On Sunday, American architect and professor Ronald Rael showed up at the U.S.–Mexico border in a white pickup truck carrying three pink seesaws. Surprised U.S. Border Patrol agents and Mexican soldiers watched as he slid them between the fence’s utilitarian metal slats, flipping the wall's script from a dark symbol of division to one of optimism and community.
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Kids and families from Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Colonia Anapra—a community on the west side of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico—bounced up and down on the teeter-totters like it was "a day at a park," says Rael. The installation provided lighthearted relief, at least temporarily, to communities that experience the effects of the divisive barrier on a daily basis.
Rael and his design partner Virginia San Fratello, who share the Oakland, California–based firm Rael San Fratello, have been working to redefine the wall for a decade now. In 2009, they reimagined the border wall as a home run fence for a baseball field, and as a giant, tined tuning fork to make music with.
Rael’s 2017 book, Borderwall as Architecture, consolidates ideas like these in a manifesto that aims to conceptually and physically dismantle the barrier. Over the course of a couple hours on Sunday, the flamingo-colored playground brought years of work to fruition, melting the divide meant to push people away and instead bringing them together.
The wall's deconstruction is especially poignant in the midst of current immigration debates. "The wall became a fulcrum for U.S.–Mexico relations," Rael said in an instagram post. "[The seesaw] tells the story of how the actions on one side of the border have direct consequences on the other." The metaphor is apt, but only time will tell if policymakers take note.
Rael and San Fratello developed the seesaws with Juárez–based artist collective Colectivo Chopeke, who chose the pink color to commemorate the lives of thousands of women who have been killed in Juárez since 1993. The pink also acts like a cheery smile in the face of fear, contrasting the drab fencing.
Rael won't soon forget the experience and its meaning to those who participated over the weekend: "The joy that was shared this day on both sides is something that will stay with me forever."