Indomitable migration and photography an antidote
The photographic expo «Look me in the eyes» arises against prejudice towards migrants
Fairlee, Vermont.- On the website of the Mexican photographer Jorge Carlos Álvarez, he speaks of migration as an uncontrollable force, with a natural impulse of constant and evolutionary movement. In this regard he emphasizes:
The pre-Hispanic peoples migrated and mixed, forming the “Mestizaje”, a term that implies diversity. When we talk about the Spanish conquest, it is essentially a migration to other lands that culminates in a merging and blending of peoples. We are the migrant mix of conquering warriors and indigenous peoples who gave birth to “the cosmic race”, as José Vasconcelos would baptize it; Universópolis ,the ideology of an agglomeration of all the races of the world without any distinction, in order to build a new civilization”.
In his photographic exhibition “Look at me in the eyes! Face to face with people on the other side of the Wall” Álvarez presents a compendium of portraits of Mexicans and Central Americans who walk the streets and daily life, captured by the absorbed gaze of the photographer, spontaneously, without any recourse. This work exhibited last year at Dartmouth University sought a rapprochement with the community to reveal everything that obscures the judgment of these faces. A true channel to open artistic windows of empathy, an invitation to remain in the gaze of these passengers on the other side of the wall to delve into their humanity.
«Look me in the eye» was opened as a proposal for conciliation through photography, as an antidote to fear and prejudice in the face of the migratory phenomenon.
The «Epic of American Civilization» mural at Dartmouth University begins with the panel called «Migration.» This one shows a group of indigenous characters in ocher and blue tones in motion, migrating to the American continent. Large, with hardened faces and dark gestures, they walk forward and their hands also stand out. Powerful, the hands. Visibly tense, in almost closed fists. Another, with them on the floor, perhaps exhausted in the new lands, tired or venerating the new world. Hands endowed with tenacity and determination, the hands of the “Migration” panel, like the hands of migrant workers on the dairy farms of the Upper Valley, are hands with their own voice, hands that speak. On this occasion we spoke with Don Aurelio who has been in the United States for twelve years, eleven working and living on the same farm.
Detail from the mural by José Clemente Orozco at Baker Library in Dartmouth College. Photo by Jorge Carlos Álvarez.
So I started the interview with the same question.
-What do your hands mean to you?
-“My hands are the source of income, health, work, harvest, cooking, and moving products. Without our hands we are worth zero. and work.”
Don Aurelio then began to tell his personal story, the trip, the journey, the challenges, the fears …
-We’ve worked as much as 80 hours per week on this farm. But that’s the why we came here—to work. The United States gives us that opportunity and the possibility of progress. The first step for me is to buy a plot of land and build my house back home in Mexico. I am from the state of Veracruz and I came into this country through Chihuahua. I traveled with 9 men and 1 woman, and it took me more than a month to get here. The hardest trek of the journey was crossing the Arizona desert, where we came across scorpions, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. There were many times where we would walk for three days and three nights in a row, always attentive to the skies in case a helicopter flew by. When we saw one, we would have to hide in thickets full of dangerous animals. We eventually ran out of water—between all of us, we were sharing 8 gallons of water. It was worth gold, and my journey then taught me that lesson. As we crossed, we wore caps and other articles that made us camouflage. Unfortunately, the woman in our group twister her ankle, so we ended up carrying her, but she didn’t get to cross in the end.
-I asked, “what do you most miss?”
-The biggest sacrifice is not being with family, the pressure with which we live, the freedom we’ve lose, and the constant living in fear
-My next question was, “how has your routine changed now due to coronavirus?”
-I’ve spent 12 years in quarantine, 11 of those on this farm. We have a lot of work, but when we do go out it’s only to buy our groceries. Even then we’re afraid. We know we’re migrants and that is our truth regardless of we where we go. It’s a truth that follows us. Here in Vermont the people are generally nice, but there are also racist people. I don’t go anywhere. My routine is from home to the farm. We’re always working. With or without coronavirus, fear is part of our everyday lives.
-We didn’t use to have vacation days. Now we get 5 days a year. The American has many privileges, like overtime after working more than 40 hours a week. We only get one day off a week and we don’t get paid for extra hours. We’re undocumented. That follows us everywhere. The American gets 15 paid vacation days each year.
My last question to them was, “do you believe in the American Dream?”
-Of course! The United States has offered us progress and a lot of work. We’ve been able to help our family because of it. The first step is to buy a plot of land and build a house. I remember when I was young, I would see the people in my town who had gone to the other side (the US) return with their own pickup trucks.
María Clara De Greiff
October 8th, 2020.
“Hands that speak”