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At the San Diego-Tijuana border, a sneaker has become political art. It's not just any sneaker, it's the Brinco, a shoe designed exclusively for Mexicans illegally crossing into the U.S. (Brinco means "jump" in Spanish, which refers to crossing the border.)
The Brinco is the brainchild of Judi Werthein, an artist in residence at a contemporary arts organization called inSite , which produces public art projects in the San Diego - Tijuana area. She says she created the shoes both to spark discussion and to aid immigrants; each year hundreds of Mexicans die during the treacherous trip into the U.S. as they cross miles of desert.
The shoes act as both a practical help and inspiration to Mexican immigrants, and a piece of art to the wealthy Californians who can actually afford them. The BBC reports that the shoes come with a compass, a flashlight, and Tylenol, among other things:
An Aztec eagle is embroidered on the heel. On the toe is the American eagle found on the US quarter, to represent the American dream the migrants are chasing.
A map - printed on the shoe's removable insole - shows the most popular illegal routes from Tijuana into San Diego. ..
A few days after passing out shoes for free to migrants, Werthein begins selling the shoes at a hip boutique trainer store in downtown San Diego.
The shop sells only limited edition trainers. A pair of Werthein's Brincos are displayed on a pedestal under glass with a price tag of $215.
Earlier this year, another inSite artist made a statement -- though I'm not sure what it was -- when he organized a human cannonball launch across the Mexico - U.S. border. Border patrol agents and an ambulance were on standby for the launch, in which "cannonball daredevil" David Smith, Sr. was launched 150 feet over a series of poles that separate the beaches of Tijuana and San Diego. But wait, I haven't even told you the really, interesting part; the event was meant to be a "therapeutic project" for psychiatric patients.
While I'm not so sure these art projects substantively add to the never-ending immigration debates in border towns like San Diego, the absurdity of them certainly parallels the absurdity of this country's immigration policy. You know, how the government turns a blind eye to the 10 million illegal immigrants that sustain the agricultural and service industries, but won't mention amnesty as a solution. That's just as ridiculous as a human cannonball or special border-crossing shoes, but it's not nearly as entertaining.
Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.