An author and performer told a crowd of University of Wisconsin students Thursday understanding Mexican border crossers’ struggle may be the way to find a solution to the hotly debated immigration and border security issues.

Juan Felipe Herrera, an author, performer, poet and teacher, spoke at Helmsley Theatre about the plight faced by Latin Americans crossing the United States border. 

He recited an original poem entitled “Dear Madison,” interspersed with selections from some of his other works, including “187 Reasons Mexicans Can’t Cross the Border.” Herrera’s recitation was backed by the vocals and string bass of UW freshmen Amberine Huda and Michael Chang, and beat-boxing from hip-hop artist Baba Israel. 

“We have to open up conversation on policing the border,” Herrera said. “We have to question the concept of border security.  We have to understand the suffering of border crossers, the militarization of borders, the history between Mexico and the U.S., and the tearing apart of families. We need to look at the big picture.”  

When asked to respond to the opinion that security at U.S. borders needs to be increased, Herrera said the laws barring Latin American immigration should not even exist to be enforced.

“Latin Americans have an intrinsic right to cross without documents,” Herrera said. “They have been doing it for hundreds of years and have an indigenous and historical connection to the land that goes deeper than borders.”

Herrera said a greater understanding would go a long way in solving the “bitterly contested” issues presented by immigration. 

“I think once people start understanding these things, we will become the family we are meant to be,” he added.

For Herrera and the other performers, the style of the performance itself was important in conveying the message.

“I think this performance was not just about breaking the border down, but about appreciating the fusion of poetry and music,” Chang said.

Huda said a lot the attendees knew of the situation immigrants face, but the event was about raising awareness to the plight of Mexican immigrants in an way that was both informative and entertaining.

“People aren’t going to listen if you don’t entertain them,” she added.

Herrera said he shared these sentiments and spoke about the importance of his fellow contributors. 

“I wanted to bring in artists who were just starting out and to get away from professionalism,” Herrera said. “I wanted to give people a chance. The performance was not just about breaking down the border between U.S. and Mexico, but breaking down the other borders that are part of society.”