What the Eye Doesn't See, Doesn't Move the Heart: Migrant Quilts of Southern Arizona


From Uncoverings 2016, Volume 37 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group


By: Hazard, Peggy

Abstract: Illegal immigration has become a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the Atlantic. One fact often left out of the conversation about migration to the United States from Mexico is that thousands of undocumented-and fre­quently unidentified-men, women and children have died in the Southern Arizona deserts since the imposition of trade and border policies in the 1990s. The Migrant Quilt Project is a grassroots effort in Tucson, Arizona, to collect clothing discarded in the desert by migrants and reuse it to create quilts recording the names of these unacknowledged victims of the border crisis. The quilts are intended to memorialize the dead, reveal the severity of the tragedy, and inspire people to support compassionate policy change. Based on interviews with the project's founder, the quilts' creators, immigration activists, and the author's personal experience making a Migrant Quilt, this paper tells the story of the project's origins and the effects of the quilts on those who have made and viewed them. The quilts are invaluable documents of a particular time and place in history and this paper discusses them within the contexts of art made from migrant clothing, border-themed textile art, and the heritage of socially-conscious quiltmaking.

Peggy Hazard is an art exhibition curator and quiltmaker in Tucson, Arizona, whose art history M.A. thesis surveyed local African-American quiltmakers. Over a nineteen-year career in Tohono Chul Park, she curated nearly 100 exhibitions portraying the diverse cultures and artists of the southwestern United States, including exhibitions of historic and contemporary quilts and needlework. She served on the planning committees for the Patterns of the Past quilt history conferences (1996, 1998, and 2001) in Tucson and presented From Cactus to Quilting Needles, examining botannical-themed quilts in Arizona. Currently, Peggy is an independent curator, a member of the Arizona Quilt Study Group, and an active volunteer with the Tucson Quilt Documentation team.