Issues & Ideas

Migrants photograph perilous journeys to U.S.

Photographer Encarni Pindado has been living and working in Mexico for the past three years, covering social issues with a focus on gender and migration. Journeying alongside migrants and collaborating with shelters, local non-governmental organizations, human rights activists and other journalists, she has gained the trust and access to tell integrated, truthful stories about migration.

Pindado is especially passionate about confronting the issue of violence as experienced by women migrants. While the top forces driving people to leave their homelands are often economic and environmental, for the women she documents, it is violence — whether structural, cultural and/or physical — that shapes both their decision to immigrate and their experiences of migration.

Every year, over 400,000 people cross Mexico’s southern border. That they make this journey northward to Mexico despite the extreme economic costs, physical demands and dangers, gives us some indication of the conditions in their home countries, their vigorous ambition, desire, strength and capacity to dream, and the lure of U.S. living standards. These men and women are profoundly vulnerable to the increasing violence and impunity of Mexico’s narco-trafficking networks.

On what is already a dangerous and arduous route in which people ride atop cargo trains known as La Bestia (The Beast), they are forced to navigate and survive the thriving business that organized crime has made out of migration.

Recently, Pindado has expanded her practice — photographing migrants as well as encouraging them to represent their own experiences of migration.“There is a gap in knowledge about what migrants actually experience, as well as a stigma and misconception about migrants, especially in the communities they have to cross through,” Pindado said.

In July 2013, Encarni founded the participatory photography project MigraZoom in which migrants and members of the local communities are given disposable cameras and free photography workshops to tell their own stories. The United Nations Development Program funded the first phase of the project.

MigraZoom launched at the Mexican-Guatemalan border in Tecun Uman and covered the first 248 miles of the journey north, through Chiapas. The photos reveal personal and intimate views. Migrants photograph in areas simply too dangerous for journalists to cover. In the first leg of the journey, many of the photos express hopefulness and optimism — a sense of adventure and youthful invincibility. While the participants record positive memories, MigraZoom has also heard stories of struggle and loss as these men and women continue towards the U.S.

The images made by migrants and community members who experience migration as part of their daily lives add an essential layer to the visual representation of migration’s complexities. While the MigraZoom photographs are created principally to engage their makers in the process of self-representation, dialogue and exchange, these images are also valuable documents. Like all photographs, they record not simply what is in front of the camera, but also reflect the perspectives of those behind the lens. As global and timeless as the story of migration may be, each photo invites us to encounter a unique story, a particular life, a singular moment and a subjective feeling.