San Antonio CIty Council took steps Thursday to permanently memorialize the 53 migrants who died at the hands of human smugglers last summer after traveling in the back of a sweltering truck.

On a seldom-traveled section of Quintana Road in the city’s Southwest Side, large crosses, faux flowers, photos, mementos and bottles of water serve as the community’s grassroots memorial to the migrants, the youngest of which was 13 years old, who were found there June 27, 2022. Only 11 people who were in the tractor-trailer — migrants from Central America and Mexico — survived after it was abandoned by smugglers.

“We have the memorial that was set up organically, but I’m so afraid that it’s going to wash away,” said Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), whose district includes Quintana Road. “I’ve talked to some of the residents that have set it up, and they agree, we need to have something permanent.”

As chair of the council’s Community Health, Environment and Culture Committee, Rocha Garcia requested that city staff develop a plan.

The process — from community engagement to installation — will likely take two years and cost between an estimated $250,000 to $500,000, said Krystal Jones, director of the city’s Department of Arts and Culture, which will lead the effort.

Before a site is selected, the city will convene stakeholders including residents, migrant advocacy and service groups, the Department of Human Services and the city’s Immigrant Liaison.

“We would like to also work with the Council District 4 [staff] to make sure that we’re accommodating anyone and everyone who has been a part of [the existing] memorial site,” Jones told the committee. “We want to make sure that the communication is left open [because this is] something that we’re doing together as a community.”

The permanent memorial likely will not be located where the migrants were found, because the location is remote and the road is narrow, Jones said. “It doesn’t accommodate many visitors” but there are plans to install a permanent memorial marker on the road in addition to a larger memorial — such as a mural or sculpture — elsewhere.

The memorial also has the potential to tell the broader story about the migrant journey to or through San Antonio, Rocha Garcia said, and it doesn’t have to be in District 4.

“There’s an opportunity to show how we are a compassionate city,” she said.

The city could also leverage existing project funding from the 2022 bond program, which includes $14.7 million for public art.

There are two 2022 bond projects slated for construction near the Quintana Road memorial site: $800,000 is budgeted for park improvements at Miller’s Pond Park and $5 million for improvements to Bynum Avenue.

It’s possible that a migrant memorial could be incorporated into either of those projects, Jones said, adding that there are no plans to remove the existing memorial on Quintana Road.

Crosses and flowers line Quintana Road as a memorial for the 53 immigrants who were found dead trapped inside a tractor-trailer in San Antonio last year.
Crosses and flowers line Quintana Road as a memorial for the migrants who were found trapped inside a tractor-trailer in San Antonio last year. Credit: Brenda Bazán / San Antonio Report

How a community or an individual grieves is “a very sensitive subject and we should be delicate,” Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) said. “I’d like to avoid what could feel like an interruption or interjection or disruption to the way the community has chosen to grieve. … Anything that we do should be in addition to what’s already [there].”

The city also plans on creating a digital archive of the Quintana Road memorial, Jones said.

“There are a number of artists here in San Antonio … who have already taken it upon themselves [to take photos of the mementos left there] because they were so moved by what happened.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org