Inside Alejandro Iñárritu's VR border drama at LACMA: What you will see and why you might cry

The room is ice cold. The steel bench I sit on feels even colder. Scattered around the space are the shoes of migrants — a boot, a beaded sandal, a little girl’s Cinderella sneaker — abandoned in the Sonoran Desert during their owners’ perilous crossing from Mexico into the U.S.

I hug myself to ward off the chill. And I think of an aunt, from the Peruvian side of my family, who was arrested by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement after landing at LAX. On a previous visit to the United States, she had mistakenly overstayed a tourist visa by a couple of days. Upon re-entering the country, she found herself — in her mid-70s — handcuffed at immigration, placed in a van and taken to a detention center somewhere in the Los Angeles area.

Years later, when she would recount the experience, she often talked about the young Mexican woman who comforted her that day (my aunt was traveling by herself), and the chilliness of the cell, where she slept on the floor for a night. (She was promptly deported the next day.)

I start to bounce my legs to maintain some semblance of warmth. Suddenly, a light flashes, indicating that I can open the door and proceed to the next room.

This is “Carne y Arena,” an art and virtual reality installation by Mexican film director Alejandro G. Iñárritu that opens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Sunday. The work — which was part of the most recent Cannes Film Festival and later installed at Milan’s Fondazione Prada — takes the visitor on the harrowing desert journey made by tens of thousands of Latin American migrants every year.

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Chris Alexakisart, housing, L.A.