Born in El Paso and raised in Juárez, I crossed the US-Mexico border almost daily growing up. I remember walking across the bridge that connects the sister cities and watching inflatable rafts fight the current of the Río Grande River below: those lightweight vessels held migrants of the 1980s desperately fleeing from crime, poverty, and political unrest. Today as I walk across that same bridge, it feels as if I am watching history repeat itself. As an artist and documentary photographer, I believe that photography’s role is to document our times by capturing both the most joyous and the most painful moments; and that art has the power to lay bare our common humanity and dignity.
IF WALLS COULD SPEAK is a glimpse into the besieged hopes, harsh uncertainties, and blunt realities—but also the enduring dignity—of Central American asylum-seekers forced into a cruel and dangerous waiting game by the "Remain in Mexico" policy. The individuals and families in these photographs have experienced unthinkable traumas and faced impossible decisions. I hope that viewers here in the United States can begin to understand the odysseys many have undertaken to provide a brighter future for themselves and their children – only to be mistreated and sent back across the border to one of the most dangerous cities in North America to be a refugee.
I shot many of the portraits in this series while visiting Casa del Migrante, a Catholic-run migrant shelter in Juárez Mexico. Nestled along a dusty dead-end street deep within the sprawl of Juárez, the Casa provides food, shelter, healthcare, and other services. The scenes within—of friends chatting, kids laughing, and three meals a day—stand in stark contrast with life for many migrants outside the shelter’s gates, where death may very well be the least of their worries. Rape, kidnapping, and extortion of vulnerable refugees are daily occurrences in Juárez. The Casa houses approximately 400 asylum-seekers, most of whom were deported when the United States' "Remain in Mexico" policy took effect in January of 2019; they represent a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the ruling. The appearance of calm inside the shelter belies a deep sense of anxiety and fear; asylum-seekers are stranded in limbo, waiting for their turn to ask, again, for refuge in the United States.
IF WALLS COULD SPEAK is my way of showing what hope, and the loss of it, looks like for the asylum-seekers of our era. The stories on these walls are both heartbreaking and complex, they defy generalizations that seek to divide us. Through the lens of my camera, I hope to bring awareness and inform those who may have never been to the border, may not have ever met a refugee. I hope my art will spark a conversation where there has been too much confusion and mistrust.
Lecture on the Crisis at the Southern Border
University of Pennsylvania
Penn Law School
October 21st, 2019
More details to come
IF WALLS COULD SPEAK
Saint Joseph's University
University Gallery, Merion Hall
5600 City Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19131-1395
Exhibition Opening: October 1, 2019 11:30 am - 12:30 pm
September 30th - October 25th, 2019