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Marking Time: Victoria, TX

Marking Time: Victoria, TX, Immigrant Memorial Site, created by artists and collaborators Michele Grinstead and Nancy O’Connor, is an elegy to the individuals who perished in Victoria, Texas, on May 14, 2003. Early that morning, a semi-trailer truck containing at least 73 people from Latin America locked inside arrived at a truck stop in Victoria. Bound for Houston, the truck had traveled for four hours from Harlingen, a small town inside the US-Mexico border zone. The truck’s intended passage would have been the last leg of an arduous illegal border crossing for its passengers. Nancy O’Connor’s brother, Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor, arrived at the truck stop to find several injured and some dead. The immigrants’ journey in the airtight truck resulted in a total of 19 deaths caused by the lack of oxygen and temperatures that rose to 175° Fahrenheit. This event remains one of the worst immigrant trafficking tragedies in US history.[1]


An estimated 10-15 million foreigners reside in the United States who hold expired visas or entered the country illegally. Of the purported 495,000 unauthorized migrants entering the US each year, one third are said to pass through the 2,000 mile-long Texas-Mexico border.[2]  The state of Texas ranks second in the country for its population of undocumented immigrants, and it allegedly contains the fastest growing number of such individuals.[3] Most unauthorized immigrants in the US are poor, of Latin American descent, and are lured to the States in search of better education and employment opportunities. The disparity in earning potential between the US and Latin America motivates many US immigrants to send wages back to family members living in their home countries.


Illegal immigration in the US is a politically complex, multi-billion dollar issue. Undocumented immigrants’ bearing on economic growth, taxes, and government spending on items such as national security, law enforcement, medical care, and education is fervently debated. Individual states struggle to measure undocumented workers’ contributions to the economy, which are mainly in the service, construction, and agricultural industries. The enterprise of trafficking undocumented migrants to the US also exacerbates the immigration crisis. Profiteering networks that utilize “coyotes”, many of whom are illegal immigrants, transport approximately 300,000 undocumented individuals per year[4] to safe zones within the US, in exchange for receiving up to several thousand US dollars per passenger.[5] Recently, US Congress approved spending $1.2 billion to create a 700-mile fence along the US-Mexico border, including a surveillance-heavy “virtual fence” that will span 300 miles.


Cited in the arguments for and against building the wall along the border, the atrocity in Victoria remains a benchmark case in the national immigration debate. Today, the story ripples through political discussions on policy and international relations. In the town of Victoria, population 60,000, the event left an imprint of emotional grief and continues to electrify discussions on immigration reform. 


The road site memorial to the tragedy on May 14, 2003 at the Victoria truck stop continues to grow and change. Artists Grinstead and O’Connor use video, installation, and photography to reflect upon the site’s evolution. Marking time at periodic intervals, the artists focus on the site’s energy, observing the significance of others’ remembrances that are left behind. Immigrant Memorial Site reminds us of the complexity of the immigration debate, the plight of those wishing for a better life, and the desire to achieve the American Dream. Grinstead and O’Connor’s elegy creates more questions than answers about the connections we make to each other, and how we define and value our sense of place.


[1] Ramos, Jorge, Dying to Cross: The Worst Immigrant Tragedy in American History, New York: HarperCollins, 2006.


[2] “Indicators of Recent Flow from Mexico” Pew Hispanic Center, May 30, 2007.


[3] Hoefer, Michael, Nancy Rytina and Christopher Campbell. “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2006” Office of Immigration Statistics, Policy Directorate, August, 2006, US Department of Homeland Security.


[4] Ibid.


[5] Ramos, 2006.




2 November – 16 December, 2007


Houston Center for Photography

Artist / Photographer

Michele Grinstead
Nancy O’Connor


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