On the back of a toe tag hanging in an exhibit in the University of Wisconsin-Stout Library a simple message printed by the student filling out the tag reads:
“It’s really disquieting to write the term ‘fully fleshed’ on an identification for a human being.”
That human being was Efrain Gonzalez-Manzano, age 24, who died from exposure in May 2001 in Pine County, Ariz., while trying to cross the Sonoran Desert to come to the U.S.
That toe tag with his name and the message is one of 3,200 handwritten tags representing migrants who have died trying to cross the desert from the mid-1990s to 2019. The exhibit is entitled Hostile Terrain 94.
It is a participatory exhibit sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project, a nonprofit research-art-education-media collective, directed by anthropologist Jason De Leon.
The free exhibit in the library’s main entrance lobby has been up since late fall 2020 and will be taken down on Wednesday, Sept. 1, said Tom Pearson, UW-Stout professor of anthropology. A UW-Stout student-created Honors College film introduces the migration issue and exhibit.
The toe tags are geolocated on a wall map of the desert showing the exact locations where remains were found. UW-Stout is one of about 150 institutions around the world housing the installation last and this year. The project at UW-Stout is co-sponsored by the campus colleges, Honors College, Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center, Furlong Gallery and library.
About 150 students participated in filling out toe tags. More than 550 students who were part of the UW-Stout Honors College read the book “The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail” by De Leon for the fall colloquium. De Leon is also director of the Undocumented Migrant Project and head curator of Hostile Terrain 94.