July 4, 2014

Im-Migrant Mother

Once again, the immigration issue is raging as conservatives demand greater enforcement and accountability, the new trigger surrounding minors crossing the border alone. The battle is generating a lot of photography and, over the next week, we will be posting some of the more interesting and powerful photos published recently informing the firestorm.

I first saw this picture a couple weeks ago. The image is part of an extended project by photographer Michelle Frankfurter. Over much of the past decade, she has documented the hazardous, sometimes fatal journey of migrants forging their way north from Mexico or Central America by way of what’s known as la bestia, or the “death train.”

The scene didn’t stand out to me at first, at least not more than any of the other empathetic and sensitive photos in Frankfurter’s series which you can appreciate here. Earlier this week, however, I was clicking through the news photos of an anti-immigration protest East of San Diego. As more migrant families are rounded up, El Centro in Imperial County has become a collection point for those apprehended. In response, local protesters gathered in the town of Murrieta to block the passage of Border Patrol buses from Texas transporting families to a local control and deportation center. What caught my attention was one pro-immigration protestor by the name of Lupillo Rivera who either bravely or blindly interjected himself into the angry crowd. The message on his sign seemed to get the protesters particularly rankled. It read simply: “Americans are Immigrants.” Thinking about that sign, and this being the 4th of July, this photo somehow came back to me.  Here’s the caption:

A Guatemalan woman holds her 6-month-old baby; she also has 2 other boys and is fleeing an abusive marriage. Her sister lives in California and she hopes for her sister’s help in getting across the border. Taken in Arriaga, January, 2014.

What the picture brings to mind with that furrowed brow and the long gaze is a mother more disoriented than oriented to an unforgiving landscape, and adversity, truth be told, that is ages old. Has Frankfurter chosen to represent these migrants, and this mother, from the most tragically beautiful viewpoint, one appealing to empathy and directed almost singly at our sense of humanity? Yes, she has. If that’s an extreme or an “unrealistic” position, however, what authorizes the idealization is how much the subject has been monopolized by political polarization. Just above that fray, the scene of this young(er) women is informed by the itinerancy of the dust bowls and every anxious mother more alone for the infant in tow. Capturing that kind of dilemma, its a hurting we Americans, immigrants all, might famously recognize.

(photo: Michelle Frankfurter)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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