Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • [This talk contains graphic images]

  • So I'm sitting across from Pedro,

  • the coyote, the human smuggler,

  • in his cement block apartment,

  • in a dusty Reynosa neighborhood

  • somewhere on the US-Mexico border.

  • It's 3am.

  • The day before, he had asked me to come back to his apartment.

  • We would talk man to man.

  • He wanted me to be there at night and alone.

  • I didn't know if he was setting me up,

  • but I knew I wanted to tell his story.

  • He asked me, "What will you do

  • if one of these pollitos, or migrants, slips into the water and can't swim?

  • Will you simply take your pictures and watch him drown?

  • Or will you jump in and help me?"

  • At that moment, Pedro wasn't a cartoonish TV version of a human smuggler.

  • He was just a young man, about my age,

  • asking me some really tough questions.

  • This was life and death.

  • The next night, I photographed Pedro as he swam the Rio Grande,

  • crossing with a group of young migrants into the United States.

  • Real lives hung in the balance every time he crossed people.

  • For the last 20 years,

  • I've documented one of the largest transnational migrations

  • in world history,

  • which has resulted in millions of undocumented people

  • living in the United States.

  • The vast majority of these people leave Central America and Mexico

  • to escape grinding poverty and extreme levels of social violence.

  • I photograph intimate moments of everyday people's lives,

  • of people living in the shadows.

  • Time and again, I've witnessed resilient individuals

  • in extremely challenging situations

  • constructing practical ways to improve their lives.

  • With these photographs,

  • I place you squarely in the middle of these moments

  • and ask you to think about them as if you knew them.

  • This body of work is a historical document,

  • a time capsule that can teach us not only about migration,

  • but about society and ourselves.

  • I started the project in the year 2000.

  • The migrant trail has taught me

  • how we treat our most vulnerable residents in the United States.

  • It has taught me about violence and pain and hope and resilience

  • and struggle and sacrifice.

  • It has taught me firsthand

  • that rhetoric and political policy directly impact real people.

  • And most of all,

  • the migrant trail has taught me

  • that everyone who embarks on it is changed forever.

  • I began this project in the year 2000

  • by documenting a group of day laborers on Chicago's Northwest side.

  • Each day, the men would wake up at 5am,

  • go to a McDonald's, where they would stand outside

  • and wait to jump into strangers' work vans,

  • in the hopes of finding a job for the day.

  • They earned five dollars an hour,

  • had no job security, no health insurance

  • and were almost all undocumented.

  • The men were all pretty tough.

  • They had to be.

  • The police constantly harassed them for loitering,

  • as they made their way each day.

  • Slowly, they welcomed me into their community.

  • And this was one of the first times

  • that I consciously used my camera as a weapon.

  • One day, as the men were organizing to make a day-labor worker center,

  • a young man named Tomás came up to me and asked me

  • will I stay afterwards and photograph him.

  • So I agreed.

  • As he walked into the middle of the empty dirt lot,

  • a light summer rain started to fall.

  • Much to my surprise, he started to take off his clothes. (Laughs)

  • I didn't exactly know what to do.

  • He pointed to the sky and said,

  • "Our bodies are all we have."

  • He was proud, defiant and vulnerable, all at once.

  • And this remains one of my favorite photographs of the past 20 years.

  • His words have stuck with me ever since.

  • I met Lupe Guzmán around the same time,

  • while she was organizing and fighting the day-labor agencies

  • which were exploiting her and her coworkers.

  • She organized small-scale protests, sit-ins and much more.

  • She paid a high price for her activism,

  • because the day-labor agencies like Ron's

  • blackballed her and refused to give her work.

  • So in order to survive,

  • she started selling elotes, or corn on the cob, on the street,

  • as a street vendor.

  • And today, you can still find her

  • selling all types of corn and different candies and stuff.

  • Lupe brought me into the inner world of her family

  • and showed me the true impact of migration.

  • She introduced me to everyone in her extended family,

  • Gabi, Juan, Conchi, Chava, everyone.

  • Her sister Remedios had married Anselmo,

  • whose eight of nine siblings

  • had migrated from Mexico to Chicago in the nineties.

  • So many people in her family opened their world to me

  • and shared their stories.

  • Families are the heart and lifeblood of the migrant trail.

  • When these families migrate,

  • they change and transform societies.

  • It's rare to be able to access so intimately

  • the intimate and day-to-day lives

  • of people who, by necessity, are closed to outsiders.

  • At the time,

  • Lupe's family lived in the insular world of the Back of the Yards,

  • a tight-knit Chicago neighborhood,

  • which for more than 100 years had been a portal of entry

  • for recent immigrants --

  • first, from Europe, like my family,

  • and more recently, from Latin America.

  • Their world was largely hidden from view.

  • And they call the larger, white world outside the neighborhood

  • "Gringolandia."

  • You know, like lots of generations moving to the Back of the Yards,

  • the family did the thankless hidden jobs that most people didn't want to do:

  • cleaning office buildings, preparing airline meals in cold factories,

  • meat packing, demolitions.

  • It was hard manual labor for low exploitation wages.

  • But on weekends, they celebrated together,

  • with backyard barbecues

  • and birthday celebrations,

  • like most working families the world over.

  • I became an honorary family member.

  • My nickname was "Johnny Canales," after the Tejano TV star.

  • I had access to the dominant culture,

  • so I was part family photographer, part social worker

  • and part strange outsider payaso clown, who was there to amuse them.

  • One of the most memorable moments of this time

  • was photographing the birth of Lupe's granddaughter, Elizabeth.

  • Her two older siblings had crossed across the Sonoran Desert,

  • being carried and pushed in strollers into the United States.

  • So at that time,

  • her family allowed me to photograph her birth.

  • And it was one of the really coolest things

  • as the nurses placed baby Elizabeth on Gabi's chest.

  • She was the family's first American citizen.

  • That girl is 17 today.

  • And I still remain in close contact with Lupe

  • and much of her family.

  • My work is firmly rooted in my own family's history

  • of exile and subsequent rebirth in the United States.

  • My father was born in Nazi Germany in 1934.

  • Like most assimilated German Jews,

  • my grandparents simply hoped

  • that the troubles of the Third Reich would blow over.

  • But in spring of 1939,

  • a small but important event happened to my family.

  • My dad needed an appendectomy.

  • And because he was Jewish,

  • not one hospital would operate on him.

  • The operation was carried out on his kitchen table,

  • on the family's kitchen table.

  • Only after understanding the discrimination they faced

  • did my grandparents make the gut-wrenching decision

  • to send their two children on the Kindertransport bound for England.

  • My family's survival has informed my deep commitment

  • to telling this migration story

  • in a deep and nuanced way.

  • The past and the present are always interconnected.

  • The long-standing legacy

  • of the US government's involvement in Latin America

  • is controversial and well-documented.

  • The 1954 CIA-backed coup of Árbenz in Guatemala,

  • the Iran-Contra scandal, the School of the Americas,

  • the murder of Archbishop Romero on the steps of a San Salvador church

  • are all examples of this complex history,

  • a history which has led to instability

  • and impunity in Central America.

  • Luckily, the history is not unremittingly dark.

  • The United States and Mexico took in thousands and millions, actually,

  • of refugees escaping the civil wars of the 70s and 80s.

  • But by the time I was documenting the migrant trail in Guatemala

  • in the late 2000s,

  • most Americans had no connection to the increasing levels of violence,

  • impunity and migration in Central America.

  • To most US citizens, it might as well have been the Moon.

  • Over the years, I slowly pieced together

  • the complicated puzzle that stretched from Central America through Mexico

  • to my backyard in Chicago.

  • I hit almost all the border towns -- Brownsville, Reynosa, McAllen,

  • Yuma, Calexico --

  • recording the increasing militarization of the border.

  • Each time I returned,

  • there was more infrastructure, more sensors, more fences,

  • more Border Patrol agents and more high-tech facilities

  • with which to incarcerate the men, women and children

  • who our government detained.

  • Post-9/11, it became a huge industry.

  • I photographed the massive and historic immigration marches in Chicago,

  • children at detention facilities

  • and the slow percolating rise of anti-immigrant hate groups,

  • including sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona.

  • I documented the children in detention facilities,

  • deportation flights

  • and a lot of different things.

  • I witnessed the rise of the Mexican drug war

  • and the deepening levels of social violence in Central America.

  • I came to understand how interconnected all these disparate elements were

  • and how interconnected we all are.

  • As photographers,

  • we never really know which particular moment will stay with us

  • or which particular person will be with us.

  • The people we photograph become a part of our collective history.

  • Jerica Estrada was a young eight-year-old girl

  • whose memory has stayed with me.

  • Her father had gone to LA in order to work to support his family.

  • And like any dutiful father,

  • he returned home to Guatemala, bearing gifts.

  • That weekend, he had presented his eldest son with a motorcycle --

  • a true luxury.

  • As the son was driving the father back home

  • from a family party,

  • a gang member rode up and shot the dad through the back.

  • It was a case of mistaken identity,

  • an all too common occurrence in this country.

  • But the damage was done.

  • The bullet passed through the father and into the son.

  • This was not a random act of violence,

  • but one instance of social violence

  • in a region of the world where this has become the norm.

  • Impunity thrives when all the state and governmental institutions

  • fail to protect the individual.

  • Too often, the result forces people to leave their homes and flee

  • and take great risks in search of safety.

  • Jerica's father died en route to the hospital.

  • His body had saved his son's life.

  • As we arrived to the public hospital,

  • to the gates of the public hospital,

  • I noticed a young girl in a pink striped shirt, screaming.

  • Nobody comforted the little girl as she clasped her tiny hands.

  • She was the man's youngest daughter,

  • her name was Jerica Estrada.

  • She cried and raged,

  • and nobody could do anything, for her father was gone.

  • These days, when people ask me

  • why young mothers with four-month-old babies

  • will travel thousands of miles,

  • knowing they will likely be imprisoned in the United States,

  • I remember Jerica, and I think of her and of her pain

  • and of her father who saved his son's life with his own body,

  • and I understand the truly human need

  • to migrate in search of a better life.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

[This talk contains graphic images]

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 US TED family central america migrant father chicago

【TED】Jon Lowenstein: Family, hope and resilience on the migrant trail (Family, hope and resilience on the migrant trail | Jon Lowenstein)

  • 840 7
    林宜悉 posted on 2019/09/16