Albertine Diaries

“Transforming Our Divisions into Connections” in San Diego

Every month, France-Amérique talks to the residents of Villa Albertine, the cultural institution launched by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, which offers an annual program of 60 artistic and cultural residencies in the United States. This issue features Chloé Jarry (an immersive experience producer), Aude-Emilie Judaïque (a documentary-maker for the France Culture radio network), and Anne-Laure Amilhat-Szary (a political geographer), who have been invited to San Francisco. Together, they are exploring international borders with the goal of “transforming our divisions into connections.”
Chicano Park, in San Diego. © Peter H. Gonzales

Sunday, March 6, 2022. We leave San Francisco and make our way south. Driving down the Pacific coast to San Diego and the border between the United States and Mexico, we list the names of the towns we pass through like a mantra: San Mateo,
San José, San Miguel, San Luis Obispo… These saints remind us that, here, the frontier was Spanish before it became American. In the 16th century, Iberian colonists and missionaries settled in these lands, which until then had been home to Native American tribes. Evangelized, colonized, and decimated by disease and forced labor, the indigenous populations eventually blended with the recent arrivals to form another, mixed people and create a new country: Mexico.

California’s geography still bears the marks of this Hispanic history. With the gold rush, tensions rose between Mexico and the United States. In 1848, after the Mexican-American War, Mexico lost half its land and saw its borders driven further south. California therefore became American and its inhabitants, the Chicanos, became “Americans despite themselves.” Today, they still declare that “they did not cross the border, but rather the border crossed them.”

Forced to live in barrios and colonias located outside the cities, they have been subjected to a policy of social discrimination and urban segregation for decades. Trapped between two countries, two cultures, and two languages, these Mexican-Americans are a “halfway people” with a hybrid identity. But gradually, a community resistance was organized through the Chicano Movement. This swell of self-assertion and pride can be seen on the walls of the Mission District in San Francisco, covered with openly political paintings inspired by the Mexican muralist tradition.

The three authors in San Diego with Chicano muralist and activist Victor Ochoa (foreground). © Peter H. Gonzales

In San Diego, Chicano Park is also a monument to Latino-American culture’s fight for recognition. With its gigantic murals adorning the columns of the freeway overpass, the park is nothing less than an open-air museum; a symbolic connection between San Diego and Tijuana, the United States and Mexico. The artists working there use large blocks of color to condemn immigration policy and mourn those who have died on the border by erecting altars. Their slogan is La cultura cura la locura – culture cures craziness!

We share their conviction. Together, we are developing several projects focused on international borders and border art, including an interactive exhibition, a virtual reality experience, a documentary series, and a number of podcasts. Each of us is striving to invest ourselves in borders, artistically and politically, to move beyond the pain and death currently associated with them.


Article published in the May 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.