Travel restrictions at the border were “a nightmare” for some artists and musicians based in Juárez


Paulina Reza boarded a flight from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso in Spring 2020. She flew from Ciudad Juárez to Mexico City, Los Angeles, Houston and finally El Paso, all so she could work on the music in person with her group .

Like other Juárez-based artists and musicians, Reza has been affected by COVID-related border travel restrictions for Mexican citizens. The closure allowed non-essential travel of Mexican nationals to the United States by air, but not across land borders such as those between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

She and her group mates in Estereomance, a quintessence fronterizo group with members who live on both sides of the border, had to find inventive ways to stay connected and progress on new music after the pandemic.

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“It was tough, those decisions,” said Reza, the band’s lead singer. Reza is a Mexican citizen who once crossed the border regularly on a tourist visa. His bandmates Manuel Calderon and Adria Del Valle both live in El Paso.

“It affected us, like in the harmony of the band… I remember we had a conversation and I was like, ‘Oh my economic situation, I can’t pay (for) another plane'”, a she declared.

The pandemic has been devastating for the creative industries globally, with independent artists, musicians, venues and art spaces hit hard by closures and travel restrictions. The cultural and creative sectors have been among the most affected by COVID-19, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international think tank.

These impacts have had a disproportionate impact on artists of color in the United States. Americans for the Arts reported that artists of color had higher unemployment rates and lost more creative income than white artists.

In binational metropolises like El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, where creative communities have long been intertwined, the way COVID-19 has affected some Mexican artists has been profound.

“It was like a nightmare for me,” said Jesus Leonel Portillo, Ciudad Juárez-based artist better known as Pilo. “I already had seven years of work in El Paso, and for me, my professional life was there. “

Pilo, right, speaks with fellow artist Arturo Damasco on Monday at a Juárez gallery. Like other artists in Juárez, Pilo and Damasco have had to find new ways to show their work, make sales and purchase supplies due to pandemic restrictions on border crossings. (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

After a series of cancellations and missed opportunities, Pilo said he felt at a stalemate, stuck in limbo. Her work visa expired during the pandemic, and due to understaffing, visa wait times have increased.

“I have been stranded in Juárez for over a year,” Pilo said. “I start from scratch (on) a lot of my projects. To be honest it’s pretty hard to work for many years there and all of a sudden the bridge is closed and you have to start all over again.

Since the start of the pandemic, Pilo has had to turn down opportunities to show his work in New York and Los Angeles. He has since reconfigured the plans he had for an immersive art space in El Paso – he now plans to do so in Ciudad Juárez.

Arturo Damasco, a Juárez-based muralist and painter best known for creating a nine-story mural of Juan Gabriel in downtown Juárez, said that because border artists were used to being interconnected and being able to cross frequently , it had an impact on the border. closure all the more intense.

“A lot of our customers are in the US, the (art materials) we buy are in the US, so (the border closure) has definitely affected us a lot,” he said in Spanish. .

Pilo explained that in his experience, there is generally a wider choice and cheaper art materials available in El Paso than in Juárez.

Arturo Damasco chooses a frame that he will use to stretch the canvas in his studio in Juárez. Damasco, most famous for its large fresco of Juan Gabriel in downtown Juárez, has seen its work interrupted by pandemic restrictions on border crossings. (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

For Estereomance, the band found plenty of workarounds to travel restrictions at the border, including shuttle from an El Paso recording equipment studio to Ciudad Juárez so they could record a concert in live for KTRU Rice Radio.

“It’s expensive equipment, so crossing over with expensive equipment can be a bit tricky,” Calderon said. “Fortunately, we never had any problems.”

But Calderon and his Estereomance comrades were determined to remain optimistic despite the challenges of border restrictions.

“Making music just involves a lot of in-person work. … The music we’re trying to make is very much about human emotion, so it’s hard to get it on a small screen, ”Calderon said. “When we’re working on music or producing, we feed off each other’s energy… so that’s something we’ve really missed during this entire 40s.”

Cover photo: Arturo Damasco on Monday cleans a canvas in a Juárez gallery. (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Mattuh)

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