What Is the Red “X” on the El Paso-Juárez Border?

In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, casting a shadow on the wall along the border with El Paso, Texas, a monumental X stands tall and proud.  Standing taller than the Statue of Liberty, the brilliant red sculpture captures attention on both sides of the border.  Its official name is “Monumento a la Mexicanidad” (Monument to the Mexican People). But residents know it simply as “La Equis” or “The X.”

Sebastián: a sculptor of monumental proportions

Completed in 2013, La Equis is the work of Enrique Carbajal González, a monumental sculptor commonly known as Sebastián.  Many other cities around the world house Sebastián’s sculptures, including Cabeza de Caballo in México City, and Awaiting the Mariner in Dublin, Ireland.

Sebastián’s artwork often plays on themes of welcoming and invitation, particularly his “gate” sculptures.  These include Gran Puerta de México, La Puerta a Chihuahua, and La Puerta del Sol.

But the meaning behind La Equis has confused many people.  Some have speculated that it was the first of a series of letters across the border spelling “Mexico.”  Others claim that the red paint represents the blood spilled in the drug cartel wars that ravaged towns like Juárez.

La Equis next to the Rio Grande and the El Paso-Juárez border
La Equis overlooks Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. Photo by the author

A monument with many meanings

Interviews with Sebastián have revealed numerous interpretations.  The two beams of the X represent the crossing and merging of Spanish and indigenous cultures, a long and difficult process from which Mexican culture emerged.

One meaning also has a special connection with the sculpture’s location.  Some accounts hold that Mexican President Benito Juárez literally put the X in Mexico, changing the country’s name from “Mejico” to Mexico.  Being the first president of Mexico of indigenous descent, Juárez helped to integrate the native and Spanish cultures.  The border town renamed itself after the national hero in 1888.

The X, with the glass “eye” and circles protruding at its intersection, also mirrors the Aztec symbol “Nahui Ollin,” which means “four movements.” It represents the cosmos in the center, the four cardinal directions, and everything in balance.  Life and death; sun and moon; left and right. You may recognize it from the center of the Aztec Sun Stone, one of the best known images of ancient Mexican culture.  The protrusions represent jaguar claws, representing power, valor, and recklessness in dangerous situations.

Aztec Sun Stone
Find the X in the center of the Aztec Sun Stone. Photo by Girl with red hat on Unsplash

La Equis resides in the Plaza de la Mexicanidad, in the Chamizal area. The land used to be a part of the US until the channel of the Rio Grande shifted, sparking a century-long Mexican-American border dispute. The US then ceded the land to Mexico in 1964. The plaza also holds numerous outdoor concerts, festivals, and other events.

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