Together, Amy Sanchez and Misael Diaz are the Cognate Collective. Sitting in the official Cognate Cruiser—an '80s-era Chevy station wagon covered with imagery painted during a performance-art piece by artists including Eric Wixon and Peru Dyer as the car was driven through traffic at the San Ysidro Port of Entry—they explain their latest border intervention, Dialogue in Transit: Evolution of a Line.
"We've got quite a caravan going," Sanchez says of the "mobile conference" that'll be broadcast live on 87.9-FM at noon on Saturday, March 15, as a line of participating cars slowly moves amid the traffic at the border. The show invites people to join an open dialog about the 20-year anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), human rights, redevelopment of the San Ysidro Port of Entry and anything else that comes to mind.
Anyone can tune in or join by registering at dialogintransit.com by March 13. Featured speakers include human-rights advocate Victor Clark-Alfaro, artist Omar Pimienta and others. The Tijuana band Sonidero Travesura will perform as participants take a break to explore the Mercado de Artesanías de la Línea, the marketplace that supplies the persistent roving vendors with the blankets, piggybanks and other tchotchkes sold at the border.
The market is familiar ground for Sanchez and Diaz, who maintained an experimental art space there for almost two years and hosted children's workshops, language exchanges and artist residencies as they engaged with the shop owners, many whose families have been there for generations. The artists' work in the dynamic space has resulted in product-development ideas for the merchants and, overall, increased awareness of the market's often-ignored workforce.
"You don't talk to the vendors," explains Diaz, who grew up crossing the border. "It's like you put up blinders... I feel like I was told, 'Don't look too hard; don't look them in the eye.'"
With the conference and other Cognate Collective projects, the artists hope to increase awareness about border politics by putting real faces and places to the complicated policies.
"We're interested in how the micro meets the macro," Sanchez says.