Baking bread may not seem synonymous with border identity, migrants’ rights or social protest through art, but the Ciudad Juárez bakery Panadería Rezizte combines all of these elements with the recipes passed down from owner Jorge Pérez’s grandfather.

Pérez, a native of Ciudad Juárez, is a founding member of the binational art collective Colectivo Rezizte, active on the border since 2003. One of his most visible permanent pieces in Juárez is the Monumento Ser Fronterizo, a painted bus sculpture minutes from the Zaragoza Bridge. Last week, he unveiled a new mural called “Under the Bridge” on the concrete riverbank wall just west of the Paso del Norte Bridge.

Standing at the base of his newest mural, a basket of freshly baked conchas and pan dulce at his feet, Pérez gestures to the river.

Artist and baker Jorge Pérez, also known as “Yorch,” explains the meaning of a mural he designed and painted with other activists on the south bank of the Rio Grande. Pérez said the mural signifies unity across the border and is also a protest against poor treatment of migrants. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“The mural speaks to the unity of the border but (the unity) is due to the people here, families, people that work, study, that go back and forth. It’s not about international policies,” he said in Spanish.

Pérez’s father was born in the United States and other members of his family have residency or citizenship, but he has not been across the border since he was a child on school field trips to Carlsbad or running errands with his dad. Nevertheless, he sees his identity as intimately tied to a binational life.

“I live it with my family, my friends, people that support me from that side. I’ve worked on binational projects many times. I’ve had work in museums in El Paso and other places,” Pérez said. “I don’t go to the United States, but there has been so much that has come to me from there. There is so much that is generated by this cross-border life, so much that jumps (across both sides), whether it’s information, exhibitions or materials.”

Other inspiration for his most recent mural, which depicts a pair of hands extending from the bridges on either side of the border to grasp each other, came from the ongoing issue of migration and what Pérez calls the “complete rejection” of people desperate to enter the United States.

Jorge Pérez, top, sits on his finished mural beneath the Paso del Norte bridge on Jan. 3. The work depicts an agricultural worker and a maquiladora worker and shows the international bridges as hands that extend to grasp each other over the border. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“The reality is that this sewage here in the river means that things are not OK,” he said, referring to El Paso’s untreated wastewater spilling into the Rio Grande since August. “People literally have to be covered in excrement to be able to cross over, and it’s just sad.”

But Pérez, also known artistically as “Yorch,” has passions aside from murals and design. He grew up crafting bread with his grandfather, who owned a small bakery in Juárez’s Salvárcar neighborhood. In 2019, Pérez opened his own bakery, named after the art collective, on Avenida 16 de Septiembre.

“I used to ask, ‘What represents the border?’ Suddenly I realized, it’s bread,” Pérez said, noting that wheat originated in Europe and was then combined with local ingredients like vanilla to create traditional Mexican breads. “Bread is a thousand-year-old tradition. Bread is an excellent representation of the migration of people, the recipes, all that is related to the movement of people.”

Bakery owner and artist Jorge Pérez, also known as “Yorch,” displays an engraved print he created. Pérez says bread represents the border region as it symbolizes the movement of people throughout centuries and the mixing of elements from different geographic areas. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Pérez, referring to himself as a “cultural promoter,” also offers the bakery as a space for art and social exchange, much like the space his grandparents had provided years ago. Their bakery had adjoined a walled patio where Pérez and other Colectivo Rezizte artists painted murals and held artistic and musical events.

“Part of the context comes from that (experience),” Pérez said. “It was theirs, but they supported us because it was a place where people could gather. It was a place where we could exchange work.”

Founding the bakery gave Pérez a chance to contribute to other causes important to him.

“That’s when I began to have more direct ties to the migration issue, the direct support with people,” Pérez said, emphasizing the importance of applying his unique skills toward the goal of supporting migrants. “I wanted to contribute with the things I know how to do. Once I had the bakery, I was able to be one more piece joining with the rest of (the people working to help migrants).”

Jorge Pérez cleans a countertop in the prep room of his bakery, Panadería Rezizte. Pérez, who also produces murals and other public art under the name “Yorch,” likens baking to sculpting miniature works of art. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Panadería Rezizte directly supports migrants by donating bread almost daily to various shelters in Juárez. Pérez has also offered the bakery as a gathering place for events such as a poetry reading by Guatemalan migrants and outdoor film screenings in the adjacent alley. In turn, some of the shelters have occasionally paid for special orders from Panadería Rezizte, in what Pérez termed “reciprocal support,” especially during the early months of the pandemic that threatened the survival of his business.

For Pérez, the mixing of protest, art and bread is as natural as the mixing of people and culture at the border.

“It’s almost romantic. It’s poetic — the calling of an artist, which I am, and the bread,” Pérez said. “(Bread) is every day, it’s artisanal, it’s a miniature sculpture. It allows me to create things, things that did not exist and that we have to make, with this mixture.”

Cover photo: Artist and baker Jorge Pérez, also known as “Yorch,” serves a customer in his Panadería Rezizte in Ciudad Juárez on Jan. 3. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Corrie Boudreaux is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at UTEP and a freelance photojournalist in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region. She specializes in photography as a tool to explore insecurity,...