How the arts can help asylum-seekers make their way now in the U.S.A. ~ Artisans Beyond Borders Update, Summer/Fall 2021

In Tucson, we Cultural Arts Workers are putting embroideries on the line sent to us from towns across the U.S., where migrant families are hanging on by the teeth as they wait for asylum hearings. I am struck by how much we can learn about their lives from their handwork itself. My eye travels over stitching that ranges from fine and delicado to bold and bright. How the makers continue to come up with such original compositions and color choices while navigating the difficult transition to a new language and culture in the middle of immigration limbo is a testimony to the healing of familial handwork.

Fresh Mantas made by asylum-seekers and sent to Tucson from across the U.S.

We are relieved that our embroiderers and others are in safer conditions now but for most, their challenges are just beginning, like the immigrant mother surviving on babysitter wages in the NYTimes profile “$100 a Week”:

“Behind these scenes of domestic joy (of newly arrived families), are financial straits so dire that they can be hard to comprehend.” NY Times, June 3, 2021

Those who have been able to finally reunify with their family in the U.S. often find that those families are barely scraping by themselves. Not eligible for publicly funded assistance, children can go to bed hungry. To survive, many rely on free school lunches, programs at local churches, and the tireless efforts of immigrant advocacy groups to survive.

Artisans Beyond Borders U.S. Initiative

We Tucson Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders formed the U.S. Embroidering Hope (Bordando Esperanza) group to help meet the needs of our embroiderers lawfully crossing the border after waiting in Mexico for a year and a half to petition for asylum.

They arrive with nothing save the clothes on their backs. They are not allowed by immigration officials to even carry their own embroidery supplies through the port of entry. We make sure that when they come across, they receive bags filled with all the supplies they need to begin again. Donations we send them in return for their original handwork, help pay for basics: food, transportation, diapers and over-the-counter meds.

Artisanal Embroiderer waiting to depart Casa Alitas, Tucson’s lead migrant shelter

ABB Outreach: Bordado supplies and support at Casa Alitas Shelter

Separated for 17 years, Abby Reunites with her Mom

With the help of the lawyers at Justice for our Neighbors, Abby, one of our dear embroiderers in Nogales, made it across the border in June. The thin soft-spoken 22-year-old mother of two girls ages 5 and 1 year, was only 5 years old herself when her own mother left Guerrero, Mexico and migrated to the U.S.  After 17 years, she was finally able to see her mother’s face.

“Meeting my mother again after all these years was so exciting, there were many mixed feelings,” Abby said. “I can finally hug her again and now we can give each other that affection that we could not give each other in all the years that we were not together.”

When I first met Abby in the summer of 2020 at La Casa de Misericordia shelter in Nogales, Sonora, she embroidered the cloth in her lap while feeding her infant at the breast. She takes pride in her work and now she’s one of our best.

Hand-embroidered manta by Abby who is finally home now with her Mother in the U.S.

“Es curative para mi. It is healing for me because I put every feeling that I carry inside me in each embroidery,” Abby says.

Social Investment: Community and Cultural Arts

Right now, Abby is embroidering two mantas for two donors whose generous donation seeded the U.S. Bordando Esperanza group this summer making it possible to help new arrivals. Residents of Northern California, newly retired Kim Kocher and soon to be retired Karen Ashford are the models of social investment though they may not see themselves that way.

Each year they gather goods from all their neighbors and host a much anticipated 3-day yard sale. All items are priced so low that the sale itself directly helps individual members of the community. They match the proceeds and disperse the funds to what or whom they feel needs the help the most. In years past, they have raised money for their local Food Bank, put a young undocumented man with no DACA support through cooking school, and sent money to No More Deaths. This year they chose to help Artisans Beyond Borders and we are so grateful. 

“We are all migrants,” Kim writes in an email. We are blessed and honored to help these incredible women.”Kim Kocher’s own grandparents emigrated in the 1880’s to the U.S.A from Norway by ship, by themselves at 14 years of age. “I believe immigrants are the bravest, strongest, and most loving of all human beings, and we welcome them in our community, “she adds.  

At the age of five, Kim recalls, she walked with that same grandmother through San Francisco to deliver a bag of tomatoes to her grandmother’s friend cooking out of a big pot in her yard for WWII veterans waiting in line. “Those few steps we took together taught me everything I know today about helping within the community,” Kim says.

The Maker Model

New immigrants and refugees, especially women, make a living with their hands, with their cultural crafts, culinary arts, and caregiving. This is the Maker Model, a smart and scalable way for families to navigate immigration. Our makers from Florida to California, create servilletas, using manta cloth to wrap foods with natural cotton instead of plastic. The benefit to our kitchens and our homes as we adopt this one custom in particular, is incalculable, and just one of a myriad of ways that immigrants enrich our culture.

Bordado Embroidered mantas used as servilletas in the kitchen

Miguel, the young man who Kim and Karin helped get through cooking school became the best in his class and is now the head chef at a Domaine Chandon in Napa, California.

“Because of his success, his two younger brothers found a way to attend college as well. Kim said. “It’s a ripple effect, not unlike the tomatoes my grandmother and I carried up the hill in the Mission sixty years ago.”

ABB in Mexico

ABB continues to provide assistance to 25+ migrating families at 3 shelters and on the streets in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.   Our long-term goal has always been to support the formation of collective(s) in Mexico where the artisans themselves, even in the throes of migration, can become independent and have full agency over their own creations. Now, we are beginning to see our goal met in new Mexican-run programs at the shelters leading in this direction. We are hopeful that, with support on both sides of the border, these artisan collectives will become increasingly independent.

Artisans Beyond Borders at la Casa de Misericordia migrant shelter, Nogales, Sonora
Bordando Esperanza outside the bus station, Nogales, Sonora

Going Forward: Educate, Inspire, and Partner

As volunteers and longtime cultural arts workers on the border, our mission is becoming more educational in nature. A number of churches nationwide are interested in hosting a traveling exhibition of original Bordados Devocionales: Devotional Embroideries, created by our embroiderers. These mantas are awesome faith-filled retablos, windows on immigrant life during the pandemic. When available, the exhibition may also include Leaving Home: Immigration through the Eyes of Children, artwork by refugee youth.

If your school, place of worship or community facility would like an exhibition in 2022-2023 email for the prospectus.  

Be a Cultural Change Agent

Help market the artisan’s work through the Fall and into the Christmas season. Work remotely from home or at Tucson’s Artisans Beyond Borders office. Communications and Social media experience super helpful. Bi-lingual preferred but not a deal breaker. Email us at

Wish List

A Serger with a volunteer to use it for the common good.

A volunteer or two to periodically receive, wash, and iron the artisan’s new offerings, and/or compile familial craft activity bags for folks migrating through the Tucson shelters.

Artisans Beyond Borders ~ Bordando Esperanza: Healing trauma through the Arts and upholding the Maker Tradition since 2018. All donations and sales from the artisan’s Etsy shop go directly to the artists and to fund the program. A.B.B. is a Border Arts Ministry of Tucson’s progressive Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 



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

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

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

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:

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.


Our Lady of Guadalupe ~ stitching sanctuary with Artisans Beyond Borders

“While she waits at the U.S.~Mexico border to apply for asylum, Irma stitches Our Lady of Guadalupe ~ Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the spirit and soul of our cross-border cultural arts program.”

Artisans Beyond Borders Bordados
Made for Artisans Beyond Borders

Irma from Guatemala opens our portfolio of featured artisans at Artisans Beyond Borders.  While she waits at the U.S.~ Mexico border to apply for asylum, Irma stitched our Lady of Guadalupe ~ Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the spirit and soul of our cross-border cultural arts initiative.

Irma learned to weave traditional huipils at a young age in school and embroider servilletas to hold tortillas on the table. “I am proud to make these mantas. she says. “It brings me peace and patience.”

In the rural area of Guatemala where she lived, Irma shepherded sheep and other animals on the farm. When her way of life was threatened, she fled for the border with her husband and her child. Her dream is to achieve asylum in the United States for a better future for her daughter.

For more information about makers and their beautiful work,  collectors, and upcoming offerings Sign up and receive the periodic Friends Newsletter at Artisans Beyond Borders or here at Art and Faith in the Desert.

Artisans Beyond Borders missing family today and every day on Father’s Day, 2020


Artisans Beyond Borders asylum seekers missing family, embroider together in a shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

Honoring our male Artisans ~ Asylum seeker David’s beautiful embroidery.

Artisan Beyond Borders Asylum seeker David on the floor of the shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico designing a manta to embroider.

“Little Virgin Guide my Steps” original embroidery by Asylum seeker Israel at the U.S.- Mexico border in the middle of the pandemic.

Gentleman Embroiderer Israel on the U.S. – Mexico border, Father’s Day 2020

Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders

Last Summer, I answered the call in this article: Migrant Women fleeing violence find Beauty and Healing in Embroidery

Over the next few months, that call flowered into Artisans Beyond Borders, a primary driver for creativity and grace, dignity, and economic empowerment for vulnerable asylum seekers in Nogales, Mexico.

The Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders offer presentations and the artisans work in the U.S.  It is a joyful initiative operating in a grim arena on the border, a rare project that works. Let’s do everything we can to keep it going. Join us. Become one of a growing number of Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders. 

“Draw What You Love” Dibuja lo Que Amas


“Draw What you Love, Dibuja lo que Amas,” with refugee youth at the Casa Alitas monastery shelter, a philosophy that embraces hope and healing is foundational to our Arts and Activities program. We promote well-being and foster resiliency in the short term with activities that engage our guests and lend a bit of calm in the chaos of family displacement.

“Hope & Healing: The Art of Asylum at the Monastery”

“Hope & Healing: The Art of Asylum at the Monastery” is an exhibit of Artwork created by young Asylum seekers from Central and South America since 2014 at the Casa Alitas short-term shelter in Tucson. In 2019, the Casa Alitas shelter expanded into Tucson’s historic Benedictine Monastery re-purposed to accommodate larger groups of guests.

A former sewing room in the monastery once used by the Benedictine Sisters to cut cloth for their habits was converted into an Art & Activities classroom, a rare blessing, unavailable to most bare-bones shelters at the U.S. border. The Activities room is a clean, orderly, light-filled space for children and adults, a pocket of peace to experience temporary respite, make art, and study essential English.

Since opening in 2014, Casa Alitas observed that refugee guests would use whatever was available, scraps of paper, pencils, and crayons to draw. All the walls at the small shelter became covered with spontaneous art, drawings that expressed gratitude and hope for a safe and secure future in their new country.

Instinctively, we human beings express ourselves through shape and color, line and form when language is not sufficient to explain or describe our experiences. Within the refugee community, where many guests speak indigenous dialects only and verbal communication can be challenging, the universal language of Art is a saving grace.

In the monastery, guests draw while they wait on line for an intake interview, for something to eat, or for a ride to the bus station and the children draw all the time. Like the branches of the great tree of life, Artwork by guests has leafed out to cover the walls of all the common areas of the monastery.


Draw What You Love

Young guests draw what’s in their hearts. They draw prayers to God for having spared them and multiple thanks to volunteers. They paint homes, loved ones, and pets left behind. Drawings rich in symbols – paintings of birds in flight, volcanoes erupting, roads and rivers, vehicles and barriers – testify to the trauma of migration and family displacement. Yet, through it all, we see the color of hope: bright flowers and rainbows and smiling faces: hope for family reunification in a new country, free of fear.

The deceptively simple prompt to “Draw what you Love, “arose from seeing and listening to what is most important and most healing to our guests. The children draw and paint quietly, reverently with singular focus and intention. They are intent on conveying what cannot be said in words. Their feelings rise up and through their art regardless and their visual testimonies are honest, authentic, and inarguable.

The very act of art making, trusting in spontaneity and mastering materials empowers youth who feel powerless in the face of migration and family separation. In turn, the language of line and the poetry of painting helps us imagine the lived experience of Mexican, Central, and South American refugees, the trauma and loss they’ve experienced, and the mystery and wonder of their faith against all odds.


In this exhibit, viewers can also witness the beauty of feminine forbearance in the face of adversity through the handwork of our guests. Casa Alitas Art & Activities creates space for Home craft: contemplative needlework and cultural crafts that honor indigenous and familial skills, and support camaraderie among women.

A good example of this familial camaraderie is the Arizona Esperanza quilters who have made lap quilts for our guests since 2018. In 2019 they collaborated with Monastery Arts volunteers to gather the children’s art and thread their individual drawings into unified quilts of care and protection. The quilts displayed here are but a few of their offerings.

Perhaps the most profound power of the art in this exhibit lies in the frontier between the artist and the viewer. Deep in the borderlands of shared imagination, if we can get past our own filters and open ourselves up to the mystery of grace, through the art of our new neighbors and the fresh eyes of youth, we are able to transcend language, time, and geography.

Valarie Lee James, Volunteer, Casa Alitas Arts & Activities Coordinator Summer 2019, Tucson


From the Eyes of Babes: The Art of Asylum


Give kids paper and crayons and they will give you their hearts. At Tucson’s Casa Alitas, a Catholic Community Services short-term shelter for immigrant families released from detention, kid’s artwork covers the largest wall in the house. Guileless and profound, art by immigrant children puts the border rhetoric of adults to shame.

Many of the immigrant children at Casa Alitas are refugees fleeing the unimaginable. Multiple drawings depicting houses and pets left behind, long roads traveled, and mountains and rivers crossed, testify to the trauma of wholesale familial displacement. As an Alitas volunteer and former art therapist, when I see images of fiery volcanos erupting and great tears filling a sky, I can’t help but remember other drawings I have seen by young burn patients who use whatever body part was left unburned, even if that meant their toes to grasp a paint brushes and crayons.

Read more…