For the last couple of weeks, LA-based artist Miles MacGregor—known as El Mac—has been spending eight to 12 hours a day in a boom lift, repainting Presidio’s water tower. This past weekend, the completed image revealed itself: it’s of an abuela, a Mexican grandmother holding a rose.
The mural is based on a woman El Mac met in Presidio named Linda Luján, who has a shop where she sells used clothing. Luján is originally from Ojinaga, Mexico, and her work has allowed her to put her kids through college. According to El Mac, Luján seemed to exemplify many people who live along the border, and cross back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico regularly. El Mac liked that her face looked maternal, because life in the hot dry Chihuahuan Desert can be pretty harsh. “Painting an image that is something softer, more welcoming, more feminine, just seemed appropriate,” El Mac said.
The idea of redesigning the water tank came up back in December. Mexican consul Francisco Jacobi approached Presidio’s city council with a proposal: The Mexican government wanted to pay for a mural to be painted in town. Jacobi didn’t have a design yet, but he said that the sense of the painting would be “that migrants are part of the community, migrants are welcome.”
Out of the 50 Mexican consulate locations where the mural could have been painted, Presidio is the smallest and most remote—but it has a particularly collaborative relationship with its neighbor to the south. Presidio and Ojinaga, Mexico work together on environmental issues, like when the Rio Grande floods, and emergency management, as in the case of fires. Next month, a major bridge expansion project will double the number of car lanes that go between the two cities. An international railroad bridge is also in the works. El Mac believes that it’s the lifestyles and relationships of the people that live here that made it a suitable location for the mural. “People are so intermixed that further separating the two sides seems unnecessary and even offensive,” he said.
Presidio resident Carlos Franca has been watching the mural’s progress. Franca crosses into Ojinaga every day to work at his family’s grocery store, where the mural can be seen from the entrance. He said the mural reminds him of his grandmothers. “It looks like a lot of people from around here, I would say, in Presidio and Ojinaga,” said Franca.
El Mac isn’t surprised that the mural has a familial feel to locals. El Mac said that when its done, the painting won’t really be of Linda Luján in Presidio, but a composite of abuelas that he’s met all around the world. When he leaves Presidio, he’ll take the faces of the people he’s met here with him. He said he may even paint a panadero from Presidio in the next city or country he travels to. “The same way people migrate, the murals migrate too,” he said. The next time you visit Presidio, look for the abuela up on the water tower. She’ll be there watching over people on both sides of the border.