TIJUANA (Border Report) — The waves of the Pacific Ocean lap and splash onto a brand-new mural that has gone up on the south side of the border barrier between Tijuana and San Diego.

It took a month for the artists to finish the Playas de Tijuana Mural Project

It features the faces and stories of 15 individuals who have been deported from the U.S.

The concept was Lizbeth De La Cruz’s idea as part of her research for her doctoral degree with the University of California-Davis near Sacramento.

De La Cruz said the idea began in 2016 when she first visited the area and saw other artwork on the border barrier and, as she put it, “provoked the need to use art as a tool to communicate the unethical deportation practices on a population of migrants that entered the U.S. as minors.”

Her finished project would depict a lot more than deported minors, but mothers of young children and U.S. military vets.

Lizbeth De La Cruz is the director of the Playas de Tijuana Mural Project, (Courtesy: Lizbeth De La Cruz)

“The border does separate families, but also makes it impossible for them to even see each other,” said De La Cruz. “It’s one of the best ways to ethically teach people about deportation and focus on the human side of migration.”

One of the people featured on the mural is Issac Rivera, who at the age of 6 was brought to San Diego from the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

“Clean record, going to school, then on a Sunday while going to church with his pastor they encountered a checkpoint,” De La Cruz said, adding Border Patrol agents detained Rivera, and rather than spend an unspecified time in custody, he chose to be deported and found himself in the city of Tijuana, a place to which he’d never been.

That was years ago.

“He had no family, every one of his siblings and his parents were in the U.S. … He was basically homeless, it was a shock because he really didn’t speak Spanish neither, ended up sleeping on park benches,” De La Cruz said.

Rivera reportedly never got to see his parents again.

Issac Rivera is one of 15 deportees featured on the Playas de Tijuana Mural Project. (Courtesy: Playas de Tijuana Mural Project)

“They were also undocumented so they could never visit him, and both his mother and father died from COVID,” she said

The mural will be officially unveiled Saturday.

“It has a component where people approach the mural and if you stand close you can put your phone on a video or website that tells them their stories,” De La Cruz said.

That information is shared through Quick Response Codes that have been placed next to the portraits that are part of the artwork.

“It’s a unique place to paint, you have the components of the weather, the water and warm temperatures in the summer,” said De La Cruz. “The tides are pretty strong, they might not look like it but once you’re in the water you feel they’re pulling you into the ocean, you’re just painting but you have to hold yourself to the border fence.”

The project cost about $10,000 that was covered by grants received by De La Cruz.