Bridging the Border

Allison Walsh '17 (Photo by Duane Zehr)

June 26, 2017

The border between the United States and Mexico has come under scrutiny and discussion lately. But Allison Walsh ’17 wanted to understand the border from the perspective of those who live with it as part of their daily lives.

In January, she spent 2-1/2 weeks in El Paso, Texas, and neighboring Juarez, Mexico interviewing residents, doing art performance pieces and “exploring the landscape.”

“A human perspective of the border, what it’s like to really live there. That’s what I was looking for,” she said, adding her goal was to highlight the human element in her documentary-style art video. “It was really experiential learning.”

Walsh, a double-major in studio art and Spanish with a philosophy minor who has taken video courses through independent study, utilized all of those skills making the film. She credits Margaret LeJeune, associate professor of photography, as her adviser/mentor on the project.

“She’s been sort of a producer in helping develop some of the ideas,” Walsh said. “And also giving me the courage to finish this project.”

She described the film as “no-budget,” financed through a few small grants and a Kickstarter campaign. She did not receive class credit for the project, which won the Dean’s Award from the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts at the 2017 Scholarship Expo.

“When I was at the border, a few of the interviews I had were purely in Spanish and I would never have met those people if I didn’t know the language,” she said. “Philosophy trained me to see and analyze problems in a unique way.”

Walsh talked with people who live on one side of the border and work on the other, as well as those who cross daily for medical care, shopping or family reasons, including former U.S. Border Patrol officers and former undocumented workers.

“It was important to me to interview people with different political views who live at the border,” she said. “Everyone has their own relationship with the border. Some people cross it every day. It’s just a normal thing, part of their life. I think it’s important to share what it’s really like for the people who live there.”

The Mt. Prospect, Ill., native described the border as a bridge between two countries and cultures.

“I expected it to be more of a separation but it seems to be, actually, an exciting place; the border that separates two countries is actually the closest place they can come together,” Walsh said. “This blending is something I didn’t understand until I was actually there. It was really fun, exciting to be there.”

Doing the film also made sense to her on an artistic level.

“As an artist, part of the work that we do is see a need for something and then address it in a creative way.”

Walsh is investigating free online distribution of the documentary and said she will consider participating in film festivals and showings at colleges and libraries.

“I saw this divide in our nation between people who believe in different policies and it was hard to communicate across it,” she said. “I wanted a project that was for all people, to show how beautiful it is to be in a place where cultures and perspectives and people come together and create something unique.”

The former Bradley golfer plans to attend graduate school but is spending the summer finishing the film, tentatively titled “Parallel Lines.” She has a summer residency at the Prairie Center of the Arts in Peoria and may return to the border for additional footage and interviews.

“This is a project that could span many years.”