Photographers capture day-to-day reality of border regions
Contributors to Everyday La Frontera hope by showing everyday life and migration near international borders, their images can inform and change border rhetoric. With emphasis on the U.S.-Mexico border, the group of photographers document contrasts between tense and sleepy areas alike in border regions throughout the Americas.
The reflection of the border fence in a shop window at Outlets at the Border is a picture that shows just two of the multiple faces of the U.S.-Mexico border, says photographer Guillermo Arias, contributor to Everyday La Frontera. On the U.S. side you see commerce, the selling of goods that often come from south of the border, though this is spoken of infrequently when it comes to border rhetoric he says. On the other side, the fence, the physical barrier that blocks access to the American dream, well-being, and shopping sprees.
Arias calls this image “Reflected duality”.
Now with President Trump’s pledge of expanding the border wall to keep out immigrants and threats to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the border has garnered even more attention in the media. If the wall goes up, the landscape will change, affirms Arias, but he thinks the border dynamics will not change and the interactions between people will continue to be similar to what we see now.
“The physical barrier, despite being a constant and violent presence, does not represent more drama for the actors on either side of the border,” says Arias. “The real drama lies in socioeconomic barriers, in the discourse behind the physical barrier, in the use of it as a pretext to extort and abuse as well as damage the ecosystem.”
Arias has been living in Tijuana for eight years, where he has reported on border issues. He describes it as a culturally rich city thanks to the high percentage of migrants living there. Three years ago he started a photographic project called “El Cerco” in which he portrays the fence as a main character, exploring its intervention in the space and landscape. Arias asserts that, except in specific places where there is a direct interaction, along most of the border fence built, not much happens.
In the mid-1800s the governments of the United States and Mexico sat down to draw a line and define the border. However it wasn’t until 1993 that the construction of the fence began, and it was not until 2006 under the Secure Fence Act that a new 700-mile fence was built along the 1900-mile border.
The Everyday La Frontera account was founded in 2015 by Castillo, Eliseo Gaxiola, and Ernesto Peimberth, three photographers hailing from different areas of Sonora, a state in the northwest of Mexico bordering the U.S.
Castillo says that between 2005 and 2010, due to the drug trafficking and strong policies against immigration, many international and national journalists mobilized to border cities of Mexico. But because of their short deadlines, they didn’t seem to have the time to really understand the context and the complexity of the border.
He hopes Everyday La Frontera rises up as a complementary discourse to how the traditional media portrays the border. The contributors to the Instagram account seek to document the border in its complexity and diversity, to focus not only on the violence but on everyday scenes of the people that live and interact with the border.
Modern condo buildings go up next to a vintage pick-up truck in Tijuana, a man listens as Arizona leaders and legislators discuss Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio under a painting of civil rights activist César Chávez, and a caravan of young gay and transgender individuals request asylum in the United States. Each image presents a new issue to think about in the greater border discussion.
For many decades people left Mexico looking to make money and then return to their hometowns. This is how the concept of the “American dream” rose up as a romantic idea, promoted by a government that would rather have its people emigrate than invest resources in its own communities, says Prometeo Lucero, another contributor to Everyday La Frontera.
In recent years, he says many media outlets have lost sight of the fact that migration has gone from being an economic issue to a survival issue. Political violence, gangs, or organized crime have driven families from their homes, sometimes middle or upper class families who did not necessarily seek to emigrate.
“Now it is not just the idea of the American dream that drives people out of their homes,” Lucero says. “This idea may only be secondary as a motivation to migrate.”
Although Everyday La Frontera started by documenting the Mexico-U.S. border, the idea of the project is to integrate other regions that have similar characteristics and create a diverse visual representation of the geographical concept of borders. As of today, most of the photos are from the northern and southern borders of Mexico, but the account also has collaborations from Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and Brazil. Documentation of Latino migrant communities in the United States is also part of the project.
For Kenia Guillen, a Salvadorian photographer living in New York City, it is crucial that anyone who is creating media documents the complexity of border issues by telling stories of immigrants directly affected by immigration policies.
“For those of us living inside the United States, we must call attention to our administration’s violent border policies,” she says. “Collectively, we need to continue to push for immigration policies that open the United States borders to the most vulnerable.”
In the hard task of portraying border-town habitants, platforms like Everyday La Frontera show the diversity of the people from the visual interpretations of several personal views. Castillo says the project is relevant not only because it brings awareness to border issues, but also because it seeks to strengthen the border-photography circuit. It also highlights the work of photographers who document peripheral areas, normally excluded from the dominant conversation in both the world of art and journalism.
Amidst threats of an expanded border wall and a future of great uncertainty for those currently protected under DACA, platforms like Everyday La Frontera drive their viewers to understand and see a different reality. It is through this understanding and reflexion that change is possible, says Arias.
“Images themselves don’t change anything, but change is generated by how viewers interpret the images,” Arias says. “Platforms like Everyday La Frontera are powerful because they create a mosaic of perceptions that show multiple realities and help to build a more complete understanding of the border.”