In June 2022, fifty-three migrants from Mexico and Central America were found dead inside a large locked trailer in southwest San Antonio. The national news media quickly converged on the scene. CNN assigned 15 reporters to cover the story. The victims, immigrants principally from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, died of heat exhaustion and suffocation. The San Antonio police arrested three smugglers associated with the crime. CNN spoke to a Homeland Security Investigation agent who called the tragic event the “deadliest human smuggling incident in US history.”
The locked trailer truck with migrants still inside was found on an isolated gravel road alongside the railroad tracks near Quintana Road in an industrial area of the city. Family members, friends, and members of San Antonio’s immigrant support community placed 53 crosses and hundreds of flowers at the site.
The placing of crosses and candles on the isolated road in San Antonio was just the beginning of a
community’s respect for the devastating loss of lives. Over the following year, concerned citizens considered how to create a more permanent memorial to those who died in this tragic San Antonio event. Replicating in some manner the creative actions taken in recent calamitous events in American cities came to mind.
Rebecca Clay-Flores, the Bexar County
Commissioner for Precinct One where the San Antonio tragedy happened, determined early on that the death of these immigrants, which included mothers and children, should not be forgotten. Clay-Flores grew up with many life challenges, including occasions of homelessness in
her early life. Her mother was born in Mexico and the family’s struggles with poverty prepared her to better understand individuals who left their homes with their belongings in a canvas bag or backpack. She knew firsthand about people desperate to better their lives.
The way Commissioner Clay-Flores forged an informal association with a local art leader and three muralists demonstrates personal empathy and determination as well as a clear comprehension of how communities can deal with catastrophic events. Clay-Flores had been giving thought to an idea for a memorial for the 53 migrants who died in her precinct when she met Luminaria’s Director Yadhira Lozano.
Luminaria was founded in 2008 as a nonprofit initiative by Mayor Phil Hardberger. It supports artists intending to elevate the arts and enrich San Antonio by making the city a premier arts destination.
Clay-Flores and Lozano agreed that the site of the tragedy was not an ideal place for a memorial. The site is isolated in a far western corner of the city with a little-known alley that is difficult to locate even with GPS. There are no buildings in the vicinity for a mural. The Commissioner knew, however, that Bexar County had many public spaces. Lozano and artist Adrian De La Cruz drove around her precinct scouting an appropriate wall and sent the Commissioner a proposal for the mural “Sacrificios.” Clay-Flores wanted a mural that would honor the migrants’ “life-threatening struggle simply to get to the United States.”
When I first heard this account from Lozano, I wondered if Clay-Flores’s growing-up experiences led her to demonstrate such compassion. The San Antonio Report on October 10, 2020 quoted one of Clay-Flores’s written responses to questions about her candidacy. She spoke of her “commitment to service, speaking out against injustice, and standing up for positive change.” The Commissioner also explained that growing up, her mother would take her and her two older brothers traveling around Mexico every summer to do community service. She concluded, “Even though I grew up in poverty here in San Antonio, serving in Mexico taught me about dire poverty in other countries.”
I first heard about Clay-Flores some ten years ago when the San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent mentioned proudly that a Brackenridge High School student, [Rebeca Clay-Flores], had been accepted to Princeton. After Princeton, Clay-Flores went on to earn a Master’s degree from Harvard. She returned to San Antonio and worked under San Antonio’s African American Mayor Ivy Taylor and later for the San Antonio Metro Health District.
During her campaign for Bexar County
Commissioner’s Court, Clay-Flores often mentioned that her volunteer service in Mexico with her mother “ taught
me to be grateful for every single thing I had here, and it helped me to understand the privileges of being American and having access to free public education.” [San Antonio Report]
Commissioner Clay-Flores conceived the idea for a mural and knew how to access Bexar County art resources, but she needed a partner who could implement the project. In Yadhira Lozano she found the perfect collaborator. The two Latina women’s upbringing and educational backgrounds had many similarities.
Lozano was born in Laredo, Texas, the daughter of Mexican immigrants raised in Anahuac, Nuevo Leon. The family moved to San Antonio when Yadhira was two although her parents kept their house in Mexico. For much of their lives, the family maintained close ties to family and friends south of the Rio Grande. Lozano came of age in the San Antonio Southside, attending Harlandale High School where she learned to play violin and performed with the school Mariachi band. Upon graduation, Lozano enrolled at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Upon deciding on a mural project at Mission County Park as a tribute to the migrants, Lozano went to work putting an art team together. The mural project team
included Adrian De La Cruz, Andrea V. Rivas, and Mauro De la Tierra.
Adrian De La Cruz, the lead artist for the Mission Park mural, grew up in the San Antonio Southside. His family life was in constant turmoil, but he found inner peace by keeping a sketchbook nearby. When he turned 21, he began frequenting festive venues on First Fridays to paint live in front of strolling audiences. One of his more notable works includes a commissioned portrait of country singer George Strait.
De La Cruz has also worked with the San Antonio Spurs Hype Squad designing and creating shoes and uniforms. At Luminaria, De La Cruz is responsible for the installation of artwork in various festival gallery spaces. He also works in identifying artists and advises fine art gallery installations and mural projects.
The Quintana Road tragedy was especially painful to Andrea V. Rivas whose family immigrated from Honduras. Several of the 53 migrant victims came from Honduras. Rivas grew up in the San Antonio Southside only a few
blocks from the Mission Country Park mural. She gravitated toward art as a child and attended Highlands High School. In 2015, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting at Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.
Mauro De la Tierra, whose parents immigrated from Monterrey and Saltillo, Mexico, grew up in the Eastside of San Antonio. He notes in his bio, “My mother crossed the border when she was eight months pregnant with me. From this background, it taught me resilience and compassion for welcoming all walks of life.” He is a self-taught painter, sculptor, and illustrator and credits lead artist De La Cruz and Westside artist Albert Gonzales for helping him grow as a mural artist.

At a recent ceremony for the unveiling of the mural honoring the immigrants, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores commented: “It’s important for me to have a memorial in their memory so that we don’t forget.” Yadhira Lozano told local news KENS 5 that day, “We believe art heals. We want people to come here and have a conversation and bring those stories of migration of how their ancestors got here.”
The beautiful mural “Sacrificios” is a fitting tribute to the many hardships and tragedies transnational migrants face in seeking a better life for their families.