BACK The Unnamed Student and Power of a Quilt

With tears in his eyes, a student from a history class at the University of Arizona toured Los Desconocidos: The Migrant Quilt Project, the newest exhibit at the Arizona History Museum in Tucson. Covering more than 20 years of the history and stories of those who made the perilous journey through the Southern Arizona deserts, this exhibit remembers those who lost their lives in pursuit of a better life. We don’t know their stories or even their names. For many, they are known only by a generalist term: Los Desconocidos — the unknown.
As the class discussed migrants and their grueling border migration experiences, this student saw the exhibit as a mirror and tearfully shared his mother’s struggles to cross many borders all the way from the Philippines to America.
“The Migrant Quilt Project,” said Vanessa Fajardo, a lead curator with the Arizona Historical Society, “helped this student and many others realize how closely related migrant stories can be, no matter where they come from.”

AHS Curator Vanessa Fajardo checks the condition of a wooden stretcher, which was abandoned along a wash by Ruby Road, west of I-19, probably in Santa Cruz County. The female migrant who was carried on this stretcher was eventually taken to a Tucson hospital where she died. The stretcher was brought to the yard of a home in Tucson where it remained until it was transported to AHS in 2009.

“Los Desconocidos: The Migrant Quilt Project” exhibition features a collection of 21 handmade quilts that memorialize migrants who have died seeking refuge in the United States. Fajardo straightens the 2000-2001 quilt, which, like all quilts in the exhibit, carries the names of those who have been identified or simply states “desconocido” or “unknown” for those who have not.

At the Arizona Historical Society, we believe in the power of history–the power of individuals to make an impact with their stories, and for those stories to find route in the experiences and personal histories of others. That’s why it is so essential to both protect and engage others with it. History moves us to be better people. And better people make better communities.
Your gift inspires hundreds if not thousands of people just like this unnamed student from the University of Arizona. With your continued support, imagine the good we will do in 2023 as we unveil new thought-provoking exhibits and expand our ever-growing statewide archives, collections, libraries, events, educational programing, and online resources.
You give, and we pledge to connect people across this wonderful state to the power of Arizona’s history.
With deep gratitude,
Dr. David Breeckner
Executive Director
P.S. Did you know that AHS engages with students of all ages? We offer crafts and activities for young learners, National History Day for middle and high school students, and school tours and field trips for elementary to college students. Please give to our Annual Gift Fund today to support programs that connect students of all ages to Arizona history.

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