These portraits were taken over a period of three weeks that I spent it Tijuana, Mexico covering the Migrant Caravan that arrived there in November/December 2018.
The caravan had left from Honduras in mid October and was made up of mostly Hondurans but people from Guatemala also joined along the way. At it’s peak it was estimated that about 6,000 migrants were traveling in this particular caravan.
It is unclear why this particular caravan grew to such large numbers. Most caravans from Central American usually consist of about 300-500 people and tend to leave about every six months as a safer way for migrants to travel to the US boarder together as a group in hopes of escaping the violence and other hardships of their countries to seek asylum in the US.
Some people speculate that Trump talking about the caravan so much right before the mid-term elections is what helped it to grow in size. Others have noted that there were TV announcements about this particular caravan in Honduras, when in the past most caravans had just been organized by word of mouth and paper flyers. There are many questions about how and why this particular caravan grew to such large numbers, but the question that most interested me is why people were fleeing their countries in such large numbers?
The media on the right liked to portray the caravan as an ‘invasion’ and the media on the left seemed to refer to them as ‘poor huddled masses’, but what I felt was missing from both sides of the coverage was a more personal human element. I wanted to hear from the migrants themselves. I wanted them to speak for themselves and share their individual stories about why they had joined the caravan. I wanted to know why they were seeking asylum, why the had left so much and risked so much to make the journey? That is why I decided to go and listen to people’s stories and take these portraits, in an effort to have understand the situation better.
My hope is that sharing the stories of the individuals that I met from the caravan will help others understand the situation better as well, and bring a more human element to the rhetoric around migrant caravans .
Karin (5) is wearing one of the Christmas gifts that was donated to the shelter that she is staying at in Tijuana while her family waits their turn to file for asylum. She is lit by a flashlight her father is holding because the electricity at the shelter went out and no one ever came to fix it during the two weeks that I was there. All the lovely donations that Karin gets to enjoy at the shelter will have to be left behind once she enters U.S. immigration. Migrants are only allowed to bring the clothes on their backs and nothing else once they enter ICE detention.
Misael (19) told me that as a kid his passion was playing soccer. He played all the time and aspired to play professionally, but once he became a teenager local gangs would approach him while he was practicing outside and force him to run ‘errands’ for them (threatening death if he didn’t). So Misael eventually stopped leaving his house, afraid and not wanting to do dirty work for the gangs. He tried moving to a different town and living with his aunt but the same thing started happening. The gangs wanted him to do their bidding, so he secluded himself indoors again. He said he left Honduras because, “no se puede vivir asi, todo su vida encerado” (you can’t live a life like that, always locked inside). He hopes to find legal work in the US and send money home. Hopefully he will also be able to play soccer again too.
Karen & Brytanni
Karen (22) and her daughter Brytanni (6) traveled for six weeks with her brother and friends that they met in the caravan to reach the US border in Tijuana. Karen left her younger daughter, who is three, with her mother in Honduras which she said was very hard to do. Karen said that she worked in a restaurant in Honduras but that like many people, after having to pay inflated government taxes and ‘impuestos’ to cartel members (a tax that local gangs put on businesses and everyday workers who work in ‘their’ territories), she didn’t have enough money left over for her family to survive on. Karen has family in LA that she hopes to stay with and work to send money home to her mother and youngest daughter.
Ariene (12 years old, in the center of the photo) was given an ultimatum by the gangs in her town in Honduras to either join the gang and work for them (most likely as a prostitute) or else she and her entire family would be killed. Her and her family were given a week to decide what to do, so they packed up and joined the Caravan. Her Aunt and cousin joined as well since Ariene’s cousin would likely be given the same ultimatum when she turned 12 as well. The gangs generally confiscate the family’s home and all the possessions that are left behind once the family leaves.
Daniel (15) traveled by himself and joined the caravan to escape local gang recruitment in Guatemala. In Tijuana he found one of the better private shelters to stay at (better security, but still in a bad neighborhood). Most people who stayed there had to pay 30 pesos a day, but Daniel said that the pastor who ran it liked him and let help with the daily cleaning of the shelter in exchange for staying there for free.
David (32) has had six of his family members killed because he was part of a group organizing against police corruption in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. His mother, three siblings, and two cousins were all murdered. This picture was taken in a shelter in Tijuana. David is a natural leader and when I met him he was one of the volunteers helping to organize and coordinate the list for migrants waiting their turn to file for asylum in the United States. His family’s number to enter finally came up as well. The Claros are currently in the U.S. staying with family while they work through the legal process of filing for asylum.
Alex (25) has a three year old daughter that he had to leave behind in Honduras. He says that he feels like crying whenever he thinks of her, especially spending Christmas without her. Alex is one of the lucky ones who was able to get a work visa for Mexico. He said he plans to stay in Tijuana to work and send money home to his family in Honduras.
The Diaz Family
I got to know the Diaz family quite well while covering the caravan in Tijuana and couldn’t help but fall in love with their vibrant and open-hearted children Jaslyn (4), Karin (5), and Christian (9). Here the kids are happily munching on donated cupcakes at Christmas time, but they have quite a tragic story. Silvia (holding the donated coats for her kids in the pic) had her family’s land stolen by cartel members when gold was discovered on it. Two of her brothers were killed in the process. She suspects that the police were in on it too because they tried to hide the body of her second brother who had gone missing. She was able to escape with her family but the cartel has promised to find them and “acabar con todo la familia” (finish off the whole family). The Diaz family tried to hideout in a town in Southern Mexico, but one day Silvia saw cartel members waiting for her children outside of their school. They escaped through a back route, but she took her kids out of school permanently after that because she was afraid that the cartel would find them again. When the caravan passed close to their town they were happy to have a safer way to travel and escape the cartels. She has a sister in Seattle and they hope to file for asylum and live with her during the process.
Rosa & Jose
Rosa (28) was part of the LGBT contingent that traveled together in the Caravan for safety. A generous donor helped rent an Airbnb house for her and other members of the group once they were in Tijuana so that they wouldn’t have to suffer harassment in the migrant shelters. Being LGTB is still not socially acceptable in Honduras and violent attacks against LGTB individuals is rampant. This photo of Rosa and her four year old son was taken right as their number had finally been called (after 5 weeks of waiting), and they were about to enter into US immigration to file for asylum. Fearing that her son could be separated from her, Rosa made sure that he had all the important contacts written on the outside of his clothing.
Kevin & Erick
Kevin (25) and Erick (23) met online and have been together for over two years now. Kevin is from Guatemala and Erick from Honduras. They both have experienced severe harassment for being gay. Erick suffered a concussion from being hit in the head with a brick in an anti-gay attack, Kevin was arrested and tortured by police in prison, and the list of harassment could go on. They told me that they don’t feel safe to leave the house and live an open life in Guatemala (where they were living together before they joined the caravan). They traveled together in the LGTB contingent of the caravan and were able to stay in a safe house in Tijuana that was donated by Airbnb so that they wouldn’t have to suffer harassment from other migrants or the local community. While waiting the 5 weeks for their asylum numbers to be called, they decided to get married in Tijuana. Same-sex marriage is legal in Mexico but was not legal in their countries of origin when they left to join the caravan in Oct. 2018. Besides the wonderful celebration that the marriage was, they also hope that being married will help their chances of being able to stay together during the asylum process. This photo was taken moments before they were about to enter into US immigration on the 23rd of December. The couple has a sponsor waiting to receive them in San Francisco, but they have not been released to their sponsor yet and have been held in ICE custody since the end of December 2018.
Olvin (21), from Honduras, would give haircuts and shaves to other migrants at the temporary shelter in Tijuana. He charged $20 pesos (about $1 US), or whatever people could afford. He didn’t really want to go into why he left Honduras but he told me that he had friends in New York that he wanted to join and work as a professional barber there. Olvin never said anything about being threatened or marginalized, but I felt that if he did make it to NYC he may have an opportunity to be more fully himself and live a more open life.
Fredy & Ester
Fredy (21) and Ester (17, pictured in the photo above Fredy with their daughter as well). Fredy is the younger brother of Silvia Diaz (pictured with her family above with cupcakes). His family’s land was stolen when gold was discovered on it and two of his brothers murdered by the gangs in the process in Honduras. The gang has said that they want to murder his whole family. His intention is to file for asylum in the US but he is currently being held at an undisclosed detention facility in the US for the supposed crime of being married to a minor (Ester). His siblings in the US (who were going to sponsor him) are having trouble contacting him and finding where he is being held. They have told me that Ester is being held in a separate facility for minors and people at the facility are trying to get her to sign away any parental rights Fredy may have for his daughter. His sister tells me that Ester just cries all day and is extremely depressed since they have been forcibly separated.
Enrique (not real name) left Honduras to escape gang violence and look for better economic opportunities. He was one of the first from the October caravan to arrive in Tijuana on November 14th. He told me that a friend he had been traveling with was rushed to the hospital the night they arrived because they found him lying unconscious and motionless at 4am. Enrique said that they had gone three days without food on the last leg of the journey and he thinks that sleeping outside on concrete in the cold of the Tijuana’s dessert nights caused his friend to get hypothermia. Enrique didn’t know if his friend was going to make it or not. If the friend did survive, it was likely that he would get immediately deported back to Honduras once in the custody of the state. Enrique also told me other horrors of the journey that they had made, including a story about three truckloads of migrants who had hitched rides on the trucks that stopped for them but then were never seen again at the other juntas ‘meeting points’ along the way. Many people were looking for their friends that had disappeared. Enrique estimated that 500 migrants had been sequestered or ‘disappeared’ during the journey that he was aware of. When I asked what he thought happened to them he said they were probably either killed or trafficked for organs, sex etc. I asked a local Tijuana journalist if he thought that this was possible and he told me that yes it was very possible. My journalist friend told me, “In Mexico you can usually assume the worst”.
Karin showing off another donated Christmas present at a make-shift migrant shelter in Tijuana as she and her family wait for their chance to file for asylum.
Standing Rock: Prayer and Resistance
These images were taken while I was staying at the Oceti Sakowin camp in Standing Rock, ND in November and December of 2016. Members from over three-hundred different tribes had gathered at the camps, along with non-native allies and a large veteran presence, for peaceful and prayerful resistance against the construction Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
The pipeline is meant to carry fracked Tar Sands oil from Canada to refineries in Illinois. It was being built without the Sioux Nations’ permission and it's construction destroyed many of their sacred sites and burial sites. The DAPL runs under Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri river, which is the major water source for the tribe as well as 17 million other people who live downstream from where the pipeline crosses the river. The Sioux Nation, along with many other supporters, feel that it is not a matter of if the pipeline will leak but a matter of when it will leak and contaminate the drinking water of 17 million people and their surrounding environment. Therefor the prayerful resistance was born to protect the water and the land.