucson’s lead Migrant Shelter, and now she works closely with Artisans Beyond Borders leading the U.S. Support team for las bordadoras (the embroiderers) who are legally awaiting asylum in the U.S.

Valarie James with a bordadora at Tucson’s Casa Alitas Shelter

Panel ModeratorValarie James, the founder of Artisans Beyond Borders, affirms art, faith, and social justice in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. As an artist and writer, James is best known for collaborative public art in Tucson including Las Madres: No Más Lágrimas (No More Tears), The Migrant Shrine at Southside, and the installation ‘Hardship and Hope at the U.S. Mexico Border’ at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, Sweden. As a retired Clinical Art Therapist, James led the trauma-informed arts & activities at Tucson’s Casa Alitas Migrant shelter and she is currently the lead curator for the artisans’ traveling exhibition Bordando Esperanza – Embroidering Hope: Retablos of Asylum. Writings on arts and immigration can be found at Art and Faith in the Desert

In the last 4 months, the Artisans Beyond Borders exhibition Embroidering Hope ~ Bordando Esperanza has traveled from the Good Shepherd UCC Church in Sahuarita, Arizona to the University of Southern California, to St. Marks Episcopal in Columbus, Ohio.

Bordando Esperanza ~ Embroidering Hope
April 2022, University Religious Center,
University of Southern California

Carrying the soul and the stories of the makers, the exhibition has been beautifully received. Spend time with any of the 75 original mantas, especially the bordados devocionales – the devotional embroideries, and you may find yourself slipping into Visio Divina, the ancient Benedictine way of “listening with the ear of your heart.” Email: contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders to book the exhibition at your University or house of worship.

Columbus Alive



Seeing all the embroidered servilletas on display in the exhibition, I’m transported back to a warm day last winter and the smell of freshly baked buns as they came out of the huge adobe horno built on the land at la Casa de la Misericordia y Todas las Naciones shelter in Nogales, home to many of the artisans while they wait to legally cross the border to apply for asylum.

Covering enough freshly baked bread with embroidered servilletas for residents to make it through a week at the shelter.
La Bordadora at la Casa de la Misericordia y Todas las Naciones Shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico

And in case you missed it – A beautiful inspirational Story from the shelter (in English and in Spanish):

Welcome the Weavers – las tejedoras at the U.S. – Mexico Border

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Artisans Beyond Borders Winter Update, 2021

We had always hoped that our Bi-national initiative Artisans Beyond Borders would be an incubator, a beautiful seed. God willing, it would grow into other artisan initiatives on the border and beyond…

Coodinator Norma with her bordadoras
Directly Support these artisan asylum-seekers and their families waiting on the streets at a bus stop shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico by donating to
Voices from the Border
Earmark your donation “Norma’s Bordadoras.”

Recover & Restore

We had always hoped that our Bi-national initiative Artisans Beyond Borders would be an incubator, a beautiful seed. God willing, it would grow into other artisan initiatives on the border and beyond. We hoped that A.B.B. would help to educate and inspire others to pick up and carry on the mission of restoring grace and agency for migrants through the arts.

In the beginning, during Trump’s pre-pandemic days, our volunteer arts facilitators set up card tables of embroidery and crochet supplies in the streets of Nogales and served hundreds of dispossessed folks. Even then, we dreamed of finding safe maker spaces in Nogales where people could experience some peace and dignity in the middle of forced family migrations so fraught with fear.  

Stuck in Nogales by U.S. policies and the pandemic, artisans organized into groups, and taught each other. They formed collectives of solidarity, coordinators emerged, and they found safe spaces to work. In short, they recovered agency that was theirs already but had been stripped bare by multiple traumas experienced at home and on the road.

Ana Delia, Volunteer Activities coordinator with an accomplished bordadora
 at Casa de las Misericordia’s safe Maker Space
You can help support the Therapeutic Maker Program at Casa de la Misericordia shelter for migrating families by donating directly to
Cruzando Fronteras
Earmark your donation “Programa de la Actividades”

Educational and border rights organizations from Southern California to Juarez have expressed an interest in ABB as a model initiative (often the only support of its kind), to help vulnerable migrating families. We are pleased to be progenitors of this programming at the border, and we applaud any and all efforts by other initiatives and helpers to move the needle (pun intended!).

In the last two years, in the shadow of politics and the pandemic, the Tucson Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders created and developed a market through the internet for the beautiful embroideries created by our artisans. A.B.B. evolved from trauma-informed art and activities to micro-enterprise. As awareness and interest in the familial arts of migration grew, so have other artisan projects and potential markets. So, now A.B.B. volunteers are stepping back from marketing and retail to make room for others to flourish. We are moving instead into a more educational service.  Ultimately, we hope to encourage more artisans to create and market their own work. Each artisan is their own seed taking root.

Educate and Inspire

For the last year, the Tucson Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders have been curating a national traveling exhibition of the artisans’ retablos of asylum, sponsored by the Arizona Episcopal Diocese. In this profoundly original exhibition, the public has the opportunity to understand what is most sacred to our neighbors. Their devotional retablos, religious embroidery, written with thread and rendered in cloth are deeply personal and embodied testimonies of faith and resilience.

Going forward into 2022 and 2023, A.B.B. will be working with churches and schools that are hosting the exhibit throughout the U.S. to further border understanding and help their outreach efforts to their local migrant communities. The funds raised through the exhibition and donations will go to the Artisans Beyond Border Maker Fund, supporting therapeutic arts programming for migrants on the border and also providing start-up funds for our artisans in the U.S. so they can move forward independently.

After December, we will not add new inventory to our Etsy shop for the foreseeable future. Instead, we will be routing supporters directly to artisan initiatives on the border and beyond as some of the makers become more established in the U.S.

Meanwhile, according to the Post Office, you have until December 17th to place an order at the Etsy shop and have it shipped to you by Christmas. If it is a gift, we can send it directly to the address you wish.

Etsy shop – Bordando Esperanza

In the New Year, A.B.B. will table locally on Saturday, January 15 only at the first public showing of Bordando Esperanza ~ Embroidering Hope: Retablos of Asylum at the Common Ground on the Border Conference at the Good Shepherd UCC Church in Sahuarita. Hope to see you there!

In Border Peace, Tucson Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders

Web site: ArtisansBeyondBorders.org

Dias de los Muertos ~ Cultural Power & Artisanal Craft, Fall 2021

“As the beauty and the power of Dias de los Muertos spreads throughout the U.S. and across the globe, we’re reminded that Culture is where change happens first, inexorably bubbling up to the surface. Indigenous artisans are not only mindfully being invited to the stage now – in some cases, they are headlining.”

As the beauty and the power of Dias de los Muertos spreads throughout the U.S. and across the globe, we’re reminded that Culture is where change happens first, inexorably bubbling up to the surface. Indigenous artisans are not only mindfully being invited to the stage now – in some cases, they are headlining. We pray that Indigenous wisdom, sustainable material practices, and artisanal arts continue to root in our personal lives and grow to flower in our world.    

Por ejemplo: MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s most recent communique celebrates its makers, perhaps a first.

Our friend Zapotec Textile Artist Porfirio Guitterez headlines on a massive stage fit for a rock star at the global summit in “What Design Can Do” (for the planet) in Mexico City.

And drumroll… This past month, Artisans Beyond Borders was asked to speak to future designers at Parsons School of Design Global Initiatives class.  Though the artisans stranded at the Arizona/Mexico border embroider whatever they wish to, whatever brings them a bit of peace in the middle of the ongoing trauma of forced migration and displacement, Parson’s Global Initiatives class was interested in learning from them.

“Embroidering helps me when I’m troubled. Our mother taught us.” Asylum-seeker Evelia T.

We hope that this kind of cross-border pollination can eventually lead to design contracts for our U.S. based artisans currently awaiting asylum here and also help to build support for the makers who are still waiting in shelters and on the streets in our neighboring Nogales, Sonora, Mexico hoping to lawfully cross and petition for asylum.

Artisans outside a shelter in Nogales. To protect these women and their families this shelter will remain unnamed but if you are moved to help, contact us at contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders.org. We are actively seeking social investors to help subsidize this kind of programming that heals and restores and changes the world one stitch at a time.

Embroidering Peace outside the shelter
From the ‘Makers’ Series: “I am embroidering a memory of how it was in my house – how we cooked before electricity.” designed and embroidered by Faviola M. and included in the Artisans Beyond Borders national exhibition “Bordando Esperanza: Embroidering Hope: Devotional Retablos of Asylum,”.

To vote for beauty, grace, and the dignity of work, shop at the artisan’s Etsy shop BordandoEsperanza or donate to www.ArtisansBeyondBorders.org All donations directly support the artisans and fund the program.

Mil Gracias, the Tucson Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders

From our Mothers to Yours: Good News from Artisans Beyond Borders ~ Spring 2021 Newsletter.

Embroidered by Alyson Martinez, 2021, Nogales, Sonora, Mexico

“Greetings from Berlin. Hello, you all! I am very happy and full of love to see all this beauty. Thanks for your wonderful shop, all the embroideries are sooo beautiful. We are all Mother-Earth-Women, and we stand together.” Svenja”

April 2021 Good News!

After waiting over a year and a half in shelters and on the streets in Nogales, Sonora Mexico, a number of asylum-seekers in the Artisans Beyond Borders collective are lawfully crossing the border to rejoin their families in the U.S.  Pro-bono lawyers at Justice for our Neighbors in Tucson and at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, are working overtime alongside the U.S. Consulate, to free the makers and their families who’ve been stuck at the port of entry the longest.

They’ve been granted permission to cross the border now, one family at a time. First stop is Casa Alitas, Tucson’s lead shelter until travel arrangements can be made by relatives and sponsors waiting for them across the country. To see these families now, temporarily sheltered, fed, even embroidering at Casa Alitas is like seeing the sun come up in the morning, warm and bright, and full of hope.

Artisanal Embroiderers safe now in the U.S., 4/2021

Artisans Beyond Borders U.S. Support Team

Seven of our original artisanal embroiderers and their families, now in Chicago, Florida, South Carolina, and soon Washington D.C., may continue lawfully working with Artisans Beyond Borders while they wait for their court hearings. They are happy and relieved. Supporters of la Artesanas de Bordando Esperanza EE UU ~ Embroidering Hope U.S.A, can also breathe easier knowing that we have a way to continue to help meet these family’s immediate needs in the months ahead.

Winter was a nightmare for asylum-seekers stranded at the border. Though many families stranded for over a year on the borders of Texas and California were released, there was no such help for asylum-seekers in Arizona. Cold nights bitter with despair gripped the people. Ideas of crossing the desert on foot wouldn’t let up. Aid workers stomachs clenched with apprehension at the thought. We borderland residents knew that the odds for survival in our desert, especially for the very old and the young, were not in their favor. There was little we could do or say, for they were losing hope. They had waited too long. 

Each One, Teach One

At the same time, because the waiting was so long, artisans had time to hone their skills and create wholly original works of spirit and complexity. One core group of makers were admitted to a really good shelter with a garden and chickens and a gate that locked. Here they were finally safe. Highly skilled embroiderers, natural teachers all, emerged from the group and like family, taught the others.

By March and April, some could wait no longer to reunite with their families, and left. The rest stayed. We set up formal classes and the embroiderers recruited 9 new students into an ‘Each One, Teach One’ model. Selene, a sister bordadora and onsite coordinator, took photographs and made videos, a gift to new students in the future.

Bordando Esperanza Class, Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, Spring, 2021

The classes became a life saver for the asylum seekers that stayed. Their first teachers, two patient and encouraging sisters, both artisanal embroiderers, explained how important the classes were to keep the women engaged and safe from crossing the desert. In addition to the restorative calm – tranquilo- of familial handwork, purpose and dignity, especially for migrants is everything.

As more of our veteran artisans leave for the U.S., we witness the new artisans coming up and we are proud. What we know now world-over, is that generational cultural arts are the first thing that people lose when forced to migrate. As Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders, we want to celebrate cultural diversity and preserve Heritage craft. We will uphold the beloved hand-maker traditions of our neighbors to the south no matter what happens with the politics of immigration.

Artisan Offerings

If you’ve been following the Artisan’s Etsy shop, you may have seen our new Hospitality Mantas offered in singly or in pairs:

Now that we are able to begin opening up our homes again to old friends and new, we can set a beautiful table for long-awaited guests. I, for one, look forward to a day that I can welcome these courageous and creative women in the way they have welcomed our volunteers into their families and their traditions. Their individual Hospitality Mantas also bring beauty, stillness and grace to our Altars, Ofrendas, and Santuarios.

“A soul of hospitality and a heart of humanity is a house of love, peace, freedom, liberty and justice.” Asulig Ice.

Collector’s Corner

“I saw the article in the Arizona Daily Star featuring Artisans Beyond Borders. The picture of the beautiful mantas hanging in the air to dry. It was a win – win!

     I was born in Douglas, AZ, across the border with Mexico. Seeing such poverty first-hand made a lasting impression.
     The workmanship and creativity of the mantas is amazing. I gift them to family and friends. I do keep some that I alternate to display on the back of my bedroom chair. It is the first thing I see each morning—it brings me joy to think of the strong women who created them.
     Thank you Artisans Beyond Borders for helping the embroiderers bring us such beautiful art!”

                                                                                              Collector Jane Powers, Tucson, AZ

New Digs & Gigs

ABB is pleased to announce that we have moved to a new office in downtown Tucson, with a common space that we share with other small non-profit Refugee organizations including Tucson’s Owl and Panther and MCC Border Outreach. In the Fall 2021, we hope to be open for visiting groups by appointment. Right now, we’re seeking a dedicated computer for the new office and a cell phone with a good camera. We are also looking for two new volunteers:

ABB Administrative Coordinator. PT, Unpaid

The all-volunteer Tucson Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders, affiliate of Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has grown to need a part-time Administrative Coordinator to manage our office and help with volunteers, financials, communications, & marketing. Our ideal person would be bilingual (Spanish/English), flexible, computer-savvy, and passionate about borderland Arts/Immigration and the restorative healing of traditional handwork. Contact Mary at Contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders.org

ABB U.S Support Liaison, PT, Unpaid/Volunteer/Intern

As our embroiderers arrive in the U.S., we want to continue assisting them in marketing their artisanal craft as they settle into their new homes. Bilingual (Spanish/English) mandatory for this position, organized, detail-oriented, social media savvy, and passionate about the preservation of Cultural Arts and immigration and the restorative healing of traditional handwork. Creative project possibilities.  Contact Valarie at Contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders.org

Over the spring semester, we were fortunate to work with Bethany Ward, an intern from Bentley University in Boston, minoring in nonprofit management. She brought a bright and creative spirit to ABB and helped us with social media and non-profit research. We wish her the very best of luck pursuing her career goals related to environmental and climate awareness. 

*Artisans Beyond Borders brings healing, grace and agency to asylum-seekers stranded at the border or struggling to get on their feet across the U.S. ABB is an all-volunteer grass-roots initiative that exists soley through the support of donors and collectors. We are actively seeking social investors who want to change the story at the border and partner with us in creating a new vision that we can all be proud of. Please reach out at Contact@ArtisanBeyondBordes.org

Mothers Across Borders, Madres Unidos Sin Fronteras through the wall organized with delight by Voices From the Border on Mother’s Day, 2017

Support the Artisans on Mother’s Day at

Bordando Esperanza

Holding onto Faith ~ An Altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe by and for women at the shelter

Canvas of Hope

Last but not least, the artisans beyond borders are excited and proud to be part of “Canvas of Hope,” Community Art Auction to benefit all of the shelters along the border. Please join us on Saturday, May 1 at 12 noon AZ time. Bidding open until end of day.


Artisan Asylum-seekers Support Family and Faith at the U.S.-MX port of entry

“When asked what inspires her, asylum-seeker Selene, our Artisans Beyond Borders on-site coordinator in Nogales states pointedly: ‘What I am, what I have lived, and what I like.’ The 31-year-old mother of three…”

When asked what inspires her, Selene, our on-site coordinator in Nogales states pointedly: What I am, what I have lived, and what I like. The 31-year-old mother of three is vulnerable and strong in equal measure, and what she has lived through – the attempted murder of her husband, the father of her three children – is enough trauma for her and her kids for a lifetime. For Selene, thrown into forced migration, ripped and torn from all she knows, the act of embroidering, slow and steady, is a restoration of the soul.

Artisans Beyond Borders, (ABB) a bi-national ministry at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal in Tucson, began in 2019 as a way to bring trauma-informed arts and activities to asylum-seekers and their families waiting in shelters and on the streets in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Now in 2021, in the shadow of politics and a pandemic, therapeutic arts and the dignity of artisanal craft continue to bring comfort to the traumatized and hope to asylum-seekers who have been in limbo for a year or more waiting for a chance to petition for asylum. Bordando Esperanza – Embroidering Hope, the flagship program, also helps restore personal agency and income through Etsy shop sales of the artisans’ original hand-embroideries.

As a Tucson ‘Friend of Artisans Beyond Borders,’ I’ve had the opportunity to develop friendships with many of the asylum-seekers in our program. Even while communicating across a closed border on WhatsApp (only), sensitive discussions about family and faith, truth and beauty, have brought me to tears more than once.

Relationships need time and care to develop and cross-border connections are especially tenuous. Yet, during the pandemic lock-down, enduring friendships have taken root and flowered through the universal experience of art and familial craft, a shared cultural bridge when language (including google translate), fails.

Not unlike the contemplative focus needed for fine embroidery, the more attention we can give each other, the more respect we confer. To take time to really see and appreciate original family-based craft accomplished in the most difficult circumstances imaginable is to listen to what’s beloved and cultivated by family everywhere: home and land, the fruits of harvest, and all aspects of the natural world left behind.

This is the border through the lens of bordado embroidery. Make no mistake, the truth is stitched in and through the “prettiest” embroideries. Read between the lines and you will hear this: Bienvenidos, Welcome to my world.

For those of us el otra lado, on the other side of the wall, Theologian Cecilia Gonzalez -Andrieu, and author of Bridge of Wonder: Art as a Gospel of Beauty writes: “…the artist asks us to enter into their pain, aloneness, or devastation. If we open ourselves to their otherness, work that breaks our heart through beauty or its’ absence will increase our capacity for love and compassion…”

Selene’s mother stitched traditional manta cloth for servilletes to keep tortillas warm and also adorned the furniture with embroidery to beautify the home. Though Selene now coordinates the work of 15-30 artisans, she actually did not learn to embroider from her mother. She instead learned from her companeras at the San Juan Bosco Alberque, the oldest established shelter in Nogales that her family stayed in when they first arrived.

Selene learned by watching other women and men embroider for Artisans Beyond Borders. I liked it so I dared to do something, and I learned little by little. She’s deeply touched that her mother is proud of what she has managed to learn. Selene’s 17-year-old daughter Alyson has also learned to embroider and crochet and that makes Selene especially proud. She can keep busy without thinking so much about everything we’ve been through.

Selene Embroiders an original manta

Selene and some of her companeras have since relocated to the safe and well-appointed La Casa Interfaith shelter run by the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. They’ve had stability for many months now and the variety and skill level of their work has grown by leaps and bounds.

Artisans living between three different shelters and the streets, are evolving into self-organizing collectives, an outcome that we friends in Tucson had hoped for from the start. Working hand-in-hand with Aid partners in Mexico is a winning combination. Where we once provided U.S donated supplies for instance, now the artisans buy most of their own and share, empowering individual makers and supporting the local Nogales, Sonora economy.

Solidarity amongst makers from such diverse countries as Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, and Nicaragua, has grown organically with time. We’ve learned to live together, to really know each other, and to empathize with each other. I love that through embroidery we have created a family bond.

Since the beginning of our program in 2019, a percentage of embroideries created would be devotional in nature, stitched with messages of faith, but since the pandemic, the number of devotional bordados quadrupled.

Selene had fallen away from her Catholic faith but migrating north she found herself practicing a ritual she had learned as a child. When we leave home, we would always entrust ourselves to God and to our Virgin de Guadalupe.

The first night we arrived in the forest, we had to sleep in the chapel. Standing in front of the crying virgin, I exclaimed why she had put us on this difficult path. After a month and a half, I dreamed of the virgin very close to me. I understand now that God’s times are the perfect ones and I accept the path that he has set us upon.

Like the quiet confidence in God that Selene has come to know and trust, this I know: As volunteers on the border, every time we truly connect with “the other,” it is we who are redeemed.

Gonzáles-Andrieu writes that “works of art can be redemptive if they help build communities of vision and renewed purpose… In the end, art that is redemptive will be so because it makes the promise of truth and the eternal awesomely felt.”

Whether embellished with traditional religious symbolism and iconography or unconventional expressions of faith, the artisan’s devotionals are felt testimonies of faith, intimate visual prayers on the Border. They all can be seen in the group exhibit Bordando Esperanza – Embroidering Hope: Devotional Retablos of Asylum, available (only) as a virtual exhibit at this time.

“Bordando Esperanza – Embroidering Hope: Devotional Retablos of Asylum”

The complete exhibit is included in the Artisans Beyond Borders Zoom presentations that allow viewers to accompany, witness and support the makers at the border. ABB Zoom presentations include the initiative’s inspiring Origin story, an audience Q & A, and a link to the Artisans’ marketplace.

To book a Zoom presentation for your congregation: https://artisansbeyondborders.org/events

Embroiderers From Artisans Beyond Borders at La Casa Shelter, Nogales, Sonora.

Embroidering a Recuerdo for Juan Francisco Loureiro

Last month, we lost Juan Francisco Loureiro “Don Paco” the Founder of the San Juan Bosco shelter in Nogales, to COVID. In honor of Don Paco, Artisan Felicitas and her family who stay at the shelter, presented his wife Hilda Loureiro with an embroidered recuerdo, a memory cloth, from all the Artisans Beyond Borders, together with our partners at Voices from the Border.

Commemorative recuerdo ~ “Francisco Loureiro Rest in Peace.”
“He was an Angel to migrants. His work will always be alive in our hearts”

About the Author
Cultural Arts Worker Valarie Lee James, a longtime resident of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, is the founder of Artisans Beyond Borders. A former Clinical Art Therapist, she was coordinator of the all-volunteer Trauma-informed Arts & Activities Program at Tucson’s Casa Alitas Migrant shelter, and co-curator of “Hope & Healing: The Art of Asylum” an exhibit of artwork by Casa Alitas migrant youth. She writes about Arts & Immigration at America Magazine, and as a Benedictine Oblate, contributes to The Global Sisters Report. 

Artisans Beyond Borders Fall/Winter 2020 Newsletter

Now that we are heading into the Winter of the Pandemic, asylum-seekers and their families waiting in México are hanging on by the slimmest thread. Yet, artisans beyond borders are undeterred. Each is creating a future of her own composition in life-affirming color and resilient faith.

Small but mighty hummingbird of the south, aztec symbol of strength in life’s struggle.

Our wonderful new Logo created by student Aurora Nicole Ambrose from the University of Arizona School of Art class in Designing for Community & social good.

Threading Hope

     Now that we are heading into the Winter of the Pandemic, asylum-seekers and their families waiting in México are hanging on by the slimmest thread. Yet, artisans beyond borders are undeterred. Each is creating a future of her own composition in life-affirming color and resilient faith. Together, they ply that slim thread into a braid of hope as strong as Spider Silk. The chance to apply for Asylum in the U.S., could be just around the corner. They will wait as long as it takes.

Profiles in Courage and Creativity

Patricia’s newly embroidered bag. Find the all new work from the artisans at the Etsy BordandoEsperanza Shop.

     “For me, all the memories are beautiful,” says Patricia, a 32-year-old single mother of three whose favorite things to embroider are flowers and fruit. Her family has always embroidered the natural manta cloth they use as satchels for wrapping warm tortillas in. In addition to the recuerdos tranquilos –tranquil memories of home that she fondly recalls when embroidering, Patricia now has a measure of personal agency.

     Patricia’s garden in Guerrero, México was a field of flowers and fruit trees, they tended until organized crime came to their beloved part of the world, killed male members of her family, and threatened to kidnap the children. Patricia and her kids and a now fatherless nephew fled through the forest to Nogales, México, to seek asylum at the U.S. Port of entry. 

“It was very difficult for me to leave everything and be able to get here (to the border) because I come with very low resources and with my three children that are minors which makes it difficult to work. The support that the Artisans’ group gives us for our labor embroidering the mantas is for me a great help to feed my children,” Patricia says.

“Jesus and the Roses” by Patricia. Churches and Universities, Humanitarian and Cultural groups can arrange a Zoom viewing of the Artisans’ new faith-filled group exhibition: Bordando Esperanza: Devotional Retablos of Asylum

Spotlighting the artisanal embroidery of Patricia, also shines a light on one of ABB’s key partners: Border Outreach Coordinator Kat Smith, featured in “Embroidering Hope” We would not be able to receive artisans’ wares across the closed border without Kat’s on-going commitment to outreach.

 ArtisanS Beyond Borders new shop

     For now, they have this bit of work. It is not near enough to meet their family’s needs but it is something and people in the U.S. are beginning to discover the artisan’s Etsy shop. Zoom presentations by Artisans Beyond Borders Zoom also help bring people to the border to accompany, witness and support them.

     With the Etsy shop, they can get their work out there and buyers can choose their favorites. The makers are excited about designing and making new work – Market bags, mantas, and decorative guest towels. They watch the shop’s sales faithfully, and are lifted up each time someone makes a purchase.

Collector’s Corner

Embroidered Manta in the collection of Anita Tokos, Ohio

We extend our deep gratitude to Anita Tokos from Ohio, an ardent supporter of Artisans Beyond Borders from the start, who recently placed an order for 12 mantas for the holidays, our largest single order to date. Anita was raised in an immigrant family herself, and her words and the heart behind them, confer great respect for the other.

They arrived! … It was special to savor each manta, picturing who should have a particular one. True to my nature, I was a bit emotional by the time I got to the last one. Have always been moved to tears easily. I knew immediately the one for each of my daughters – fruit for Anne who loves to try new foods and cooking, a quiet floral for Andrea who is calming and gentle, and the Calla Lily for Amelia who loves that flower. Looking forward to giving them to my daughters, sister and friends…and keeping another for myself…”  

The purse is wonderful and so appreciated. I did not even see the other side with “Dios es Amor” until this evening. Thank you! …All are vibrant and beautiful. As with the first one I received and framed, all are as the holy cards of my childhood, calling me to prayer for each person who did the stitching… and those who make it possible for them to stitch.

Hope my Spanish is spelled correctly – almost typed “ricamo di speranza” – the Italian version (of Bordando Esperanza)! I knew my prayers in Italian before I knew them in English. Love how that stuff pops into my head. So on that note, be blessed in all the beautiful languages of the world…”

Anita welcomes an embroidered tapestry by an Artisan Beyond Borders into her home.

*Fans of Artisans Beyond Borders ~ We are just beginning to establish social media platforms. Please take a minute to open and like, favorite and follow: Etsy, FB, INSTA, Pinterest, Youtube. It is very much appreciated by the makers.

“Hope hallows the heartache and activates a sacred imagination.” Sr. Julia Walsh writes in the Global Sisters Report. We’re here and it is hard but it is holy, and we are heading somewhere mysterious, and it is holy too…”

Artisans Beyond Borders Summer/Fall, 2020 Newsletter

Women, Fiber art, and Immigrants ~ Profiles in Courage and Creativity

The Artisans ~ Profiles in Courage & Creativity

Last month we profiled Irma (above), an indigenous weaver and long-time embroiderer from Guatemala whose faith sustains her while she waits at the border with her toddler to apply for asylum. This month, in the face of COVID, she shares her embroidered prayer: If I am contagious Lord, may it be with your Faith and your Love.

41-year-old Esmeralda, from Guerrero, Mexico, also learned to embroider at a young age from her beautiful mother, may she rest in peace.

In her own words, she writes:

First of all, a greeting to each one of you. Being here is a bit of suffering because we leave behind all the beautiful moments of coexistence, of peace and tranquility, in our beautiful towns. As an indigenous woman, I am proud of my roots, although for others I am an ignorant and Indian woman, as the mestizos tell us. Being humiliated before society for the simple fact of being what I am “Indigenous,” is sad. Now what brought me to where I am is not knowing about the men who believe they have the power to decide if they let you live or not, it is sad. Living in fear, afraid and thinking you are not going to wake up because they have you there watching over you, you do not live in ease, everything scares you, the streets, the roads, and other towns not even to go out to travel. The only option that you have is to go out to look for protection to other countries where my children, my husband, and I can be safe. Because the truth is, I don’t want to lose anyone else from my family since losing a loved one is a pain so strong that it is difficult to overcome. Months ago, after they assassinated my Father-in-law, we fled from them, but God is so great that he would protect us and bless us in this place that we are at today and thank you to each one of you, for your valued support, Kino Kitchen, San Juan Bosco shelter, Panchito and his Christina (Voices from the Border), and you (Artisans Beyond Borders) for supporting us. From my heart, thank you and God bless you always.

Artisans Beyond Borders Bordados
“Peace is in us” embroidery by asylum-seeker Esmeralda at the U.S.-Mexico border during the pandemic, 2020.

The most difficult things about being here is how to pay the rent, worrying about our safety here on the border, and not having any news regarding our asylum application. Nuestro proyecto – our project: bordando esperanza –  embroidering hope, also helps a lot with food, water, and electricity since it is most necessary.

Embroidery on Manta cloth, asylum-seeker Esmeralda,   U.S. – Mexico border, 2020

When I am embroidering, I feel happy and I forget for a moment all the bad that is happening to us. It expands my creativity and brings me love and much tranquility inside my heart.

Women, fiber art, and Immigrants

Many of you have asked how Artisans Beyond Borders has managed to survive much less thrive through a long summer slammed by politics and the pandemic at the border. We survived because of donors like you and like Patricia Zimmerman from Portland, Oregon who donated her entire stimulus check,  benefitting 20+ families for a full month.

Patricia (Pat), a serious handweaver, heard about ABB through the Weaving a Real Peace (WARP) newsletter. She says it hits all three of her hot buttons: “Women, fiber art, and immigrants” and when she received handpicked mantas in the mail, she was hooked.

Like many of us, Pat takes it personally. She told us how frustrating it is to witness a long-time friend unable to get a green card to work legally in the U.S. though he is married to a U.S. Citizen. “He and his family are the most decent, hardworking, and honest people I know,” she says.

Pat’s generous offering is the single largest donation we have had to date. Donations through the website this summer have been a godsend to the women and men we serve, especially now. While most of us can stay safe in our homes here in the U.S., asylum-seekers in Nogales feel blessed to have found a rare bed at a shelter for themselves and their kids. A few have been able to find a cheap room to rent. Others bed down each night at the town’s bus station.


New ABB Materials Fund

Embroidery and crochet materials people donated from all over the U.S. sustained ABB ever since we began in the summer of 2019. Some needleworking materials were new and still in the package, and some were wonderful vintage finds from thrift stores. Unfortunately, non-colorfast vintage floss bled in the wash one too many times. We still had enough new unopened materials in our stash to get through the worst of the pandemic this summer and the artisans were grateful for the supplies.  Now that the shops are opening up again in Nogales, artisans can pick out their own materials from their favorite fabric store(s) such as the more culturally aligned (and in many ways, superior) Mexican thread they love.

Going forward, part of your donations will be going to the Artisans Materials Fund so they can purchase their own embroidery materials and supplies in-country. We want the makers to have as much agency and as many choices as possible and we want to support the local economy in Nogales.


Artisans Beyond Borders News

Design for social justice & community well-being 

ABB has been chosen by the University of Arizona School of Art “Clients in the Community” class to collaborate on “Designing for Good,” with the focus on Social Justice: how good design makes a difference in the well-being of the community. From designing ABB ephemera to new social media, we are thrilled to work with such talented young designers, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Artisans Beyond Borders ZOOM Presentations to begin in October

Starting with a ZOOM PowerPoint presentation for the Migration Ministries Committee at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio, ABB is happy to offer congregations, social justice committees, Artisan Guilds, and college-age students a 30 minute PowerPoint presentation of our inspiring origin story with a Q & A and a digital “trunk show” of available mantas for each presentation. Participants can choose their favorites and when possible learn more about the individual artisans who created the work.

The resilience of the makers in the face of insurmountable odds humbles us beyond measure and inspires us to do better. Their personal stories bring the truth of migration to the table and give us the chance to understand how current policies impact families on our Southern border. To arrange a presentation for your group, email us at Artisans Beyond Borders

In truth and grace,

Tucson (and beyond) Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders.

*Translations by Elizabeth Gaxiola, Instructor & Doctoral Candidate, College of Education, University of Arizona.