Written By: Emely Baisa and Hong Phan | Photos By: Emely Baisa and Hong Phan
A mural painted onto the walls of a nearby shelter in Tijuana.
A city like no other. Wedged between two countries where the languages flow interchangeably like the melodies of the songs playing nearby at the taquería and pupusería; a city where uniform, boring monochromatic colors cease to exist as houses and shops are filled with vibrant colors; hardworking vendors, business owners, and individuals who must come up with the most creative ways to attract and entertain onlookers; a city where no one ever stops moving as tens of thousands of individuals from Mexico and the United States cross the border to work or visit their families and booming tourist and shopping districts filled with clubs for foreigners to indulge. The experience of crossing the border is surreal, because as soon as one steps into the city, everything seems to come alive. Yet, the ease of simply traveling from one side of the border to the other is not. Beyond these colors and the harmonious wonders of Tijuana is the reality and the political climate of the two countries that endlessly tests the limits of the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of migrants.
Tijuana is also home to one of the world’s largest current human migration movements. Mothers, fathers, children, and people of all ages travel hundreds of miles and risk losing their livelihoods to ensure the safety of their families. In the media, we often hear tragic stories about these migrants as they make personal sacrifices for a better future, or that they are dangerous criminals who threaten the United States. The American media capitalizes on the vulnerability of these individuals by constantly criminalizing or victimizing their stories and life events, while ignoring the details that makes them human. It is essential to humanize the experience of migrants instead of capitalizing on their tragedies and the violence that they have lived through. The media and the public often forget that migrants are also humans just like them, with their own personal lives and career goals, passions, creativity, love for art, and so on. People often see more differences than similarities between themselves and migrants. With this visual project, we want to show how we all are more similar than different. We hope that here, we will lay out stories and truths that you may have not heard of from migrants before.
This project that started with interviewing migrants and asking them for their stories. However, as we got to know migrants, we decided to focus the project more on visuals, realizing that through photography, we could tell a different side of a story. We chose to use photography to capture migrants’ lives and experiences visually. We asked them to show us some of their most cherished objects, which could include people as well. Through this project we were able to learn more about migrants’ passions, skills, and love for these objects and people. It also became a collaborative project between the migrants and us as students. We wanted them to feel in charge and comfortable with what they chose to share. When they talked to us about the significance of these photographs, it helped us realize that we have much more in common with them than we would believe. Migrants are talked about in such an emotionally distanced way that they seem less human, when in fact they are people with skills, love for the arts, cooking, entrepreneurs, and love for their families. At the U.S.- Mexico border, they are more than just victims; they are survivors.
VIOLENCE & RESILIENCE- The difficulties migrants experience. And how they cope.
Every migrant we spoke to experienced some kind of violence, whether it was in their home country, in their journey to Tijuana, or in Tijuana/ the U.S.- Mexico border. The quotes provided are from migrants who fled Honduras and El Salvador because of the dangerous circumstances they were living under. We learned about their experiences traveling through Mexico to reach Tijuana.
“[We left] for the same reason that in our countries, poverty makes things difficult, [organized] crime makes you not want your child to have to face what you are living through. You want to see something better for your kids, like above all education. And in my country you could study or graduate but it doesn’t help at all.” -G, 35, from Honduras
Many of the migrants we spoke to were mothers, fathers, and even grandmothers who braved their fears in hopes of attaining a better future for their families and children. Through the stories of their love and aspirations for their children, we were given the opportunity to glimpse the reason why they decided to migrate and leave their homes.
FAMILY & CHILDREN: How children motivate migrants’ decisions to leave their home countries
“Everything I do is for my daughters, for my family, my mother, my wife, but the center of all my actions and of everything I do is my daughters. For me, my daughters are the most important. They are what makes me happy.” – MR, middle aged, from El Salvador
ART: Passions & career aspiration
Many of the migrants we photographed have talents and skills. One Honduran mother makes jewelry. A Salvadoran couple works together making bracelets and keychains out of string. A Salvadoran man has a gift, as he calls it, for music. There’s a Salvadoran mother with a passion for cooking who worked at a pupusería (food stall). Through the use of art and skill these migrants have been able to use their crafts for financial as well as emotional benefit as a way to cope with their struggles. Here are their experiences.
“I like what I do. And now I use it as a distraction, and aside from that I can help myself, by working – it’s a form of earning money, too. And well, since I am alone with my two girls I have to find a way to work.” – MY, 28, from Honduras
“My goal is to get my daughter ahead, my parents, too. Help them. Help my other daughter. Have our own home here [in Tijuana]. Have work, and if it’s possible, start our own business.” – W, 29, from El Salvador
SUCCESS & DILIGENCE
A used-clothing shop owner, an owner of a carpentry business, a self-taught jeweler, a pharmacy owner, and an aspiring cook who wants to open her own restaurant. Their achievements and successes are rarely heard of or discussed in the media. Instead, many migrants are framed as victims of tragedies and misfortunes. However, as we became acquainted with these migrants and heard about their aspirations, we were inspired to write about the accomplishments that they were proud of.