The journey of the immigrant knows many tales. Some of happiness, others of desperation. Mostly of hope.
Of the tales we share publicly, whether on social media or the news, not many highlight the journey itself. The infinite moments lived from location 1 to 2 — new places, kind and resilient people encountered, heart-wrenching stories, glimmers of hope, words that can heal — are easily dismissed, thus painting a one-dimensional picture of what it means to move as an immigrant.
The void in storytelling about the complexity of the immigrant journey is noticed indirectly by the way in which we’re quick to judge, easy to dismiss, and likely to undermine the immigrant.
This is why I’m proud of my friend Saul Flores for having chosen to shine a light on the immigrant journey in its literal form, showing both the hardships and also, in my opinion maybe the most worthy of notice, the beauty we miss if we don’t listen to the stories or let the immigrant take us back to the many places they’ve called home through their journey.
The summer of 2010, Saul completed a 5,328 miles trek through 10 Latin American countries where he walked, hitchhiked, and rode canoes making his way to the United States, honoring this journey, and becoming part of a project he’d then call The Walk of the Immigrants. See his website here: http://www.thewalkoftheimmigrants.com/
I met Saul in 2010 after he gave a talk at Carolina and shared some stories and photography he’d captured along the way. My claim to fame is being one of the first journalists to tell his story (see here!), but he has since been featured in various legit publications and he even did his own TEDxTalk. Saul, a son of immigrants, lived in the United States his whole life. As a child, he did not embark on the journey to the US as many do today. He chose to do it as an adult as an art, documentary, and anthropological project that honored his parents’ journey and that of millions of people.
Although his journey initially helped to enlighten the American audience on the perilous journey that many immigrants must make to arrive into the United States illegally, it is a journey that speaks to undocumented and documented immigrants alike. Through selling his photography and public engagements, he has been able to allocate funds and resources towards an impoverished school in Atencingo, Mexico, where a lot of children lose their parents to the Walk.
Saul is currently in the process of creating a short film about the experience he’ll call LoveWalk. With the LoveWalk film will debut Saul’s newest concept, LoveThreads, which talks directly to the children and families who lose parents or family members to the Walk, a common consequence of the journey.
On his latest trip to Atencingo, he distributed turquoise threads to some of the students which are meant to serve as a small token to remember their families and friends abroad.
Because the immigrant journey leaves so many families broken and separated, children of immigrants and immigrant children face hardships early in life and have to grow up fast. But because kids need to be kids, Saul added a bit of child-like soul to his LoveThread concept, inviting children to make three wishes as they tie the three knots of the thread around their wrists.
What I find most special about this concept is its focus on the children and their hopes and dreams, rather than the tale of this perilous but hopeful journey that is often characterized by negative rhetoric.
Although I boarded a plane rather than a boat, and walked from the gate to the car rather than thousands of miles across foreign lands, as an immigrant myself, I too find comfort in the LoveWalk story and the LoveThread concept.
Sharing our immigrant story and listening to that of our neighbors gives this journey legs — sometimes bruised, but always strong. And if we choose to see the beauty and complexity of what it takes to pick up and move, not only will our understanding of our personal journey will be, but we’ll hopefully help shift the “Immigrant” conversation from fiends to friends.